We received the keys to our new home a few days early. Our girls giggled past us with a patter of footfalls that echoed through that empty space. Dave and I exchanged a glance. Was it trepidation, excitement, both emotions blended into a single look?
I remembered a similar event, entering the house we’d just sold—our first house. Newly married, we’d moved a thousand miles from family and friends to embark upon this life. He’d carried me over the threshold then, acting out some archaic tradition of a gone era that didn’t quite fit our modern times—but I hadn’t minded. Yet, that same act would’ve been out of place now, with me in my pantsuit and him in his summer cargo shorts.
This new house ushered in the realization that my children would never lack the things I did in childhood. They would never depend on instant noodle packets for sustenance, never look forward to school lunch as the best thing they would eat all day, never need shoes/pants/underwear and not have them, never find cupboards bare and Mother Hubbard away at her two or more jobs while Mr. Hubbard grappled with his meth addiction and Vietnam ghosts. My children would always know this middle class neighborhood, with its middle class values, as the basis for their worldview. And so it became my job to cultivate a refuge.
While I could admit that house fit our sole requirement of turnkey ready—a requirement we’d agreed upon after years of home repairs and sweat equity from our previous address—I knew I didn’t love the new house, the vastness of it, its audacious grandeur filled with colors belonging to the tastes of a family gone. I became convinced I would never love it, but knew my daughters would. This place would always be their childhood home.
Before long, we settled into that space, painted walls in our own pallet, arranged furniture to suit our needs, tilled our own soil by planting tomatoes and flowers and security. When a fellowship came for Dave, we left that house for a pause. We moved to another university town where we each explored new desires. One daughter learned to ride a bike, the other discovered worlds within owl pellets. Dave merged his love of texts with his love of nature delving into environmental literature. I revisited the vastness of writing, recognizing the indulgence I had been afforded. When it came time, we returned to that overgenerous house, each taking our new passions with us.
Somehow, during that absence, I came to terms with the house. It presented me a quiet place at the eastern window to continue my writing practice—a place unnoticed until then. The more I created, the more I considered the house might be offering me an alternative to my pantsuits, guiding me into the creative life I had always desired. The dappled sunlight through the side yard bamboo invited me each day to sit and write. Before long, my house became an ally, and then, eventually a home, a place where I could relax and create, explore, till a different kind of soil. Perhaps it had been a home all along and I just needed to see it that way through the slats of sunlight pouring in during the morning hours.
On this day, ten years after we stood on that precipice between security and fear, I recognize the things that make a house a home—things that have nothing to do with walls or paint. The sanctuary I’ve made here is also my own.
Rhonda Zimlich writes fiction and memoir. She holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and she teaches composition at The University of Oregon. Her work has appeared (or is expected) in publications such as Brevity, Acorn Review, and Ink Stains Anthology. Rhonda lives in Eugene, Oregon with her husband, twin daughters, a shaggy rescue dog, and two feisty black cats--all subjects of her writing. She also blogs about her experience having multiple sclerosis and running marathons.
Rhonda encourages you to consider making contributions to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Visit www.nationalmssociety.org to learn more.