Empty House, No Longer Home

Empty room.

Writer and blogger Tamára Lunardo has a very simple yet interesting writing prompt on her Tamára Out Loud blog today: Home. So basic, and something too many of us take for granted. But this post is a little different. In keeping with her “Mixtape Mondays” series, she includes a playlist of songs inspired by “home.”

A great idea and a great prompt, but I’m bending the rules here a bit (this is my page, I can do that). In thinking about her prompt, I realized that “home” is a running theme throughout A Smile for Anna, and one chapter in particular jumped out at me. That chapter even quotes a song. Yes, it’s one song, not a playlist, and it doesn’t really have anything to do with “home.” The association is a personal one, and is explained in the excerpt.

That’s the context and the disclaimer, now here is the excerpt followed by a video of the song (via YouTube):

Chapter 37: Empty

“Are you ready to be a daddy?”

I heard Julia’s voice in my head the last time I stood in our old bedroom. The bed was gone; moved to the new apartment along with the new dresser we had bought to replace the cheap one that fell apart. The matching TV stand and the surviving nightstand wound up outside in the dumpster. Maybe someone could salvage them, if they didn’t fall apart first. I guess that’s the fun of build-it-yourself furniture. I’d rather buy used. We couldn’t afford new anymore.

I walked out of our empty bedroom into the hallway. I remember standing here countless times, looking down the stairwell and marveling that I lived in a house with stairs—with a wife and a daughter, no less. It seemed so grown up, and I still felt like a dumb kid most of the time. Like I didn’t belong here. That it was all a dream, or maybe we were just playing house.

I knew that it wouldn’t last.

I walked down the hallway and into the empty room that was our office. It was really her office these last few months. Since I bought my laptop computer last summer, I worked downstairs in the living room most of the time. My old desktop computer sat on my old desk, unused for the last six months, until I finally traded it in for store credit. We gave the desk away.

Julia kept a pack and play up here when Anna was little. I remembered the day that Anna was crawling around in it wearing her blue Seattle Mariners onsie with a big, white baseball on her bottom. Julia leaned over and patted her. “Baseball butt.”

Anna’s eyes grew wide and then came the scream and the tears. Julia felt so guilty.

I paused, smiling at the memory before I walked next door to Anna’s room. This was the hardest one to see empty. The build-it-yourself crib and changing table were all but falling apart by the time we moved, so they went down to the dumpster with the rejected bedroom furniture and Julia’s rickety old desk. Anna’s toddler bed—where she slept since she turned two—was in her new room in our new apartment, along with her bookcases. We moved the totes of baby clothes and toys into storage for now. We feared we’d never need them again, but we weren’t ready to let them go.

I thought back to all the hours I sat by that window in our old glider, countless hours in the middle of countless nights, singing to her and rocking her to sleep. I learned a few lullabies, and once those were used up I would sing her a Coldplay song.

Still my heart and hold my tongue
I know my time, my time has come
Let me in, unlock the door
I’ve never felt this way before

I sang the song once more as I walked back into the hallway.

The wheels just keep on turnin’
The drummer begins to drum
I don’t know which way I’m going
I don’t know which way I’ve come

I reached the bottom of the stairs and turned; walking past the hall closet and into the open, empty downstairs. I sat against the long wall that backed onto the stairwell. This was where we ate our first dinner together in this house: Chinese food, right out of the box, sitting cross-legged on the floor. We were newlyweds, a week removed from our honeymoon. It seemed like yesterday and a lifetime ago all at once. I tipped my head back and closed my eyes. For a moment, I was there again. The smell of the shrimp fried rice filled my nostrils. If only I could go back; start over. What could I have done differently?

I could have gotten that university job in Portland. We would have moved that fall and Anna would’ve been born at a different hospital. Doernbecher would have been a lot closer, and with two incomes we would have been able to buy a house.

But Anna would have been in daycare with undiagnosed Apraxia, and the housing market would have collapsed right about the same time Julia would have lost her job outright. She couldn’t return to the office if we lived two hours away. Instead of an apartment that we could move out of on a month’s notice, we’d have had a mortgage we couldn’t afford and a house we couldn’t sell.

I could have gotten that community college job in Oklahoma, but I doubt we would have lasted more than a year out there. Then we’d have moved back to Oregon, and I’d be looking for a job again. At best, we’d be in the exact same situation we are now, except for one thing. Anna would be an Okie. She’d never forgive me for that.

I could have stayed on the path to seminary. Even after leaving Grace Church, the possibility was still open. What if, instead of getting sidetracked for eighteen months at Holy Trinity, we’d gone to one of the other churches and I’d focused on priestly discernment for a few years instead of trying to find a permanent parish? By now I might have been accepted to a seminary and be ready to start in the fall—with no financial support. That wouldn’t have worked either. Plus I’d be stuck in the Episcopal Church, which was feeling less and less like the right church for us. But the church I was drawn to would never ordain me a priest for one obvious reason…

“You okay?”

Julia’s voice brought me back. She walked out of the downstairs bathroom and into the kitchen.

“Yeah, just thinking.”

She reached into the refrigerator and grabbed a bottle of water.  “I know.”

She walked over and sat down next to me. She handed me the bottle, and I took a drink.

“I figured the next move would be when we bought a house.” I said.

“Me too.”

“I guess it was foolish thinking we’d get off easy when so many other people are suffering.”

“I guess so.”

We sat there for a while. Julia had finished vacuuming and all the furniture was gone, but neither of us was quite ready to leave just yet.

This was where Anna learned to roll over, to crawl, and to walk. Where she played most of the time. Where she watched the birds, the squirrels, and ducks that came to our back patio begging for food. Where she would lay on the floor as our bunnies hopped around her, tickling her with their whiskers.

“Hee hee.”

I could hear her little giggle like it was yesterday.

“This isn’t how I wanted to leave Anna’s first house.” I said.

Julia took my hand. “Me neither, but it’s time.”

We stood and walked out of our old house for the last time, closing the door on the life we had lived up until then.

It was time to move on.

2 thoughts on “Empty House, No Longer Home

  1. Pingback: A Book About Home | Fatherhood Etc.

  2. Pingback: Drip, Drip | David Ozab

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