Oct 23, 2015

Empty Spaces

"You've walked those streets a thousand times and still
you end up here. Regret none of it, not one
of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,
when the lights from the carnival rides
were the only stars you believed in, loving them
for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.
You've traveled this far on the back of every mistake,
ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house
after the TV set has been pitched out the upstairs
window. Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied
of expectation. Relax. Don't bother remembering
any of it. Let's stop here, under the lit sign
on the corner, and watch all the people walk by." 

I turned onto the main road as I was telling him about it, little yellow leaves trying to keep up with the tires for a brief moment, before they sighed and settled onto the street again. "I picked up some Christmas presents at a lady's house- did I tell you about that buying co-op I recently joined? They had Melissa and Doug toys on sale?- and anyway, her house was big and impressive looking. You know, one of those typical subdivision houses that cost a few hundred thousand and have no shade on the street because the trees are so young?"

My dad nodded from the passenger seat. We have similar taste in houses.

"So I get there, and pick up the boxes that were sitting in her living room, and I realize there is nothing in it but stained carpet and a couch. The next room was just as bare. It was really strange."

Dad chimed in. "I saw the same thing on calls," he told me, referring to his firefighting. "Big, fancy houses that looked impressive, but they couldn't afford a stick of furniture." We speculated about how many had likely gone into foreclosure. So much show in a house, but no comfort of a home. Empty spaces with a sorrowful echo inside, but their stately appearance outside fooled the rest of the world.

And then, this morning, I saw another empty space that made me gasp.

Just across the hall from where we live now, another apartment is familiar, too. It's the one Sky and I lived in right before Millie was born. The most recent tenants abruptly (i.e., sneakily) moved out early last Saturday morning, leaving a few belongings, some empty boxes, and a huge mess for the landlords. I heard them cleaning it this morning, and watched their pickup rumble down the street toward a dumpster.

Instantly, something in me was curious. I opened my front door, staring into the other apartment where that front door had been left wide open. It smelled dirty, the carpet was a mess, and yet I was tempted. I looked around the hall, and stepped two small steps into our old place. I stood there for a moment and surveyed the past.

Empty and silent, with windows open and sun shining through. I thought of all the arguments that had tinted those walls, how there were stains of the our history that I'll never quite be able to scrub clean. If walls could talk, ours would have sobbed, most likely. I thought about how we left for the hospital right before midnight on a Thursday, how Millie was born on a Saturday, and how she was carried over the threshold on Monday. I thought about the lonely nights I spent with just her there, crying every few hours to be fed, or to be held, and how I would cry along with her. I remembered the awkward visits a therapist would make, sitting on the loveseat while I sat with Sky on the couch, trying to bravely say how I felt until I would dissolve into a mess of anger and heartbreak. I thought of the time I made a lasagna, only a few days after moving in, and left the house for a a half an hour as it baked in the oven, returning to blaring carbon monoxide alarms that forced the whole building to evacuate while the firemen roamed our apartment until it was safe. With all the betraying, fighting, and blaming in that apartment, it was never safe. As we slowly added pieces of furniture to the rooms, we also added resentment, pain, and scars.

But this place, just across the hall in the same building, trudging up the same staircase every week to put away groceries? This place is going to be different. While outside, the bricks blend in, looking like any apartment building on the street, the inside is full to the brim. We'll have a life to pack up when we move out- the two sets of chipped white dishes, minus one cracked bowl that recently landed in the trashcan. We'll have scribbled artwork made with Crayolas and chubby, little hands. We'll have a lot more books than we even started out with, which is shameful and glorious all at the same time. There are old quilts folded up in the closet, old dishes hanging daintily on the wall, and old journals stashed under a bed. There are seldom used kitchen supplies packed in shallow boxes, last season's clothes tucked away for the year, and childhood mementos that I can't part with just yet. Mismatched, decorated with clearance Target furniture, and usually covered in small fingerprints, our home is nothing to the world, but it is full to the brim of these memories. 

When we leave what we have here, it will be for a house, maybe one with a vast yard for the kids and a big, shady tree or two for me. But this place won't be empty. If these walls could talk, they would tell you of the hurt that moved in, and the hearts that painstakingly took one step forward and two steps back until they finally had enough strength to outrun old ghosts. They would tell you of hurried mornings before church on Sunday, and quick dinners before choir practice on Monday. It turns out that the natural, easy pace of children growing is actually a messy, heartbreaking, intentional, day-in-and-day-out task, and this little apartment is full of that. It's full of these first days of school, of trying new recipes, of growing waistlines. It's full of Christmas presents hidden on a high up shelf, and board books abandoned across the couch. It is where we brought another small one over the threshold. In a few years, we'll pack everything and load it in a truck for a new destination. Yet I have a feeling it won't be as empty as when we moved in. 

There is so much here, in the air around us. While the weather turns chilly, our home is staying warmed, a refuge. And when I shake out the rugs, sending out specks of dust to turn into brilliant sunbeams, I wonder if the soft, filmy glow is what we'll leave someday.
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