Moving into a home is not at all like entering a relationship. A home is something solid, secure, and definite-you never really think about the end. In a relationship, there is always that x-factor, the what-if, the chance you will hurt or get hurt. When settling into a house, you don’t anticipate the heart-wrenching end to your time there. As I discovered late this September, however, the heartbreak that goes with moving feels a lot like a bad break-up.
When you choose a house, it becomes your own almost immediately, and you begin to mark your territory, slowly piling up prized possessions, scraps of memories and chunks of your life until it becomes a place from which you can always draw comfort. That is how a home is supposed to be, whether it is a five-story mansion or a salmon-pink doublewide. It is not supposed to change.[drive4]
I guess the problem is I always thought my home would stay the same after I went to college. No matter how much my life changed, my little brother would stay twelve, my dog’s hair would not turn from brown to gray and my room would remain just as I left it. I soon realized life at home did not stay in suspended animation, awaiting my return. And this realization became an even greater reality when my dad accepted a new job an hour north of my childhood home.
When the house went on the market, we buried St. Thomas under the real estate sign (a Catholic belief that Thomas, the patron saint of houses, would help it sell). The house was on the market for a year with hardly a hint of interest. When it finally sold to a nice family in town, I was jubilant, squealing with glee for my mom, because it was one step closer to her being able to move up north with my dad, who had made the trek up north a year earlier. He had been squatting in my grandparents’ hunting trailer, a little place on the banks of the Sturgeon River that sported poor insulation and substandard plumbing.
The shock of moving didn’t hit me when my mom called, demanding my brother and I make plans to pack up our belongings. It didn’t hit me until we were on the way home and my brother mentioned this would be our last trip to the house in Manton, Mich. I shut him down right away, telling him to stop being sentimental about a stupid house. I didn’t want to think about it, because I didn’t want anyone to know how much it meant to me.
We moved into the house on North 35 Road when I was eight. We had been looking for a place for quite some time, and this was the answer to our prayers. We moved in on December 23, 1996. The day before Christmas Eve is always a hectic one for my family. It is usually the day my dad starts planning his Christmas shopping, and my mom is finishing up cookies and practicing her songs for the next evening’s church service. Shadows of memory and the stories I’ve heard from others help me remember when we discovered our natural-gas appliances did not quite synchronize with our propane-fueled house. We spent the next morning, December 24, happily munching pancakes cooked on a Coleman camp stove.
I nested there for 11 years. I remember staying home sick with our old dog, Tippy, and bringing home the new puppy, intended to ease our grief when Tippy passed away. We owned a white-tail deer farm when I was younger, and I remember staying up until 11 p.m. to give the fawns their last bottle of the day. We owned 40 acres, and I spent many hours walking through those twisted pine trees, trying to make sense of my life. This is the home where I invited my friends to play hide-and-seek, spent endless hours sitting on the love seat eating popcorn and wrote my first article.
When I moved to MSU, I was not emotional about leaving my room because I knew it would always be there when I returned. Even though I had to paint my blue, green, orange, and red walls over with a drab eggshell white and place the hideous pink rose rug my grandmother bought me over my nice wooden floor, it was still my room. I had letters tucked in drawers and memories piled up in the corners of my closet. My collection of PEZ dispensers had long since been tucked away, but a few renegade characters still littered my night stand. I didn’t visit home often during my freshman year of college because more and more I was feeling displaced, as time in Manton refused to stop for me. Even so, it was still my home. The house had been on the market for so long I had forgotten it had become only a temporary storage spot for the things I couldn’t pack into my dorm room. When I went home on the official pack-up-your-stuff weekend, I had to face the facts-the room I grew up in was no longer mine.
The day after my brother and I made the trek home, my best friend called to see how packing was going. I think she knew I would need the emotional support. I had just finished emptying out every drawer I had. I was busy throwing away once-prized possessions (like my old battered Scooby Doo lunch box) and sorting things into trash, donation, or keep piles. In short, I was about 30 seconds from a complete breakdown. I went outside to get signal on my cell phone and walked among the flower beds that I had helped my mom plant early in the summer. I scattered the collection of my favorite pretty pebbles and sea shells throughout the yard. I cried so hard Jill could barely understand my words as I sobbed about not wanting to leave my home. I found myself hating the people I had never met for kicking me out of my comfort zone.
I made it through the rest of my visit home like a robot, begging my mother to help me pack up the rest of my things. I was overwhelmed. I did not know what to do with all the stuff I had been accumulating for nearly two-thirds of my life. I took pictures of every room in the house, knowing I would never see it again. When we pulled out of the driveway Sunday morning to return to life at MSU, I was numb.
I came back to the dorm room that doesn’t quite feel like home. Finally, reality attacked like a Level 5 hurricane and slammed me face down on the same love seat which had once been my favorite home napping spot. A torrential downpour of tears streamed over my face, and in spite of all the homework I had ignored that weekend, the only thing I could manage was a crawl to the cafeteria for a bowl of chicken noodle soup.
When you leave a house that has been your home, it’s not supposed to be like a break-up. It’s not supposed to hurt, and you’re definitely not supposed to need time to recover. At least, that’s what I thought when I scoffed at my brother’s sentimental feelings. Turns out, all I want to do is eat chocolate and watch sappy movies-classic break-up behavior.[drive3]
The new house is a rental, and I’ve been told it smells like smoke, but it is at least big enough to hold all the stuff my family has accumulated over the years. There’s a yard (albeit a small one) for the dogs to run in. It’s not perfect, but it doesn’t need to be-it is more of a temporary stop on the way to happy living. I’ll see it for the first time when I visit my family for Thanksgiving. I can no longer refer to these visits as “going home.” The house, located in Kalkaska, halfway between my parents’ jobs, is not my home, and probably never will be. I expect it to be a similar experience to visiting my grandparents; it’s friendly, and sort of nice, but it doesn’t quite fit. It may be a long time before I find a place to make into a home.

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