Years ago, when I was still a married man, we were getting our home ready for sale and starting the process of moving out to California. Before selling our home to Andrea’s company we thought about selling it outright, even though Dallas’ economy had tanked in the wake of 9/11 and we were living in an area heavily dominated by the airline industry. Still, we thought we’d give it a shot.
One of the things that our real estate agent told us was to remove all our family photos.
“Why,” was my question?
“Because people don’t want to see family photos, they want to see themselves in a home.”
Don’t get me wrong, she was likely correct in her assumption, but I wouldn’t do it. This was still our home, we were comfortable, and I liked how we had our pictures placed.
But the pictures, artwork, all of that told a story. You could see a visual history of our family on the wall. Sure, by that point we didn’t know that part of our history was more than half over. Still, we had the pictures of the kids as they grew, the family photos taken by our friend who started her own studio.
When we moved to California we had the same. It’s the first thing I put up in our rental home when we moved after the funeral. It’s the inspiration for this blog: a saying Abbi – my 18-year-old oldest child – found at work one day. “Home: The Place Your Story Begins” was the phrase in vinyl lettering and I put it on the wall for the way up the stairs. It’s surrounded by pictures of all of us – Andrea included. Still, it shouldn’t be mistaken for a shrine. This isn’t some melancholy worship of the past. This was the reference of our story. It’s like we’ve started writing our own series and the first one ended on a cliffhanger. Joss Whedon would have been proud – a central character, turning her life around, getting healthier . . . then passes away from an unexpected cause. It left the five of us to figure out where we were going.
So I put up the photos . . . but then I added more. There’s the new family picture, none of us dressed up, taken by my sister-in-law when we visited Nebraska on the year anniversary of Andrea’s death. The folk art that had followed us through four homes came off the wall and I replaced it with the kids’ amazing pictures. I don’t say that lightly, either, I honestly believe they’ve gotten very talented.
Then tonight I came home and was flooded with four faces all talking at once. They all wanted to recount their day in graphic detail. It’s like an aural pummeling to have that flood you when you’re still carrying your laptop and wearing your coat. They hear the garage door and corner you in the alcove between the dining room and the garage.
I held up my hands, informing them that they all know they’re supposed to go one at a time, otherwise it’s white noise. I heard about how bad AP science was. I heard about how Sam wants to join the choir again. Then I heard about “dark matter” from Hannah, who is doing a report on the expanding nature of the universe.
Then, as I began to get dinner ready, I felt a little tap on my back and there was Noah.
“Can I show you what my art homework looks like,” he said rather meekly.
I looked down and there was a pencil drawing of the profile of a woman. It wasn’t meant to be realist, it was meant to be interpretive . . . and it was beautiful. It truly was.
“That’s amazing, little moo, did you do that all by yourself?!”
“Yes. I’ve been working on it since we got home.”
Then Sam showed me his . . . another woman, different in aspect, but just as amazing.
I immediately informed them that they’d get honorable places on the wall. In fact, we’re going to take new pictures, too, and those will go up on the wall. They might even replace some older photos.
You see, last week I took Andrea’s name off our home email address, nearly two years later. I also took her last picture – the one she’d given me for Christmas – off the dresser in my bedroom. It was no longer “our” bedroom. I kept trying, when I moved in, to act like it was but it simply wasn’t. It was time to make this my room, to make it our home.
It’s time to get another picture and let the walls of our home – wherever we might reside – start telling our story now.