I had a rather unique problem tonight, one that I didn’t think would be any big deal, not for me at least. It wasn’t even something I’d thought about since we moved out of our home and into the rental where we’ve lived for the last many months.
Abbi, my oldest, had ordered something from Amazon.com and had it shipped. She was scratching her head at the kitchen table asking me if I’d picked up the mail or if there was a package. When the box wasn’t there I looked up at her with a sudden cognition realizing exactly what she had done. You see, Abbi hadn’t ordered anything online, particularly from Amazon, since last year – and I don’t mean last year, December 2011, but last year, January or February of last year. When she’d ordered her box, she had never bothered to change the settings of her account and simply pushed the “order” button and said ship it off without realizing they were sending the box to our old house. The tracking information said it was delivered at noon and it obviously was at the old house.
I saw her struggling with it. Once before, in a bit of routine memory, she had accidentally turned into the road leading to our old house on the way home from school. She couldn’t turn around, it’s a small 2-lane almost country road that led to our old neighborhood, so she turned into the cul-de-sac where we had lived. The house was empty, the back yard being landscaped and everything just torn up. Which is what it did to her, tore her up. She was a bit overwhelmed. She had to park the car and compose herself then continue home.
I didn’t think I’d have the same problem, I really didn’t. I had moved us out of the house, done the walk-through and everything when we left, did the “broom clean” bit and even did the round about looking at the yard and everything to make sure we had gotten it all. I left knowing full well that this wasn’t the home of our dreams. This wasn’t my middle child’s view at all.
The day I announced we were moving Hannah went into a panic.
“This is our house, Daddy! Mom wanted to live here!”
But she didn’t. That was the only irony that kept me going. Andrea didn’t want to live here. Sure, she’d found the home, even slyly, using her very feminine wily ways of conversation to get me to buy into the fact we needed to buy into the housing market that was giving me heart palpitations because of the massive disparity in costs from the market in Texas, where we’d lived prior. I said before, Andrea had ways of making me say and do things I would never have done before. It was good in some ways, but in others, like buying a home right before the market tanked, that’s bad. I don’t say this to make it sound like Andrea always got her way or tried to make me a virtual slave to her ideas and ideals. Far from it. In fact, there were moments where we nearly didn’t make it because I caved in too much and had to come to terms with the fact that I needed to help her since she helped me so much.
The ways it helped, of course, are evident. I met a friend for lunch today and when I talked about my kids and going through teenage shyness and self deprecation I told her how I was shy, paralyzingly so, in my teenage years. It was horrible, and I even regret it but couldn’t help it then. I was so scared of rejection, so lacking in self-confidence I nearly couldn’t function. In a group of friends I might be fine. When I had a crush on a girl I so desperately wanted to ask out, I would – and this isn’t an exaggeration – dial the first 6 numbers and physically couldn’t get to the 7th. I would hover over the number. I had an old push-button phone that would dial out the number like a rotary phone and even if I got to the number, I’d hang up before the last number went through. The few times I went out I was so amazed I’d gotten to the date I couldn’t think what to do. I was quiet, shy, and just stupid. Let’s face it. Wish I’d been less of a dweeb, but it took Andrea to see that it wasn’t really me. It took her not just befriending me, but loving me, showing me I was worthwhile. It’s funny, just withing a couple months, when we’d just started dating, I must have made a pretty drastic change. People I’d spoken with in my college classes normally wouldn’t have given me a glance – not because they were mean, I gave them no reason – were asking me to out for drinks. Girls were saying hello. I was actually being flirted with, even enjoyed it, but knew . . . I had found the person who really knew me and she was waiting for me.
My friend said they couldn’t picture that. They saw me as so outgoing and confident, the complete antithesis of what I was describing.
“That’s Andrea,” was all I could say. “She looked at me and saw something. God knows what, but she saw it, pulled me out of there. I have to wonder what her friends thought, because I know some of them had to be wondering what was going through her head.” I’ve said it before, but I’m so much better for having fallen in love with her. I just wish I’d told her that more often.
But where she made me better, she made me worse, too. We bought our home, thought we’d argued and negotiated well. The price was far lower than market, by a lot. But then the market didn’t just “adjust”, it tanked. I liked the house, it was nice, it was big, and it was somewhat comfortable. It had two ovens which was amazing. But by the same token, the space between the kitchen island and the fridge was barely enough to fit one person, let alone two through. The pantry was deep but narrow. The light fixtures weren’t normal screw-in lights, but plug-in one-brand flourescent only. The furnace filter was off-sized and had to be custom ordered. The house was always drafty and the back yard was literally a mountain of a hill that couldn’t grow ANYTHING. I tried, used a jackhammer on the rocks, tried to plant jasmine in the soil, planted carpet roses and hiked up the back yard. But we never had the money to finish it. The house cost so much we couldn’t afford to do anything else. The enjoyment you’re supposed to get from having a home just wasn’t the same. It echoed massively. The place was loud.
We moved because we had to. Financially, sure. We didn’t have a second income. I can’t use the social security for such a large mortgage payment. I can’t do it without a second income, and it was just too much to handle alone. More importantly, though, my daughter and I couldn’t look around without seeing Andrea. She was on the couch in the living room. She was at the table, a mug of coffee in her hands. Her form in the front room, where the Christmas tree was every year opening presents. Abbi said everywhere she turned she saw Andrea and she just couldn’t take it any more.
So I took up the mantle of getting her package from the old house. I thought it would be fine. I wasn’t sure if there were people there or not. I wasn’t sure what I’d say, but it wasn’t like I wanted to tour the home, I just wanted Abbi’s box. But the closer I got to the neighborhood I started to feel like that kid again. My heart started to beat so hard it was skipping, the tachycardia I had as a teen becoming evident again, making it hard to breathe. I turned onto the road and started up the giant hill, the mile of asphalt leading to the small neighborhood. I realized there might still be friends in the houses, maybe out and about. I went from the strong, confident journalist to the teenager who was dizzy from the hormones and emotion of trying to ask out that girl all over again. I told myself I didn’t know why I was feeling this way, knowing full well I knew exactly what I was feeling. I hadn’t been back here since we’d packed up the trucks and moved. I had no idea who was in there now, never really met them.
I pulled up and the Christmas lights were still up on the house. A giant dumpster was out front, a Christmas tree in it, rocks and landscaping garbage in it. I walked up and saw Abbi’s box on the porch even though the people were obviously home. Through the windows I’d seen new paint, different colors even on the walls. I grabbed the box and turned around and noticed something wasn’t right.
The lawn right by the front of the house, the small sections of grass that went on either side of the sidewalk normally bordered the two garages of the home – one a small one-car and the other the normal garage. In the middle, when we left, were two trees, pieces we’d loved when we moved in because they were Andrea’s favorite. They were crepe myrtles. The trees were tall, still young, and they flowered every Spring in beautiful colors and made her smile. As I turned around, the front grass had been covered with mulch, tons of little tufts, desert kind of plants filling the whole area. The trees were gone. The things she’d loves so much had been ripped out, sitting in that dumpster, unceremoniously disposed.
I couldn’t take it. That was the last bit. I was glad I hadn’t had to talk to the people inside, but I couldn’t believe it. I was angry, though I had no right to be, it isn’t my house. I was sad, so much so that it just broke my heart. I know it shouldn’t, Andrea didn’t like the house, she didn’t want to live there forever, or even much longer when we were together. But now, the piece she liked, the bit that made me smile every time I marched up the walk to the door when I got home, was gone. Not just gone, but ripped up, torn out and tossed aside.
I wasn’t bawling, not screaming or beside myself. But it affected me. I took the box, my eyes watering and sniffing a little as I walked up to the car and couldn’t bring myself to look back at it. It’s not that the house had changed it’s that I just couldn’t face it. I realized I was just starting to fall apart. Simultaneously I was turning into the teenaged wallflower and angry, simpering man. I realized that I’d weighed myself down this whole time. I could tell you more about my shoes and the sidewalk than the world around me because I look down and trudge along like a man weighed down by a cord of wood. After putting the box on the passenger side I looked up. I inhaled a deep breath, opened my eyes, and realized I’d been staring at the ground wherever I went for the last nine months. So I looked up and noticed up there, nearly at eye level, was the moon, nearly full, orange, and beautiful. The woman’s profile staring back at me in the right lower corner and the stars around it. The crisp air made the night clear and I saw the stars, brilliant and twinkling at me.
It made me think of her, of how her eyes sparkled like those stars when she smiled and of how the first time we visited my folks and it scared her because there was no light, just the stars. I looked around me, seemingly for the first time in months, and realized even the neighborhood was dead. Our home sat there, the lights and Christmas decorations still gaudily glinting there. The house across the street empty, dead. The neighbors selling, another house, vacant. Andrea wasn’t here anymore, but she really never was. I’d prayed this would make me more hopeful, but in the end it just resigned me to the truth.
All of it had changed. We left and left it all behind. The house wasn’t the house any more. It felt like the place was just standing there while we moved. Like Andrea, we’d left it behind, like so many crepe myrtles in a dumpster.
I try to hold on to my son’s analogy, that she’s there, in my heart, the biggest portion. But I have been looking back so much to try and keep standing, to shoulder it all that I haven’t just . . . looked. It’s really hard, nearly harder now than we even thought the holidays would be. I think I realized, as I drove away, that it was because we want so badly to hold onto what is back there, but the more we move, the farther it falls behind us. It made me feel even worse to finally realize it, and I had to pull out, into a Target parking lot, wandering the store aimlessly, because I didn’t want my daughter to feel like I’d been so affected by a simple package retrieval.
After a short while I composed myself, headed home and went to our new house. I had to get the boys ready for bed, the midnight snacks going. I had to get moving to the daily routine, knowing full well that with each little action, I was pulling us farther away from the world I’d just revisited.
And I took some solace knowing that even though it was left behind, Andrea’s body lies under two new trees, the same kind, those beautiful crepe myrtles, and at least there I can visit and know she might see them, wherever she is, and smile.