My friends are selling their house. And it makes perfect sense. The boy child just graduated from law school and has an apartment in Atlanta that looks like no apartment I ever had. And my namesake is living her best life in Manhattan. Who needs all those exquisite hardwood floors and two-story porches and windows that reach to the floorboards?
I remember my friends’ first house, the bungalow in an old neighborhood in Atlanta where the driveways were cracked just enough to display an appropriate amount of insouciance. It was about the time someone made up the word yuppie and, though it made my friend the wife cringe to even consider it, that’s what they were — young and professional and, by virtue of the fact that they lived in the 29th most populated city in the country, urban. They also owned a Volvo.
I remember the apartment to which they moved when they decided that Savannah, the pre-college home of my friend the husband, made more sense if — big if — they were, in fact, going to have a family. There were big trees dripping Spanish moss along the perimeter of the complex and I think I may have slept on a pull-out sofa.
And this house — the house whose walls are hung with the gilt-framed birth announcements of the boy child and my namesake, the house whose needle-pointed footstool is always stacked with books borrowed from the Chatham County Public Library because my friend the wife is nothing if not thrifty, the house they are selling? I don’t just remember it.
I couldn’t tell you how many meals I’ve eaten at that house, how many walks I’ve taken to the bluff, how many Christmases I’ve sung carols and had cider at the lighting of The Great Tree. I have always left with something — books or jam or, most valuable, a reminder of my place in the world. One time, a late Saturday afternoon when Owen had been bitten by something we weren’t sure wasn’t a snake and I’d frantically driven him to the emergency vet, I left with a bowl of water for my dog, lethargic and under the influence of some serious canine narcotics, and yet another reminder for myself, still under the influence of some serious adrenaline, of Robert Frost’s idea of home being the place that takes you in.
That place or those places are not, though, wood structures or brick buildings. They are the arms and hearts that open with your approach. They are the eyes and faces that reflect yours. They are the days and nights in which conversations are had and memories are made.
I know this. And with every birthday my knowing grows deeper. So why am I sad?
My friend the wife texts me. My namesake is home for her birthday. The boy child and his girlfriend have also arrived. Will I come to dinner? Of course, I will.
We laugh and tell stories and eat good food and all the while I am trying to ignore the sign in the front yard and the news I’ve received that the house is under contract, that there is a legally binding document now requiring them to follow through with what I’d hoped was a vain threat. “We didn’t expect it to sell so quickly. We have no idea where we’re going.”
Funny thing, I think. Neither do I.
A week later my friend the wife is sending me photos of other houses. Smaller houses. Farther away. She is excited. And I unexpectedly find that, somehow, I am, too.
Somehow in the days in between I’ve managed to separate the past from the future without tossing the past. Looking at the photo of a different kitchen counter I can see the same crock holding the same dish towels. Looking at empty rooms, I can see the birth announcements hung on a different wall. I can see the crocheted tablecloth on a different table and a different return address on the birthday card that will come my way in October.
“It’s lovely,” I write in response. “I can see myself on that porch.”
And I can. I really can.