Life Notes: Moving On
But staying at home emotionally

It was 12 years ago this month. That steamy August, my husband and I were sifting through a lifetime of memories, filling a dumpster that sat like a prehistoric beast on our lawn, and wondering every other minute how we had accumulated so much stuff.

We basically had one month to prepare for a huge life change: a move out of the house where we’d lived for 28 years, and where three Friedman brides had been married under the beech tree in the side yard. But it had too many bedrooms. Too much upkeep. So we’d made what all agreed was the sensible decision.

August, that year, was our cruelest month. The tension mounted as the month wound down. Life was being sorted out in cartons that read “Keep,” “Donate,” “Discard.” My husband and I would learn that we were not very good moving partners. My slapdash speed clashed resoundingly with his deliberative and cautious style. And it all came out that steamy month.

Several times, our daughters and their husbands came to help. They guided us through that ultimate household nightmare, the pre-move yard sale. During that glorious event, strangers trampled our lawn, sniffed imperiously at our taste and offered unconscionable prices for our most beloved treasures. But when it got down to the final days, these adult children pulled rank. The four most common words uttered: “Get rid of that.” Sometimes we listened, sometimes we didn’t.

What was really happening – what was reflected in our ineptitude about clearing out – was the underlying pain we felt about endings. This house had been our sanctuary from the world. Its walled courtyard reinforced that feeling of a private retreat. So we were foolish and stubborn about letting go of its contents. If we couldn’t have the house itself, at least we could have our things from within it.

And that explains why, a dozen years later, the basement of our condominium is lined with those cartons with the fading word “Keep” on all sides. But we did the deed. When the moving truck arrived and four burly guys got out and grumbled about how hot it was, I did not follow my impulse to say, “Forget it.” I even got out of their way and let them do their thing as I wandered, camera in hand, through empty and emptying rooms, sobbing as I went.

I photographed Jill’s room with its lime-green, cane-patterned wallpapered ceiling, a 1970s fashion. I immortalized Nancy and Amy’s bedrooms, totally bare of the insignias of their growing-up years: posters, banners, desperate poetry and closets now yawning empty. Our daughters had used their bedrooms as storage units well into adulthood, and somehow, that made their absence feel vaguely like a presence.

And then, on that August day at dusk, our little caravan of cars and a behemoth of a moving truck proceeded a half mile to our new digs. It was like a space odyssey to a new planet; a state of being that can only be understood by those who have done it. Despite the proximity to our “real house,” as we still call it, it was alien turf for us.

This all came into sharp focus because recently, when we drove past our former house, the sale sign that had been posted on its lawn had been changed to “Under Contract.” That was good news – the house had been empty way too long after the former occupants had left.

It was almost August. From somewhere out there, a moving truck will be stopping, and new owners will be settling in. If they want to know, we can tell them which step used to creak, and how the sun shoots sparks into the den’s stained-glass windows. But I suppose they’ll find all that out for themselves.

August 2014
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