I moved again recently.
A major move always feels strange; close to but not quite like a death, because the tingle of excitement and hope for the future awaits at the end of it all - at least, in the more copacetic moving scenarios. There is, of course, the possibility for a much sadder scene, one that is indeed as close to a death as we can approach without the actual deed.
Sometimes the moving is the final symbolic act, the closing scene in a tragedy after all the players have had their hearts broken and the land has been burned until only ashes drift across the diminished stage. The moving comes as an involuntary resignation when no other options remain. The house is no longer a home, just a skeleton of misplaced dreams and misguided choices. These evictions, forced, inevitable, or both, lay out all your inadequacies, your inability to protect your love, money, or wisdom.
Those homes haunt you forever, a reminder of part of your life that was unceremoniously lost to the passage of time.
This home, however, was a happy one - not even a legitimate house, just four cramped rooms, a balcony, and a year and a half of memories. We choose to leave it in favor an upgrade that’s closer to my job, but this felt like a betrayal. The apartment still resides in my heart as a treasured relationship that ended abruptly, like someone you lose contact with as the years progress for no intended reason, just the ineluctable elusiveness of a modern disconnected people.
The place in which we dwell imbeds itself into our lives in such a way that our home becomes more than an anthropomorphized family member. It is the setting for endless memories, both good and bad - some that we will keep at the forefront of our minds forever, and some that will never be thought of again. The setting is an integral part of the scene, the scene critical in the formation of our very selves.
Those walls, with their thin, easily scratched ivory paint, witnessed my awe when we first brought home a puppy who is now very much a dog, a little fluff-ball of a creature whose claws make tiny clicking noises on the hard kitchen floor. They saw me when no one else in the world was around, when it was just me and the couch and the patterns on the ceiling and my tears and my heart aching for him to come home. They protected the family of mockingbirds that built a nest in my balcony garden box, the female and male who destroyed my herbs but who gave me the gift of witnessing an avian birth in return (I would gladly sacrifice my rosemary again if I could once more watch them teach the two infants how to not be afraid, how to, quite literally, spread their wings and make the leap into adulthood).
Our home saw all these things and kept our secrets. It answered me in the night, and comforted me in the early dawn, the first streams of sunlight lighting up our living room as I waited for a sleep that wouldn’t come. It became inseparable from those two years of my life - a time that is now gone, another chapter completed, never to be reread.
On the day of our move, as the unit slowly began to empty, box by box, leaving only puffy clusters of dog hair and the occasional overlooked object - a bobby-pin here, a stolen hotel pen there - I was overcome with grief and worry. Would our next home serve us as well as this? Would it prove difficult to remember the period of my life that took place in this home, after I had left it? Was it even a time I truly hope not to forget?
All these trepidations were echoed in my dog, whose breathing became rapid, his ears pressed flat against his head, as the apartment slowly became unrecognizable. He watched woefully as his crate was lifted onto a dolly and carted away. This was the only home he had ever known, and now it was being systematically dismantled and eliminated. I can only marvel at his ability to control his horror.
I closed the front door, not locking it for the first time since we moved in, leaving me with an intangible apprehension, and escorted my dog down the hallway to the elevator, our footsteps the only sound in the mourning building. As we waited for the reliably slow elevator to arrive at our floor, my dog sat and stared down the hallway at our door. He didn’t move until the elevator arrived; even his hairs stood still. I believe he was saying goodbye.
The apartment no longer looks like it ever belonged to me at all. It’s now a stale, empty space available for rent, a one-bedroom for $2200 a month in a prized neighborhood of Los Angeles with close proximity to a park and directly across the street from Trader Joe’s. It has an in-unit washer and dryer, a dishwasher, and central air.
And it once was my home.