Home is Behind; the World Ahead

IS5eqngy07rd5k0000000000I visited New York this weekend, for a short but multi-purpose trip back to my ancestral homeland.  As many of you know, I spent the first 17 years of my life on Long Island, in a bustling yet somewhat brutal suburb of the great City itself.

New Yorkers are generally very proud of where they live, and remain proud of where they come from if they happen to move away.  They retain their stereotypical attitude (which is, if anything, underplayed in the media) and their propensity for tailgating on the highway.

They can never eat a bagel or slice of pizza without loudly proclaiming its inferiority to the cuisine of their youth (it’s the water, don’t you know), and they will forever be shocked that businesses, restaurants, and public transportation options close before midnight in towns that approach life at a slower pace.

While I’m certainly guilty of maintaining some of these traits, despite my eight years as a Massachusetts resident, I’ve never been as enamored with New York as many of my compatriots.  It’s a fascinating place, and there is something to be said for growing up in such a cosmopolitan atmosphere, with world-class museums and attractions and beaches being such a routine part of my childhood.

There’s something to be said for leaving it behind, too.  I was never a very good New Yorker.  I didn’t really like the city; I didn’t care for our sports teams, or take pride in being mouthy and brash.  I didn’t frequent the salons and the tanning parlors, or the bars and the clubs.  I don’t like stucco on houses.  I don’t flat-iron my hair and I’ve never been to the Jersey Shore.  I don’t wear yoga pants or velour sweat suits, and I prefer not to have rhinestone logos associated with my rear end.

As a teenager, I felt this disconnect very strongly, and I fled to Massachusetts almost as soon as I had the choice.  As a college student, I fell in love with its expansive woodlands and winding roads and 18th century villages.  I don’t mind that everything closes at 8:00 at night, because I like to be in bed just an hour or so later.  I like the quiet, and the comparative friendliness (yes, even in Boston proper), and the progressively liberal bent to our politics.

I chose to live in Massachusetts, to settle here and make a life for myself.  It has become home, but no matter how many years I end up living here, I don’t know that it will ever be where I’m from.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that distinction, because my family is facing a big change in the coming months.  We are selling the house I grew up in.

That might not seem like a momentous thing for people who have moved around a lot during their lives, but it’s the only house I have ever lived in.  It was the place I ran to when I was feeling overwhelmed by people I didn’t understand; it’s where I could shut myself away with a book and a cat (or two or three) and pretend like I was in control of my world.  Its old-fashioned character shaped my aesthetic senses with rich cherry wood moldings and glass knobs on the rickety doors.

In contrast to the open floor plans and master suites of my friends’ houses, our 1923 American four-square organized its living spaces in smaller, more dedicated ways.  Having only one full bathroom for three kids and two parents required everyone to invest in some serious negotiating tactics in the mornings.  The bedrooms are small and the kitchen never had enough counter space, but high ceilings made everything feel bigger.  There’s a basement my dad finished himself.  A screened-in back room gave us a little more space to spread out, and let us spend leisurely summer dinners as a family overlooking a grassy yard large enough to be the envy of our carefully subdivided neighbors.

I spent a lot of time in the house as a child – I was homeschooled for several years, and even when I returned to public school, I did not waste a lot of my scarce energy on after-school activities or late evenings with friends.  I just went home.

I went home to my books, which never made me feel anxious or out of place.  I went home to my cats, who would listen to my secrets without judgement or comment.  I went home to the internet, and the ability to interact with the world from the safety of my own private castle.  When my parents divorced, I went home to the only place that seemed solid in a foreign and confusing new reality.

My room now...a little different than it was when I still lived there.

My room now…a little different (cleaner) than it was when I still lived there.

I went home and cried myself into exhaustion after I failed my first driver’s test, too embarrassed to tell any of my friends.  I went home while putting college on hold after a truly heinous semester at Boston University, and stared at the ceiling all night as I lay sleepless in my familiar bed, convinced I had ruined my life.

I stayed home when I was too sick or just too tired to go to high school; I came home almost every weekend for months as my cat Solomon started to come to the end of his days, just to spend as much time with him as I could.

Home has always been there for me, and home has always been that house.  I know that makes me lucky.  That sense of permanence has been a gift that kept me going through a tumultuous youth that left me feeling isolated, frustrated, and poorly understood more often than not.

When I visit these days, I feel those negative memories first.  I feel the pain of my slowly splintering family, and the resonating anger of so many heated disagreements over our fundamental differences.  I feel like a lost child again, rooting around helplessly in my overwhelming sadness, searching for some sense of self I could hardly define, let alone capture.

I feel all the missteps I made when I didn’t know better, and all the mistakes that other people didn’t even know they were making with me.  I feel the heartbreak of wishing so hard that things could be different, and the defeat of recognizing how many things are still the same, no matter how much older I get.

It’s in my nature, perhaps, to think about the bad things first, but they certainly don’t reflect the sum total of my life there.  There are so many good memories that made that house the sanctuary it will always remain in my mind.

There were sunlit mornings in the kitchen, eating breakfast while my mother washed the dishes, and winter afternoons charting new trails through the unbroken snow of the backyard grass.  There was my dogwood tree to climb, and a pool for a while, and the chaise in the screen room where I would fall asleep in the dappled shade.

There was the grill on the deck for steaks and chicken, and the terror of discovering a hornet’s nest under the eaves.  There was the ill-fated garden behind the garage, where we planted sickly tomatoes next to the sandy pit where I pretended to be an archaeologist.

There was the crawl space in the basement, where the original builders had left mysterious bottles and jugs, and the swing set, and the basketball hoop that was too tall for me, and the wooden playhouse that had more spiders than I quite liked.

There was chocolate milk on Sunday, and visits from my grandmother, and running to the corner to meet my dad when he came home on the train.  There were bike rides up and down the driveway along chalk-drawn streets, and camping in a pop-up tent we never really put together properly.

There were bedtime stories and silly dances and the day my mom spilled half her yogurt down the sink.  The ritual recital of Passover seders; the smells of Thanksgiving and latkes and snuffed out Hanukkah candles so the cats wouldn’t burn their whiskers.

Every corner has a story for me.  Every creak of the stairs is as familiar as my own name.  So much of my life has happened there, and even though I know it’s time to let that house become home for some other family with their future ahead of them, my heart aches when I think about never being in those rooms again.

We still have a month or two before we have to be out of there completely, and we’ve all planned to come down again for another weekend – the last time we will all be in the house together.  The finality of that is frightening.  So is the inevitability.  The sense of detachment may, in time, become liberating, but right now it just feels like I’m losing something very important to the way I have always seen myself.

Change is good, and this change is necessary on many levels, but it is hard to leave behind so much of myself in a place that is so strongly ingrained in my consciousness.

I don’t know how this is going to affect my family and the independent lives we are now living.  I don’t know where we’ll have our Thanksgivings and Passovers – or if those will be a thing of the past, as well.  I don’t know how the world will feel without a home like that to go back to.

I’m hoping that finally making the break from an idea that has slowly been fading over time anyway will just help me feel more settled and comfortable in the life I’ve built for myself.  I hope to have my own permanent house someday, with a yard and brick steps and dogwood trees for my theoretical children to climb.

I don’t know if I will ever feel as secure as I used to when I was a child in my fortress of books and bedding, before I became old enough and jaded enough to think about the bad things first.  But I hope I can build upon my treasured memories of happy times, and let the other ones drift away.

Home may be behind, but the world is ahead, and that will have to be the thought that sustains me as I watch one long chapter of my life come to a close and another begins.

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137 thoughts on “Home is Behind; the World Ahead

  1. Beautiful read..My sister lives in the house I grew up in and is now planning to sell. Although I have happy memories there it is the house where I lived for over 30 years and where I raised my children that caused the tears to fall when we sold it. That was 1 yearago and I am embarrassed to say I still look at the realtor pictures of the house online. I love where I live now but that house held a lot of memories. Change is difficult. We all move on at a certain pace..some of us go at snails pace while others prefer to move at rabbits pace. You are very blessed to have such happy memories. Some do not.

    • We recently (well 2 years ago) left the house we had lived in all our married life, and where we raised our family. The thought of leaving and moving on was very difficult, but we needed to close a chapter in our lives and start a new one. After living in our home for more than 35 years, we expected to miss it, and the area, and to take some time to settle into our new home. However, this was not the case. Within weeks, we felt settled and had no yearning for our previous home. It’s your memories, which are in your head, and your things that make your home, and you take those with you. The bricks and mortar of the house are just that. I wish you well.

  2. I have lived in both New York City and in Massachusetts. I spent the first 7 years of my life in Westford,Massachusetts and spent the rest of my life in Brooklyn. This is a site I want to visit some more

  3. What a touching post, so eloquently presented and beautifully described. You took me there, an amazing feat for any writer. It never ceases to amaze me the effect a home has on our lives. It’s a piece of yesterday, today and tomorrow – forever and always. I can identify with what you’re going through. A house is just a house, but a home, well, that’s about as big an impact as anything gets. Closure is good and, yes, necessary, but that doesn’t make it easy. Enjoy every moment. Make even more memories. And don’t look at it as goodbye. Look at it as a family heirloom you’re passing along to another fortunate family. Best wishes.

  4. At first, I envisioned those extreme patriots (at a local or national level) and I remember how hard it is to talk to then without their local pride getting in the way. And your story evolved I realized that (having moved 12 times) it wasn’t until I realized that memories are, as you say, in every corner and we should cherish them.

  5. You have beautiful memories of your home. My family lived in an old 1920s house when I was young. I wasn’t even 10 when we moved out of it an into a 1990s tri-level. But that old house will always be with me in loving memories and a sense of aesthetics. I count myself and anyone else who has ever lived in a beautiful old house lucky just to have had the experience, no matter how short lived it was.

  6. this is a nice read. made me think of my childhood home. my parents still live there, but esp. my father gets very old and is in need of constant care. so we, namely my brother and I, who live abroad, have been suggesting to move them out to a place, where they can get proper care. for this price, I would easily let go of all the emotional attachments to a house you describe. However, my sister, who still lives nearby, helps with the care, and I suspect, my father wants to leave this house with his feet forward, only.

  7. Lovely piece. When I had moved back to NY , I cried. I didn’t realize how much I missed home(the good & the bad) until I laid my head in my old bed. This was a thought provoking post… Love it!

  8. It’s true when a house holds so many memories, it’s pretty heart wrenching to have to say goodbye. But I’ve also learned detachment is key; we can never be sure of which way the road will turn next.

    I really feel the emotion for you!

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  10. Oh I know the feelings from the home so well! Understanding it’s hard to give up, but I believe it’s possible to build up new places filled with memories, love and growth. One just got to start trying, and eventually after some mistakes one feels connected and at home, someplace else, with someone else. I actually find It’s easier if one lets go of the old. Good luck on you journey!

  11. I feel similarly about our old house where I lived with my family from
    Age 14 onward and although I left for all but holidays when I was about 26 and moved to the states, it was always a big,peaceful, slightly dilapidated sanctuary. When my parents both died in a nursing home one after the other, we sold it, and the money was really helpful to all three kids. When I went back home to my mums memorial service we walked over to the house and even though the owners were willing for us to visit and see what they had done with it, we couldn’t arrange a good time, so we peered in the front windows and saw how they had “chicqued” it up but still left the original character. They had more money then my parents had – I always fantasized about really doing the place up so it was more elegant. Now I still live in the States and hardly ever visit. When I go back, it’s to another place where my brother lives and there’s hardly a reason to go back.are your parents still alive? I just found this by accident on freshly pressed! A beautiful read.

  12. Oh I know the feelings of the home so well! It’s So Hard to let go! But i believe Its possible to build new warm and fuzzy memories and new places to call home when you really try and put your heart into it. It might feel like it’s not working at first, and mistakes will be made but eventually you find a new place and people that feels like home. You just gotta look. Its actually easier when having to let go off the old. Good luck on your journey!

  13. Written very well. When my parents sold the house we grew up in it was sad. It’s feels like we lost something. But home is also where family is. We go there now and it’s a good new. Fond memories of the old. But now we also have fond of the new. My kids and I had the pain of losing a family member and the home they mostly grew up in. The only one they knew. But now we also have a new and don’t have to relive the bad over and over in the old.

  14. Well written. Unlike you, I grew in a small city with strong German-Mennonite historic roots. https://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2014/04/03/what-shapes-me-walkable-cycleable-neighbourhoods/https://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2014/04/03/what-shapes-me-walkable-cycleable-neighbourhoods/ House wasn’t quite as lovely as your childhood home. Because my parents were poor with a large family. But now it is on a heritage walking tour.

    Given as a poor family, we were very lucky to live on socio-economically divese neighbourhood. Would I want to live there? Not unless it was a home with less care.

    Then moved onto to much bigger cities that are more diverse. I view my childhood home with gratefulness …

  15. I lived in Toronto for nearly 20 years, before Vancouver and Calgary. So unlike you, I wanted….NEEDED Toronto’s diversity. Sure, I didn’t connect with the fashion mavens, etc. Big cities are….very diverse in social circles. I wanted that.

  16. Very beautifully described, and engaging too. Reading this made me remember my own childhood. Lived in a hilly place till I completed my schooling, with parents and extended family. And after that, came to the other side of the country for graduation and job. Haven’t been back there for the past 10 years and no matter how much I go forward, I can’t forget the lovely green hills and beautiful winding roads. Guess we all have to move on sometime or the other. Life is just like that. Hope you find that closure to move forward too. Nice post. 🙂

  17. Beautifully written, I read with pleasure from beginning to end. I never really had a real home – moved from country to country my whole life – and your piece is a wonderful description of what it could have been like. But “change is good” as you know, and I wish you and your family a wonderful Thanksgiving in that house before you move on to an even more fulfilling future…

  18. Thanks for sharing:) I had a similar experience, I found the best way to cope was to create my own memories in my currant home. Maybe, you’ll need to be the host of the family events?? You may be the new pillar of the family, not the house 🙂 Loved this read…keep us posted!

  19. A heartfelt piece: your descriptions of NY make me almost yearn to live there. I’ve always wanted to live in a colourful, bustling city, which is always moving and alive.

  20. A beautiful post. We never had a firm family base, we moved around a lot. I always longed for a home to build childhood memories in. I hope the day that you finally say goodbye isn’t too painful.

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  22. I grew up in a small city in Wisconsin where I was the outsider throughout my schooling and at the end of the day I would also take refuge in home ans books.

    I’m often set to wonder that despite the disparate nature of our experience our feelings of home are almost always universal.

    Beautifully written.

  23. Enjoyed this article. Great distinction between where you “live” and where you’re “from”. There is something to be said about where you grew up, especially having lived there for almost 2 decades.

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  25. I can relate to this my parents are divorcing soon and we have to sell the house I grew up in my whole life. I have hope and faith that we as a family will still get together. But as like you can’t seem to shake the negative thought of what if.

  26. So beautifully written! Your story made me think of the cherished memories I hold from my first childhood home, as well as, my grandparent’s home where I also used to spend much of my time growing up.

  27. Lovely post. Very reminiscent of the love Plath had for her childhood home. You’ll always have your memories, and oh, how lucky you are. I wish you and your family well as you move forward.

  28. My parents sold the house i grew up in when i was 32 and had been
    living on my own since i was 18, yet i found it so sad, made me feel disconnected from my past. And for months and months after I dreamt about the house, always variations of the same dream. Even now the house sometimes features in my nightly adventures. Often with my brother and i throwing a party and my mom getting upset as we are nit suppose to be there. So telling 😉

  29. We moved around a lot so I don’t have a house that parallels. I do have special places though and have experienced great loss when beloved buildings were demolished and private coastlines became populated. I enjoyed this piece so much as it called to mind those lost special places of mine. Thanks for sharing your story!

  30. For those of us who moved around, have countless memories associated with countless homes. I have realized that fond memories are better left to the past where they belong. Even a chance walking in on a long lost property does not bring back a continuance of the life we left behind. Because, simply because, we have changed a lot since we lived there.

  31. I get it. My parents sold our family house after I went to college. We never had a send off. But I did go visit it several years ago. The guy who owned it caught me sitting in my car across the street. He asked if I wanted to come in and see the place, so I did. And it was different. He lived there. Changed the way I saw it from that point forward. I drove away with the realization that it was just a house. It’s who lives in it that counts.

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  33. home is with you wherever you go, home are your memories, your love for those memories that stay within you, home can never be truly left behind even as we make a new home for ourselves we bring a little bit of that old home to it

  34. Such timing, I’m going through the same thing right now and find myself wondering will there be any more gatherings during the holiday season. The world is ahead is such a perfect thought, I’m going to be reminding myself of that a lot whilst I adjust as well. Thank you for sharing and I hope you have plenty of happiness to fill the world that lies ahead for you.

  35. Even though I grew up in several houses in different places, home was all the things from my childhood, the pots and pans, the toys and books, the knick knacks that we collected and carried with us with every move – we lost all that when my parents made the last move to their own home and furnishing it with everything new and unfamiliar. So I can understand your sense of loss but love the way you look ahead with hope. Good luck .

  36. It’s hard to hand over a home with so many memories. I was lucky…when my parents did that I was living far away. I don’t even remember my ‘last’ time there because at the time I didn’t know it was last. Still sometimes I fantasize about knocking on the door and asking if I can see the inside. Or maybe I don’t want to. Maybe it’s best to let memories stay undisturbed.

  37. Such roundedness. A lovely read, even with the less than positive memories. Having moved much in my life, I’ve not had that experience, so to read about it fired my imagination. Made me wistful. Thanks for the gift your writing transmits.

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  39. “He knocked on the door of the house he grew up in and asked the couple that answered if he could take a look around. They slammed the door shut. – Parents can be so frustrating at times.” (I forget who wrote that. Anybody know?)

  40. Wonderful story, it reminds me of when my grandparents put their home on the market. I was happy for them but there was a bitter-sweetness of losing the home I had felt so much love and joy in while growing up.

  41. Home is sanctuary, soon that home will be a sanctuary for another person who does not fit in the city. Let us hope that is the case and they are as lucky as you are. I loved this post for many reasons, because soon even I will have to vacate my home and it brought back so many memories of my home

    good luck

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  46. Wonderful. This story, your blog, and all the visuals just have a homey feel. Sometimes you can’t explain why one blog speaks to you and another doesn’t. I just discovered yours on “Discover.” I’d love to Follow it, and will as of tonight. Goodness – 124 responses to just one post! Good for you. Out of my realm. But it’s all about expressing and sharing. I’m writing a piece now for my weekly Friday post about home – by way of music and one special vinyl album. I’d be honored to have you check in on it.
    I’m glad I happened upon your website and look forward to reading more from ‘Inkless.”

  47. It’s like your writing chain of thoughts took me back to memory lane . I also had to learn to let go the only house I knew . Change is good ; it opens a new chapter in your life so we must learn to close the former otherwise we become consumed with the ” what if’s” thank you for sharing a part of your youth as I so can relate .

  48. Pingback: Still, Again, and Always | Jennifer Bresnick

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