In my quest to find the meaning of the word “home,” I’ve been thinking about the home in which I spent my teen years. There were many good times spent in that house, and yet every time I see it, I find myself thinking “What if . . .” This house—with it’s big backyard, it’s bedrooms for each of us, it’s kitchen large enough for a family of six—still holds the pain of the dissolution of our family.
We moved to this house when I was eleven—I was so excited for the new adventure that awaited us there. I was no longer going to have to share a room with my brother—or with anyone for that matter. Both the walls and the carpet were a beautiful light blue, and my parents even let me pick out my own light fixture. For the next 10 years this would be my room—a place to be by myself, to talk on the phone, to listen to music, to do homework, to get ready for dances, to hang out with friends—it was mine, and the thought that some day it would no longer be, never entered my mind.
I live just a few miles away from the town I grew up in, and as much as I love to drive past my first childhood home, I don’t often go out of my way to see this one. There are moments, however, when I find myself getting nearer, and I feel an overwhelming urge to just look at the house once more. I never stop the car, I just slow down long enough to really look at it, at the windows of the rooms that still hold the memories of my family. The number of good memories far outweigh the bad, and yet all I can think of when I see this house are the painful ones—the ones that came at the end.
The “What ifs” that flood my mind are not “What if my parents hadn’t gotten divorced?” because that would be like wondering “What if a different man were my father?” These are two impossible questions that are futile in their nature and not worth pondering. Instead, the “What ifs” are more for my mother. I think of all the questions she must ask herself about the life she lived for more than twenty-five years, a life that ended when her husband walked out one fall day. This home is the one she had to give up, the one she had to leave behind.
There was a moment during the divorce that my mother could have decided to stay in this house—she was given a choice: to stay in the home of our childhood or to move to one a few hours away, free from the reminders of her former life. In the end, it wasn’t really a choice at all. My mother recently reminded me of a conversation we had prior to deciding where to live. She had asked me my opinion on what she should do, and my words to her were “Home is wherever you are.”
When I ask myself the meaning of “home,” I realize now that it has a meaning that hadn’t occurred to me before. I knew that seeing a former home could bring you back to a time in your life that you otherwise wouldn’t think of—and with that can come the happiness or nostalgia for your former self. However, I now know that a house can also hold the ghosts of your past—ghosts that are sometimes better left forgotten—and by leaving these memories where you found them, you are able to move on with your life.
Sixteen years after packing up each of these rooms for the last time, our lives are settled and going well. We—my mother, siblings, and I—no longer feel the pain we did during that time. In fact, in many ways, that part of our lives has been forgotten, or at least replaced by the new memories that can be found in the homes we have since created. My advice for my daughter, as she continues to wonder what it would be like to move to a new home, is to know that life is filled with both painful and wonderful experiences—and sometimes it is possible—and necessary—to move to a new place in order to leave the painful ones behind.