On Going Home
When most people move, they pack their stuff, schlep it onto a truck, alert the power company and the post office, and boom! New home, new chapter.
I do things a little differently (note to self: another possible title for my autobiography).
With every major move I’ve made - the kind where a mortgage is involved - there’s been a storage unit. Temporary furniture. Short-term addresses (24 of them, to be precise - the post office hates me).
First, there was the 2-year stint jumping from furnished rental to furnished rental (albeit beachfront) as hurricane after hurricane delayed construction on our first home; next, an unforgettable 18 months living with my in-laws when we moved back to New York; then, finally (for now) 16 months tucked into 900 outdated square feet courtesy of the insurance company post-fire/mid-divorce (incidentally, I strongly advise against having both a house fire and divorce at the same time; you should really pick just one).
Fire destroyed half my home in February 2021- the second fire my ex-husband set with a cigarette, this one devastating. I had already asked him for a divorce; we’d had our first interview with a mediator that frigid, February afternoon, but months of living together as we figured out finances and co-parenting loomed before us - until they didn’t.
One day I was living at home with my children, trying to imagine what my future would look like without the person who’d been beside me for more than two decades, the next I was sharing custody with him from a hotel room, driving a rented car, washing and re-wearing the same armload of clothes again and again because everything else reeked of smoke.
And so began the most painful and terrifying chapter of my life.
Two weeks after the fire, the insurance company moved me into a tiny house that the kids and I christened, “the Love Nest.”
It’s funny how gratitude can exist so abundantly amidst such great pain.
Under the shock and exhaustion - physical, emotional, mental - and the disbelief; under the grief, fear and devastation, I remember the incredible relief and gratitude I felt as I moved my few belongings into the Love Nest through the lingering piles of late winter snow. I was bone tired; I was sad and blue down in my very soul. I was afraid.
I was so grateful.
Grateful to have a place to lay our heads. Grateful for insurance. Grateful for my precious, beautiful friends who stood shivering beside me, shoulder to shoulder in the frigid February temps as I helplessly watched my home burn - my children’s coming home outfits, my mother’s purse, my father’s watch, my grandmother’s silver - and didn’t tell me to go indoors and get warm because they knew I couldn’t look away. My friends, who met me at the new rental with baskets of cozy blankets, decor items, cocoa, and even family photos of my parents and the kids that they’d printed from Facebook; friends who hung curtain rods and scrubbed sinks and floors and made me laugh until I cried.
Grateful that we were alive; that that ashtray had been emptied after his 7 pm cigarette, not his 11 pm cigarette, since he’d also disabled the smoke detectors. A nighttime fire as we slept could easily have killed us all - or at least my children, whose rooms were above the garage.
Grateful to be alone in my bed, even if it was a rented bed with awful Family Dollar sheets because I hadn’t been able to find my own in the cold, dark, damaged house I’d left behind.
Grateful to be carrying only my children’s grief and my own, and not that of the other adult who was supposed to be my partner and support system; for once, in the midst of great hardship and pain - this wasn’t my first rodeo - I carried only 3, not 4.
What incredible relief.
On the other side of that gratitude was stunning pain. I was reeling. How many hard things can one person do in a lifetime? What would happen now? I still had a divorce to wade through, a job I needed to keep, and my kids…
The kids were the reason I named the house the Love Nest. They were the reason I decorated and put up wreaths and matching throw pillows and Christmas lights and bought Christmas sheets and comforters for beds that were only temporary. I needed them to know that they were home; I needed them to know that hard times come and go but that joy can be found in even the darkest places.
I remember sitting on my rented blue microsuede couch (when it comes to emergency rental furniture, you get what you get and you don’t get upset) and thanking God for his Divine wisdom in bringing us here. All this pain, all this horror and grief, and shock - it would belong to this house. We would heal here; the bad memories would forever be connected with this temporary home. When we started over, the horrible memories of this time would all be set against the backdrop of a house that we’d eventually leave behind - even if the new reality had to travel with us.
Weeks later we sat on that rented couch and told the kids we were divorcing. 11 months later a rental company came and took that couch away. They couldn’t take away the pain of our divorce, the pain my kids felt - and will always feel - but that awful scene, that terrible day…it belongs to that house and that couch.
In April 2022 my offer was accepted on a new home of my very own - just mine. Gone are the days when I shared the title but took sole responsibility for the mortgage. Gone are the days when I had to tiptoe in my own home, anxiously anticipating the shifting moods of another person (except possibly my teenager), wondering who I was going to wake up to and how they would treat me that day.
I am home.
I wish this was a simple, linear story about healing and redemption, but my healing, my children’s healing, is happening in peaks and valleys day by day. It will probably continue for the rest of our lives. The time I spent in the Love Nest was bleak. Sometimes I felt hopeless; so much so that I scared myself. More than once during those 16 months, I broke apart completely.
And then I put myself back together.
I healed parts of myself that had been broken since childhood. I spent time in therapy. I walked. I leaned on my friends. I laughed a lot. I cried just as much. I held my children and laughed with them and played games and packed lunches and read books and wiped tears and told silly jokes. I read and I wrote and I did the work of exploring my mistakes and patterns and hopes and fears and damage and demons. I traveled and tried new things and made wonderful memories with the people I love most.
I was afraid a lot, and in pain almost constantly - until I wasn’t.
In that little rented house, I came home to myself.
And now I’m home for real; for good, in a home that belongs to my children and I alone; where I am free. It’s exhilarating and terrifying. Sitting at that closing table, signing my name - just my name - I don’t know if I’ve ever been prouder of myself. Not because I bought a house, exactly; I’ve bought three houses now, homes I chose and paid for largely on my own. But because I made it.
I made it here, to the single most peaceful place I’ve ever been in my adult life.
A year ago I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me I’d have come this far - a home that’s perfect for us in a neighborhood I love, where the kids can walk right down the block to dad’s house; a job that is my greatest professional achievement to date and which allows us to have this home as well the little extras.
I don’t know that we’ll name it; I am not ordinarily in the practice of naming homes. The Love Nest got its moniker because I was determined to show my kids that joy is something you choose, not something that happens to you; to make it an adventure instead of a displacement. But at last, I am home. We are home.
After all that we have been through, I have brought us home.
Thank you, God.
This is my favorite home I have ever owned. It’s amazing how the Universe works; how it always has my back. All the little things I wished for over the years - from floor-to-ceiling windows and a second-floor laundry room to the neighborhood I’d always considered ideal, I have it all here in this little white house.
Grateful doesn’t begin to cover it.
It can be scary, being on my own. Keeps me awake at night sometimes. It’s also hard, caring for a home (and a yard, and a pool, and the garage that is somehow always a wreck) on my own.
But I am in love - and this kind of love lasts a lifetime.
I am in love with this life I fought for, that I broke for, and that I earned for myself and my kids. I am in love with our little white house that felt like home the first time I walked into it.
After many, many decades, I am finally at home - not just in my little white house, but in my own skin; in my life.
After decades of searching, of trying to find it in other people, in accomplishments, in the past, I have come home.
And I’ll tell you something else -
I’m here to stay.