"In an odd kind of way, I know how to do this," I say to my sister, the phone cupped between my ear and shoulder. I'm folding laundry. I know how to lose it all. I know how to live this gypsy life, packing up and living out of boxes, finding home--making home wherever I land. I remember this feeling, recognize the familiarity of this strange in-between.
My childhood was spent moving from house to house and every summer, packing up for long weeks of Gospel preaching on street corners across America.
"Mom always knew how to make a home from cardboard boxes and egg-carton sleeping mats," my sister notes. We chuckle for a moment, remembering those makeshift bedrooms that somehow always felt cozy.
We never felt lack. Home was relationship and communal dinners, afternoons spent catching frisbee in the park, playing volleyball on the beach, sitting under the pier licking ice-cream off our sticky fingers.
And although there was so much crazy in our fundamentalist childhood--there was also something pure and wholehearted about living free, detached, solvent. My parents never owned a home, never had retirement or savings accounts. They never had credit cards.
But we really did live.
I used to think I wanted something so different from my childhood. I wanted the house and the mortgage. I wanted the retirement account and the fat savings account. When I was 22, I took a personal finance class so I could learn about mutual funds, investing, Roth IRAs. I wanted a nice house in a rich neighborhood. I wanted my children to hob-nob with the hoi-poloi. I wanted to summer in Paris.
I was (am still?) ashamed of my whackaloon childhood. I'm mortified by my unrefined, hokey fundamentalism. I wanted out of that life for so long and spent so many years dreaming about what it would be like "on the outside." My dreams took on these gentrified hues of wood-paneled libraries and long afternoons spent sipping tea on a chaise lounge--while discussing, of course, Yeats.
I wanted to reek of privilege. I wanted the casual affluence of a woman who thinks nothing of the regular Sunday brunch and whose teeth gleam with the effortless whiteness of someone who sees her dental hygienist twice per year.
Now I look at those dreams and think what an elitist a-hole I was. Maybe I'm being harsh on myself. But still, I'm aghast at my miscalculations. How silly to think the tanking economy wouldn't touch us, couldn't touch us--because we had dreams, dammit.
But when you dream of having that life, you don't calculate the cost of a gardener and a pool boy and a housecleaner. You don't think about having pay for repairs and remodeling. You never imagine how much work it will be to maintain all your stuff. You don't realize that most of your time will be spent managing your stuff.
You don't realize that the stuff starts slowing you down and pretty soon, you've given up all your freedom for a damn pool that sits clean and sparkling--and unused--for six months a year.
You also don't calculate how running away from your past never takes you far away from your very own self.
You fail to calculate all you will waste in the pursuit of an illusion--an illusion of home ownership.
"We never owned this home," my husband says. "The bank did."
Sometimes I really hate the truth.
So, we're selling this big home and almost everything in it. We're upending and downsizing, decluttering with ruthless abandon.
"This house was a good place to suffer," my husband remarks. This makes me laugh. Perhaps there's nothing like having the big house to really show you how disappointing it is.
When we bought this house, we imagined ourselves throwing parties in the beautiful backyard. We would host barbeques and wedding receptions! We could even have a little pony ride in that corner over there!
We've had maybe one barbeque. No wedding receptions. Ponies, ha.
I did spend many hours fishing leaves out of the pool, though. And flushing the clogged up filter. And nagging my sons about mowing the lawn.
Losing it all is a strangely satisfying purgation. I've always been something of a glutton for punishment and this losing feels like a necessary death.
"What we're doing," I say to my husband as we crash into bed, exhausted, at the end of last week, "is intentionally building a margin into our lives. This house--this way of life--has squeezed out every last margin."
We want to breathe again.
We want to rise from the ashes.
But before a seed grows, it must fall into the ground and die.