Goodbye, dear home

Two months ago we sold our home of ten years and moved to a smaller rental house in a different city. Matt is going through a career change and we had to move for his new job. But it all happened so fast—the house sold in four days, the escrow was only two weeks long, everything had to go, go, go—and I've found myself sort of stumbling around in the wake of all this change trying to find my bearings.

My new painting corner in the rental house

My new painting corner in the rental house

We moved to Irvine, California which is, apparently, one of America’s safest cities. This is comforting but also, oddly surreal. I’ve never lived anywhere with such an astonishing level of orderliness.

Everything is precisely planned and in its place. All the hedges are trimmed, the grass mowed, the trees clipped, the sidewalks swept. The “village” where we live—which is to say, the tightly defined neighborhood enclave with its own entrances and boundaries—feels more like a resort than a neighborhood. There’s a large resort style community pool, park and playground. There are gently winding sidewalks laid out ten feet away from the curb. Perfectly spaced trees line the streets. The public schools are top-ranking. Everything is imminently walkable and livable. I've never lived in such pristine environs.

But there's also something disconcerting about living here. I don’t really see my neighbors. Most people park in their garages and enter their homes that way. The garage door goes up and the garage door goes down. There's no chance to say hello. In my old neighborhood, most people parked in their driveways or on the street in front of their homes. So many little conversations and neighborly chats happened on the way to and from our cars. It's funny how something so simple as parking in one's garage cuts off the opportunity for community building.

There's another significant difference here. Children don’t play outside. Older kids walk to and from school but there are no little kids playing ball in the street or hide and go seek in the front yards. Because I don't really see my neighbors, it took me several weeks before I realized that my immediate next door neighbor doesn’t even live there. It’s an empty house. So is the house across from me. From asking around, I’ve learned that this is fairly common in Irvine. I don’t know what to make of this. Do people just buy homes and then leave them empty, living elsewhere?

Living in such an orderly neighborhood comes with a lot of rules, I've learned.

If you want to paint your house, you have to get the color approved by the homeowner’s association. If you want to park your car outside the garage, you have to get a permit. If you want to swim in the pool, you have to sign in. If you want to sneeze, you need approval. 

There’s a security guy who goes around writing tickets for cars parked without permits. I suppose that’s the only thing you can ticket people for in the safest city in America.

My neighbors are quiet and keep to themselves. In the two months we've been here, nobody has introduced themselves. They’re not unfriendly, per se. I think they’re just private. But it does feel rather isolating. I'm accustomed to super friendly and chatty neighbors. I'm accustomed to knowing everyone and having neighborhood get togethers. Here in Irvine it's like we're all living on our own little islands. You don't know the person who lives ten feet away from you. There's no sense of community. I guess that's normal?

There’s a woman who lives several houses down from us and when she brings her dog out for a walk, she doesn't actually walk the dog. She carries him. And she does this while wearing heels. She walks out of her house in high heels, carries the dog for awhile, puts the dog down by a bush to do its business. Then she picks the dog back up and carries him home, clip-clopping past my house in her heels. There's nothing wrong with the dog as far as I can tell. When he's down on the ground he walks normally. It's not like he's lame. But for whatever reason, he gets carried around. I find this wonderfully amusing.

I have yet to unpack my books or hang pictures. I guess a small part of me is hoping we'll move back to my old neighborhood. Back to my "real" home. I know this is magical thinking. I just feel so displaced. Ten years is a long time to live in one place—at least, for me—and I put down roots. I knew everyone and everyone knew me. I felt attached to everything in my old neighborhood. The trees, the roses in my garden, the mourning doves that came every spring, the way the light came in through my front door in the late afternoons, my painting area, the twins' room, the wallpaper in my bedroom...

I've been thinking a lot about what makes a home. Is it the house itself? Is it the people? If you move your belongings from one place to another place, is the new place Home? Does owning your home make it more home than renting it?

The landlord wouldn't allow us to bring dogs to this rental home and we were in such a rush with the short escrow that we had to re-home them. I miss my dogs more than I can say. So much has changed in the last year and I wonder if I'll ever feel like I'm truly HOME again. Even our family dynamic is changing. Our oldest child has moved out permanently. The next kid moves out in a year. I feel a sense of loss over this. When I think of my family, somehow the image in my mind is stuck in the past. All the kids are little. Everyone is happily ensconced in our old home. The dogs are running around the back yard.

That season of my life is over and I'm having a hard time letting go.

All I can do is take it one day at a time. It's summer now and the kids are out of school. They wake up later. I let them sleep. I have my morning coffee alone in a quiet house. Today I’ll do some laundry and we’ll go to the community pool. I’m trying to sink into the rhythm of summer.

A few weeks ago I was driving near my old neighborhood and thought: "Should I drive past my old house?" But then I decided against it. I couldn't bear to see it. I miss it too much.