My house is full of boxes. It will soon be filled with strangers.
Strangers poking their heads into my closets. Strangers questioning my paint colors and home improvement efforts. These strangers will project their lives onto my walls, envision their own paint colors, speculate on ways to make my house better — and wonder why it didn’t occur to me to do those things as well.
They may see the grubby handprints my sponge missed and the nicks in the walls my touch-up paint didn’t cover. But they won’t see the little hands that made those prints or the puppy that crashed into the walls while chasing an errant tennis ball. They won’t see the furniture that was moved to make room for a baby, leaving scuffs on the hardwood floors; they’ll only see the scuffs. They won’t know that the side wall in the dining room has been caked in food at times, thrown by babies who squealed in delight at their ability to throw. They won’t see that wall and recall the first birthday parties that played out there.
We are moving and it is bittersweet. I’ve both longed for and dreaded this day. The walls of this old house have held the best and worst days of my life. The view of the street is the same view I’ve taken in absently while hearing over the phone that each friend had been killed in combat. The news was always shocking and tragic to me, but not shocking to this 70-year-old house in a military town. Likely I’m not the first Army wife to hear of war deaths while sitting in this space. And I’ve stared out at that same street view while hearing good news, too. A homecoming date pushed up. A new baby added to our extended families. My work being praised and opportunities presenting themselves. It hasn’t all been bad, not by any measure.
Primer now covers the magic marker drawings my son and daughter added to the walls, but I can’t bear to paint over the informal height chart on the door frame of my closet. The new owners will have to paint over that. Perhaps they will rip out the pedestal sink in the bathroom and replace it with a vanity. It would certainly be more practical. They will be able to look at that sink without seeing the pregnancy test sticks that rested there as I stared them down, willing a plus sign to appear. They will see that sink without picturing my son at five years old, blood dribbling from the hole in his mouth where his first tooth had been, or as he stared at himself in horror at the sight of his first nosebleed. They will see it without sentiment, not remembering the scrapes and cuts that have been washed there or seeing me, staring into the mirror at my first gray hair and at the laugh lines that now appear around my eyes.
They won’t know that the dogwood tree in the front yard has played host to numerous yellow ribbons and they won’t imagine the rumpled “Welcome Home” banner that has been taped up in various places around the little yellow house over the years. They won’t remember the nights I lay in bed awake, staring at the crack in the ceiling, terrified of becoming a widow as the war waged on thousands of miles away with my husband on the front lines. They won’t know of the nights he and I spent awake staring at that same crack in the ceiling, too angry with each other to speak or to sleep; or of the nights spent yelling and crying as we tried to paste our lives together after so much time apart.
Would-be buyers won’t see the chalk drawings in the street, the Christmas tree with the homemade ornaments or the dollhouse Santa Claus left for my three-year-old daughter, who was wide-eyed in amazement at how it stretched well above her head. They won’t stare at the invisible spot in the living room where my water broke as I went into labor with her. They won’t know that all three of my labors started here and that all three of my newborns began their lives here, in this old house.
They will just see a house. A freshly spruced up, 70-year-old space, reeking of new paint and professional cleaning solvents. They will see a house with no mementos and no framed snapshots, staged to look as blank as possible, so that they might project their own lives onto its walls. They will buy it, move in and make it theirs — just as we did — never knowing all that has happened here, but ready to make memories of their own.