The phrase “new home” sits so poorly with me. Maybe I shouldn’t complain. But “home” is supposed to be familiar, cozy, safe: not new, unfamiliar, and dangerous (have I told you about the brown recluse spiders that keep nesting in my car?) And yet, here we are. We own a house that is new to us, and are trying to make this huge empty place a new home.
People move all the time. This is my third cross country move, and my ten years in New York were spent in eight different apartments with over 30 different roommates. But it’s this move that makes me recoil at the phrase “new home.”
Maybe it’s the part of me that hates change, or the New Yorker in me who still can’t believe she lives in Texas, or the mom of two who carries most of the burden of making this house a home, or the part of me that has no understanding of what Wendell Berry talks about when he talks about the physical importance of place and location in the context of the land his family has owned for generations. It took me a solid month of driving my new car until I could find it in the parking lot without pressing the panic button. I am lost a lot in my thoughts and my driving. I’m not half a block from a bodega and two blocks from a Duane Reade. Getting milk is now an excursion. Living in a car is different. Living in smothering central air is different. Living in a house is different. It’s so insulating and isolating. We’ve only met a couple neighbors in passing on the sidewalk as we all scurry to shelter from the heat. No cookies dropped off to welcome us like all the stories go of new home owners.
The space between and around my body and my things and my people feels awful, and I’m very introverted. Ted and I don’t bump into each other in the kitchen anymore. We can’t hear Gus in his bed from our bed without the aid of technology. We’re further from each other in the house that really is three times the square footage of our old apartment, the apartment we all thought was huge. It’s weird; it’s new, this comfort and insulation is isolating, numbing, and lonely.
Maybe it is that technology has so dislodged my understanding of physical place. (I also still have PTSD and physically dissociate.) Facetime, emails, texts, airplanes, fast cars and voicemails cover vast distances in the beat of my hear. So what does it mean to be several thousand miles away from my dearest friends as they welcome their second daughter? I can’t pick up milk for them on my way home anymore.
My heart cries too loudly for familiarity, and I want to shush it’s cry at the same time I want to run home to New York. When I find a need this deep, I can either meet it or silence it. Living with an open desire feels like living with an open, bleeding sore. It’s sustaining life on empty, and it’s agonizing. Maybe it’s just me, but letting my heart cry and cry is unsettling. I want to numb the pain but I know that’s the worst thing I can do. I lived with empty, unmeetable needs for too long and have the scars and awkward social interactions to prove it.
I do know that this earth is not my home, nor is it my destination. I know we may not be in Houston for the rest of our lives, or we might be. I know we’ll make new friends and find things to love about Houston, and God is good, and has a plan, and blah blah blah. It takes 2 1/2 years, my mother in law says, to earn the familiarity to make a new city a home. She moved all the time for my father in law’s job and rarely did she liked it. She knows and living with her during this transition made such a difference. In her big house (the one they downsized to), she made space for me as a woman, as a mom, as a wife and as a daughter. I’m so grateful for that mooring. Without her, I’d be even more lost.
My craving for home is intimate and common. But I have to create a functional space for our family so that my children know what stability is like, and I have to spend the money on that new shower organizer to hold my razor so it stops sticking to the nice stone on the shower seat.
The house really is fine. Lovely even. It has a backyard and a good location, it’s zoned to a good school and has neighbors who named their two year old after a political philosopher I studied in college (or maybe, disappointingly, after the character from Lost. We’re not sure which.). We redid the wood floors so they are now a deep, dark brown. And we painted the green-tinted walls a bright, Benjamin Moore white (Chantilly Lace in egg shell).
Our furniture fits better in this house than it ever did in any of our apartments. Which makes me think that God knew. That he knew when we bought them five years ago and weren’t as careful as we should have been in measuring them, that these two, too-big couches would someday be placed on these wood floors. And they would fit wonderfully. It’s a comforting thought, yes. But, it’s also infuriating that maybe He has had these plans all along, and He didn’t warn us earlier than he did, and it feels like betrayal when he explicitly asked me to learn to stop dissociating and makes friends and a home only to uproot me and move me far away. But it’s comforting because it tells me that God is so God-like and Fatherly and loving that He put thought into the couches we’d buy years ago so that one part of our new life in Houston would feel like it fits here, like we belong here. That he is, in fact, in control and has a plan, as begrudging as I am to admit that.
I miss the 800 square feet, Apartment-Therapy-Calisthenics that you need in New York to make an apartment a home. We have a lot of empty cabinet space in our new kitchen. There is potential here, and too much storage. And bugs. Have I mentioned the sugar ants, spiders, roaches and mosquitoes that are everywhere?
The movers came to our storage unit very early that morning. They loaded and drove our things and unloaded them in the various rooms I sent them to from my lounge chair in the AC in our entry way. Then I scrambled to get Augustine’s room put together before the babysitter brought Gus to “New House” to nap. Then Amazon prime day delivered more cleaning supplies and the Cheerios I cannot stop eating (better than the hot dogs my first son made me crave!). Then our wifi was set up, and Fedex delivered a new pair of tennis shoes for my swollen feet, a rock and play (to keep Baby No 2 out of Baby No 1’s reach), and a push-reel lawnmower for our 8×10 rectangle of grass. Our grocery order came and filled the fridge (thank you Jesus for grocery delivery because this pregnant mama is not carrying groceries and a two year old in 100′ humidity.)
And then, oh and then!! THEN our new washer and dryer arrived from Sears. I put a gingham scarf in my hair and slippers on my feet so that I could feel the part of southern housewife as I received the delivery men, who promptly and kindly asked me to get out of their way as they demolished the shelf in the laundry closet to stack the washer dryer. I couldn’t reach the shelf standing on my tiptoes so I acquiesced to rest and watch. Which was what I needed to do because I was, and am, exhausted.
After the delivery men left, and Gus finished napping and was at his cousins’ house to play, I stood and reflected on my reflection in the dryer and tried to figure out who I saw. What an adult she must be to own a washer and a dryer! I thought. I’ve not lived with a washer-dryer since I left for college. Ten years. The only years I’ve known as an adult. In New York, you know you’ve made it when you have a washer dryer. I guess I never did make it there, but I sure did love trying, loved it so much I never minded carrying my laundry to whatever mat was nearest my apartment in the rain, snow, pregnancy, heat, the postpartum/newborn daze, or the Triborough Bike Race and the awful cover bands they always hired to play on our corner for the bikers who passed.
Once I tried to do laundry during the New York City Marathon, but the route ran down the street next to mine, and I couldn’t cross the flood of runners while carrying my dirty clothes. But I wasn’t upset because I ugly-cry-love the marathon. I made a friend once bonding over our shared love of cheering for strangers as they accomplish a physical feat beyond our endurance.
I digress thinking about my many New York homes and those bizarre, intimacy displays in public (and that’s just doing laundry) that my memories hold. I just so rarely “feel” like an adult. I know I’ve been one for a while now, but seeing my reflection in the washer dryer displays the gap, yet again, between my feelings and my knowledge. There is that verse in James that talks about the foolish look in the mirror and forget their face being akin to those who hear and do not act. Am I foolish because I can’t remember who I am as my life seasons change and I grow old (even though I’m not quite 30)?
I know I’m not alone in struggling to come to terms with this thing called life. It’s a thing we millennial have named and document un-ironically on Instagram: #adulting. Maybe if I introduce my next son to the world with that hashtag, my feelings and knowledge will collide and I will know that I. am. adult. Maybe?
Our ancestors and parents didn’t have hashtags, cell phones or microwaves, so who knows if they struggled as much as we do with feeling like we’re now adults. Part of it, I know, must be the innocence of childhood being shed and realizing that being an adult isn’t the supreme authority and assurance we thought it was.
But, I think for me, there is more to it. We’re in a lost in a cultural because of many factors. But there is no cultural coming of age anymore. No defining narrative. We’re left to define it for ourselves. Sure, we get our license and our id to drink, diplomas and apartments and first houses (for a few of us). But growing up the cultural narrative I heard was more of a “be whomever and whatever you want!” Which, as a woman, is great and new. But there are so many options, too many choices. And that’s just if you talk about the sheet options you can buy for your bed (somehow we arrived in our house and unpacked and found that none of the sheets for our queen size bed made the move with us. I can’t even guess their location.)
In New York, Ted and I could walk around and point out landmarks and reflect on things like, “Man, when I lived there, I was ..” or “Wow, I was going through this that time we ate here and now I’m not!” Houston has a lot of unmarked territory for us to make new Ebenezers, but not being in the place where we will run into them regularly is disorienting. And it’s lonely without running into all the younger Caitie’s who sit in cafe’s studying and taking that train to that stop to work everyday. It’s also lonely to not have friends to talk to about this stuff. People who don’t need the background on me and New York.
“New House” is a deep sigh of relief, and I love being able to sit in my chair and rock my brain to thinking again. I know I’ll make this house a home for us. But, like my other dear friend who is making her third home on their third continent with the man whose only been her husband for less than two years said, “God asks people to do wild things! Build a boat when there’s no water… go tell horrible enemies to join the family… pick up and move to a mystery place. It looks like you’re in the club now!” A club I’d really like to quit but doubt I ever will.