It was moving day and nearly everything had been loaded. The movers had worked for hours. Then Bill came to me and said they wouldn’t put the last of our potted plants in the truck. So I stomped out to the street to “set them straight.”
The mover pointed to the opened back of the 26-foot moving truck. Every square inch was full, floor to ceiling. “There’s just no more space.” He shrugged. “We could come back after unloading to get the rest…?” But I told him that wouldn’t be necessary.
They didn’t even have room to pack the moving dolly. He unhooked its middle and gave me the metal pieces, which I loaded into the trunk of my car. We piled the last of the boxes into Bill’s truck and shoved in the potted plants. Then creaking and groaning we drove caravan-style down the hill to our new home.
That was two weeks ago. We still have hundreds of boxes piled high in the garage. Every night we unpack a few more. Everything seems so new, because it is.
This condo was burned to the ground in the Tubbs Fire of 2017. The former owners decided they couldn’t handle the rebuilding process and so put it up for sale. I had been looking for a condo for us to buy, and we decided to take the plunge. We closed in late April, 2018. We paid a fortune for a hole in the ground and the “rebuild rights” — a brand new condo paid for by the master insurance policy. We hired an architect to redraw the plans, remove walls and reconfigure rooms.
The Tubbs Fire burned nearly 5,000 houses in Santa Rosa. All that rebuilding meant limited construction workers to go around. The builder would bring in framers from as far south as Los Angeles and as far north as Portland, Oregon. Alongside worker shortages, there were fires the following year (and the year after) and then COVID hit.
This process was originally supposed to be complete in 18 months. But it would be three years, one month and one day before we moved into our new place. But of course (cough, cough) who’s counting?
This is the nicest place Bill and I have ever lived. It’s 2,100 s.f. with three bedrooms, three bathrooms and a large two car garage. We have views toward the West/Southwest over the plains of Santa Rosa in Wine country.
But this post is not so much about this place as it is my growing feeling I’m not actually home. Our stuff is here, and we are here, but…
I had an inkling this might happen because mom experienced it when she and dad built their home in 1989. Mom paced room to room while telling dad, “It doesn’t feel right. It’s not home.” Dad thought this would pass, but the weeks became months and mom’s feeling didn’t improve.
She said, “Mom hasn’t been here.” She meant her mother, who had died a few years earlier. (She recognized the absurdity of this statement, but I’ve always understood what she meant. The desire for a parental stamp of approval never quite goes away.) “The kids haven’t even been here.” That would be my sister Katie and me. At the time, Katie lived in northern Texas with her husband and I had already moved to California.
Feeling at home is a complex emotion. It involves many factors — loved ones to gather in the home; your stuff needs organizing; memories need to form inside those walls; the physical sensation of What Had Been Home has to recede.
Yesterday, I made blackout curtains from some old upholstery fabric because the bedroom is so sunny and bright. In our former home, the bedroom sat at the back of the house and looked out onto tall shady redwoods. It was a dark room and we had been sleeping in that cozy cave for more than 20 years. Both of us have struggled to sleep inside the sun lamp of this bedroom.
But what I’m getting at is more than just the adjustments to a new space. It’s also about the time it takes for that deep inner part to settle and put down roots. That will take time.
But I keep thinking of the title of this post, which is a line from one of my poems: “What happens when there’s no home at home?” It’s a complex question because when we feel displaced what we need is to feel at home, which can’t be found…
I don’t know how long it’s going to take for that feeling to appear.
I hope this post doesn’t make us sound ungrateful. We’re delighted to be here. In fact, we keep wandering from upstairs to downstairs… to the windows to look out… down the hall to peer into the rooms… checking out the kitchen, which is the best one I’ve ever had.
I keep saying to myself — would you stop? Look around! But then a moment later I sit on the sofa and take a deep breath. I fight off the feeling I’m not where I’m supposed to be.
I’m at home, but not.
That’s a really difficult spot to be in.