“Home isn’t where you’re from, it’s where you find light when all grows dark.”
I traveled to Philadelphia over New Year’s Eve for a friend’s wedding and while I was there I got to visit my old house. This is the house I grew up in, located in Royersford, Pennsylvania just outside of Philly. My parents put their house on the market last year after making the decision to move to Florida full time to be closer to my sister and me. They moved all of their belongings down to Florida so the house is empty. It’s currently under contract but hasn’t been closed on yet, so I was able to go in and visit it one last time while I was there on my trip.
My mom asked me before I left for Philly if I was going to say goodbye to the house. I hadn’t really thought much about the house to be honest. Out of sight, out of mind. I haven’t lived there permanently since 2010 when I came home from Cancun for 10 months to work. Any other times I’ve been there have been visits only. I took Fer there in 2012 and 2013 for Christmas. Real Christmas – with freezing cold temperatures, snow, fireplaces burning, tall, wonderful-smelling Christmas trees, and my mom’s cooking. Every time I went back it was just the way I’d left it. My room has looked the same since high school. I guess I took it for granted in a way. I never prepared myself to have to leave it one day. I was around 9 years old we moved into that house and I am now 31.
After leaving my friend’s house in Royersford I had to drive right by my old house so I decided to stop. Fer wasn’t with me because I was at a girl’s meet-up with the bride so I was alone when I stopped. I pulled into the driveway which I have done thousands of times in my life. I put my car in park, got out, breathed in the cold air, and entered through the garage (the same way we always went in). From there I entered the laundry room and saw that same old washer/dryer and went straight into the kitchen. Normally I would open the snack closet and grab something and pour myself a glass of water, but this time I couldn’t. I noticed how empty the house looked and sounded right away. The house was like a shell, still warm and familiar, but lacked its cozy insides.
I ran my fingers across the white paint. The clicking of my boot heels echoed throughout the house. I climbed the steps two at a time (another ritual I always did when I lived there) and reached my room at the top of the steps. Empty. I don’t remember ever seeing my room look so empty. The walls were still the aqua blue color they were painted when I was in high school and the mirrored closet doors I got to copy my sister remained. I didn’t know what else to do so I sat down. I put my face on the carpet and closed my eyes, and the tears started to come. I curled right up where my bed used to be. Where I’ve cried so many times in my life about so many different things. Memories flashed through my brain. Ex-boyfriends, friends, sleepovers, winters, summers, hangovers, my mom ripping the covers off me every morning to wake me up for school, doing my homework, doing research on how to move to Cancun, detoxing from ecstasy. A lot has happened in that room. I let the feelings wash over me. I went over to the vent in the floor. I opened and closed it, opened and closed it. I used to put my blanket over it when air conditioning flooded out of it and then when it was nice and cold I would run the blanket through my fingers and it would soothe me.
I stayed there for a good 10-15 minutes and let the feelings leave me. Then I went into every room and smiled. I sat at the top of the steps like my parents forced me and my sister to do every Christmas until we were allowed to go downstairs and open our gifts. I went down into the basement just to take a final look and then did one more lap around the downstairs. I kissed the wall and I said goodbye to my home.
I wasn’t expecting to feel as emotional as I did about seeing my house for the last time, but I was overcome with memories and emotions. That house represents a large chunk of my past, my childhood, my teenage years, my drinking days, different relationships and seasons of my life. I felt safe there, it was somewhere I could always come back to no matter what chaos I was experiencing. It’s weird because that house held a lot of my dark times too and you would think I would be ready to move on from that. I have my own home now with my fiancé and it will be a house I never drink alcohol in, or experience a hangover in, or go through withdrawal in. Standing in front of the house in Pennsylvania I couldn’t help but think of all the times I sat there in front of the house and smoked weed. But more than anything I felt sad. Part of me will always miss living with my parents, in a place that has 4 seasons, where Christmas involved running down a set of steps, a place where the floors creaked, and my room was a safety net away from pain.
Man letting go is hard. I did not want to. Do we ever want to say goodbye to home? I have another home, a new home, here in Florida with Fer and Rita and Ramona and I love it, but it’s not the same as my house on Willowbrooke Lane. It never will be. And maybe that’s ok. I am growing, healing, learning, and it’s sad and wonderful all at the same time. Pennsylvania will always be where I’m from, but it’s now just a part of my past. I left a piece of my heart in that house, in my room, embedded in those walls. May the next people who move in love it as much as I did.