For three years, the home I longed for was fixed in my mind. Images of every room that I lovingly painted, upgraded, designed, and loved was etched into my third eye. Whenever I needed home, I would close my eyes and roam from room to room, visiting memories long held dear. This is not just any house. This is our first home. We purchased it ourselves, and we labored with love over every square inch. She is ours. She shelters us from the elements of the sky and of man. She envelops us with her quirky doors and bumpy walls. She’s not perfect, but she reflects us. We left the essence our joys and sorrows with her when we left. We fretted over her. We ached for her.
Arriving in the States after living for three years in Germany, we were experiencing a sudden case of dementia. What should be familiar felt foreign. We felt foreign–or at least I did. Being married to a United States Soldier, dependents (the family), have developed an amazing ability to set up camp and make the temporary familiar. We are used to being a foreigner every time we move to a new Post. When we bought this house, we put down roots. Our first sets of real roots. You know, not the kind that runs shallow and uproots easily. These were the beginnings of tap roots. The kind that runs deep and refuses to be blown away in the hurricane.
We became the caretakers of a home that would live on with our memories forever part her. She will be witness to the joys and sorrows of those that come to her long after I am dead. She holds the memories of those that came before us. We painted over those memories. We altered her. We made her ours, not theirs. Because we loved her and we tapped our roots in, we left her in the care of others with the intention and hope to come back to her.
Before we left, we prepped her for a new family. We gave her kitchen and family room a major makeover. We covered the evidence of family photographs hanging on the walls. We prepped her yard for a major overhaul that would occur five months after we left. We trimmed her strawberry plants. We trimmed the rosemary bush and the tree. She was freshly manicured and ready to go. A blank slate for a new military family to transform a temporary residence into a home. I left with the images of my home.
Because of the care and respect that I gave to all of my temporary homes, I never expected my home to be abused. I least of all expected such mistreatment from a military family! They left the essence of disdain. They left the odor of rotten meat, dog piss, and puke. They left behind the evidence of every family photo that had hung on those walls. They left behind the evidence of animal abuse. The stench of anger hung thick in the air. Evidence of a toddler let loose in every room with a crayon, pencil, or pen is stamped into the walls. The color of a tan cave has spread onto every wall in every room except the children’s rooms and the office. The paint eats the sun and reflects the hopelessness of a couple who appear to have reached the edge of the cliff.
As I sit among my possessions that create the stage of home no matter where we reside, I feel like a foreigner. I am a temporary visitor in my own home. Throughout our twenty years together, my husband and I have always moved forward–from one new dwelling to another. Always forward, never backward. Until now. Is it me or is it the house that has changed? We both have changed. I brought new possessions into her arms that she has never known. She was abused and broken. All she had to offer was her strength, and even that was damaged in the wind. She looks to us to make her shine again. She looks to us to make her a real home. A forever home.
We came together as strangers for a second time. We were both a little worse for wear. We were both three years older. We both had new scars. We met in my office. We came together as equals and as friends who have been living apart for a while. We can both be comfortable here, where a child’s writing on the wall is the only mark of the former residents. She likes the new desk and shelves and eagerly awaits a fresh coat of paint, boasting my art on the walls, and a cup of tea with me and my Muse. We are combining the old and the new while planning for the future. We are both home now.