Sometimes I still accidentally refer to my parents’ house as home.
I’ve been out of the house, more or less, for a decade but it’s an easy mistake. They still live in the same awesome, 100-year-old house I grew up in. Its silhouette has changed over the years, trees have grown up and come down, and it’s recently been painted yellow, but it’s still the same house I was brought home to as an infant. It provided the setting for all of my childhood dramas, games and fantasy. I spent hours in the backyard. I used to look out my window at the hills opposite and imagine the kingdoms that lay beyond them. (I was disappointed to learn that the hills were only hiding Waterbury.)
I know where everything in this house is, and a lot of the things I used to think of as mine are still here – the mural on my old bedroom wall, the painted rock that serves as a doorstop, the shelves on which my international doll collection used to sit – but recently something’s changed.
I’m actually typing this post at my parents’ kitchen table, a storied piece of furniture which belonged to my grandmother. (She used to point out, at meals, the aunts and uncles who were changed on the table as infants. You gotta love family.) I’m at the house for the day, dog-sitting while my parents celebrate my Mom’s birthday in another state.
When my parents asked me to do this, I accepted eagerly. My first, Pavlovian response (developed in college) was to start mentally plotting out which loads of laundry I could do while I was “home.” My second response was “Wow, I can watch cable,” because I haven’t had cable in years. But I haven’t done either. I’ve barely raided the fridge. I haven’t cranked the heat. I’ve just been camped out on the couch, while the two dogs bring me things to throw. And it’s occurred to me: It took about 10 years, but this house isn’t home anymore.
There was a time when everything I knew I needed was here. If I needed extra Q-tips, they were here. Ring-dings? I know where my father hides them. If I needed to print something? Dad’s office is right upstairs and it’s always operational. Tape? There are six kinds of tape living in a certain drawer. Batteries? Dad buys in bulk; he’ll hardly miss eight AAs.
That time is long gone. Now I’m keenly aware that I’d be taking someone else’s batteries, Q-tips or Ring-Dings. I no longer feel entitled to this house and everything in it. I feel uncomfortable opening the cabinets and drawers in which I rummaged so freely for three decades.
I think it’s weird that this should hit me now. I haven’t really lived here since I moved to Massachusetts as a 22-year-old. But then again, I never really inhabited my apartments. After my first apartment, I learned my lesson about moving: Never own more than you can move with one or two good friends and a truck. And never keep good furniture – milk crates are a girl’s best friend. By the time I moved into my last apartment, I had it down to a science. I furnished my living room for less than $40, and outfitted my bedroom and kitchen for nothing. When it came time to move to the house, I brought most of my furniture to Goodwill and was able to move the rest in one truckload. Half my clothing was always packed in a suitcase, for closet space and an easy move. I never seemed to buy enough of anything. It was a lot like camping, actually, and my parents’ house was my home base.
Now that I have a house, my life is suddenly more permanent. I’m not afraid of having to move if a roommate needs to take off, or if the landlord raises the rent. I have real couches and decent furniture. I can stock the pantry. I can wash my clothes whenever I want.
It took me a while to grow up, but I have my own home now.