Saying Goodbye to My Childhood Home
When I heard that I’d been accepted into my top choice school, I was over the moon. The rush of excitement and thrill of new opportunity combined with delight and relief that after years of hard work, I had finally made it, were dizzying.
I was swept by the momentum of this life change and the weeks that followed were packed with meeting friends, making lists and preparing to start my new life abroad. In my gap year I had worked full time, and missed the academic challenges of being a student. This was my way forward, and after a long wait everything was finally working out.
Most friends whom I shared this news with, were equally happy for me. Many of them asked whether I would miss home. At the time, after wanting this as much as I did, it didn’t strike me as something I identified with, because I knew I could come home and visit the people I loved and cared about. I knew there were so many ways to stay in touch and remain connected to them, so leaving them was bittersweet but not a source of grief. There was one thing that didn’t really occur to me, however, until the day before I left.
In the frantic week of my departure, the house and my room were a mess. In the whirlwind of packing everything I needed, I had turned it upside down and things were strewn everywhere. This was quite characteristic of the way I often did things- in a state of organised chaos which only I could navigate my way through. I wasn’t only packing things to take with me, but packing away the rest of my things for the house my retired, empty nesting parents would move to after the last child had left and they needed a smaller place.
When I had finally zipped up my last suitcase, I sat down with a satisfied sigh and could finally take it all in. I looked around in at the house I moved into over a decade ago as an excited little girl with a head of untamable curls and equally wild dreams. I remembered first moving in, and having to stand on tiptoe with an outstretched arm to reach the light switch in my bedroom. It seemed so strange to think that the same little girl was now a foot and a half taller and flicked the switch on and off without a second thought- that the things I reached for became bigger and more significant in my memory as I grew.
I looked down, and the pebbled floor tiles came sharply into focus.
It was then that I realised this could be my last night in the house where I had experienced so many firsts, lasts and in-betweens. In my excitement to leave, to experience independence and catch up to my peers, I had almost forgotten the places and moments that were an integral part of making me who I was. I had almost forgotten to say a real goodbye to the house where I lost all my baby teeth. The house where I played hide and seek until I got so good at hiding that I was once forgotten about because the other children couldn’t find me and gave up. I knew all the secret spots. It was my intimate friend and my guardian.
I got up and decided to take one last look at the rooms, this time with no purpose other than to take in the moment of appreciating everything that was felt and experienced in their presence. As I walked through the dimly lit passageway, I remembered how full of light the house was during the day. How light streamed in through the skylight and sliding windows as big as doors. The same windows my brother and I often snuck through like thieves, when we got locked out and forgot our keys.
I ran my hands fondly over familiar cracks and lines in the walls like wrinkles in an aged ivory face. They reminded me not only how long the house had been around but that in its own way it had gently shifted and adjusted to our needs and way of life; how it was lit and swelled with the sounds of laughter and chatter when full, and how it seemed to compress and contain the cool silence when we were out and it was temporarily empty until it’s jovial party returned.
I was reminded then, of hot afternoons when the air conditioner would stop working and our only relief from the sweltering heat were the cool tiles and walls we would press up against, with a book and cold, sweet Tang. Of cooler evenings in winter when my brother and I pitched a little IKEA play tent in our bedrooms and huddled in sleeping bags, pretending we needed shelter from the cold as we sipped hot chocolate. All while the house wrapped it’s expanse of white walls and ceilings around us, watching us create a fantasy world as it cocooned us from the harsh outside world like an affectionate parent.
I felt a lump in my throat. I had grown to love that old house, and I didn’t even know how much until I had to leave it behind. With the wave of nostalgia, a wave of sadness washed over me until it filled the cracks in the walls I was so lovingly saying goodbye to. I leaned heavily against the door frame of my bedroom and, for a moment, I felt hollow as I grieved the loss of the space that held so many joyful moments. I imagined it empty. I imagined it bare, just as it was when that little girl stepped into it twelve years ago.
Then, I imagined another little girl in her place. Or, perhaps a little boy. I imagined what it would be like if some day these walls that have held our love and joy and anger and pain, could hold them once again for another family. How some day, another child would play in it’s passageways and find the secret spots that were best for hiding. Perhaps they too would create a life in it, and be embraced by the cracks and crevices that would hold their memories and stories as they have always held mine.
As we drove away from the house I looked back at it and took it all in one last time. It looked back at me, the sun reflecting off it’s white face making it gleam. I felt a reassuring sense of peaceful closure as it seemed, in it’s own quiet way, to say: Goodbye, little one. Make it big and move mountains to make your dreams come true.