Fall is rolling in, the tide is turning, again
It’s fall in New England. A blustery, overcast day down by the shore carries the vow of a new season, along with remnants of the old drifting by, sprinkled on raindrops trying to make up their mind as to whom they might be. In this mostly summer community, houses are readied for winter, shutters firmly placed, outdoor furniture stowed, boats hauled to dry dockages. It gets quiet, although down here it is always quiet. The biggest sounds of a bustling summer are screen doors slamming, lawnmowers droning and children laughing. It’s that kind of place. Special beyond words, beautiful beyond description. Idyllic with rolling pastures, old clapboard houses, and rocky shorelines. This place is a hope chest of memories for my life. For 41 years, my family owned this house, and even before, we visited my grandparents and I toddled around their rolling lawn and tumbled down to the beach.
Here I sit in this house, for the last time, with alternating waves of anticipation for our next step in this wacky life we are living and devastation that burps to the surface threatening to block out the light. Yes, of course saying goodbye to such a constant in my life would be complicated at this moment when we are still officially homeless. And, yes, the sale of this home will allow us to no longer be homeless. An “artisans bungalow” (as it is described in the MLS) near the lake in downtown Evergreen is readying itself for us and our ragtag of possessions. I came here, to Rhode Island, to carry out the sale of this house as well as to disperse of its contents. 41 years worth of stuff crammed into nooks and crannies, a lot ruined after years of humidity and mouse habitation, and many treasures found.
Suddenly, the furniture-less have furniture. An exceptionally large farm-style dining room table, which would never have fit in our old house, will have a wonderful home in our bungalow. A wicker chaise where I perch now will help me heal from the loss of my favorite leopard print chaise where I spent that last morning in my house. We now have glassware, pots & pans, heirloom silver and china, carefully selected knick-knacks as well as too many dressers to choose from. How will this selection of items lovingly picked for a beach house transition to life as mountain dwellers, I wonder. I am happy to have these memory-filled treasures to fill our “new” house, vastly preferring this method of accumulation to having brand-new stuff with no soul.
Yet, as I wander from room to room, my heart threatens to shatter. The scream starts to come, “Nooooooooo! What are we doing??? Nooooooooooo!” I swallow the scream yet seriously question. The facts: we have been using this house as a rental so it can pay for itself, the time is right for us all to free up the money that sits here – Rob has moved his family to Jackson Hole to be closer to my dad and better schools for his boys – and you know our situation. Also, after some years of being a rental, this house needs a loving home of it’s own. It’s time for a family to cherish it again, to soothe it’s worn floors, paint it’s peeling bathroom, spruce up it’s outdated kitchen – and maybe even win the battle with the cobwebs. This house needs someone to love it who will be here more often, who will sit in this vaulted great room and gaze at the view of the harbor on one side or on the other the vast pastures formally belonging to the Haffenreffer farm and now preserved for eternity as open space.
The crack widens as I write these words. I stave off my grief yet wonder if I can really walk through another home loss. Can I really shut the door and turn away knowing it will be my last? This time, I have the countdown clock running with the knowledge of what is to come. Last time, I didn’t have the foresight to turn around one last time to say goodbye to my mountain perch.
The first few days here were backbreaking as we did the majority of junk clearing, trips to goodwill and sorting for the movers. Now, the pace is slower and I am settling in. I will soak up these last days as I live out of boxes and ready these precious things for their trip across country. I will sit in this great room and watch the heron land on the lake, the seagulls ride the thermals, and the clouds roll in.
Once again, nights are the hardest. My brain plays tricks on me as it chronicles the mistakes that are being made. It’s a time when none of this seems like a good idea, regardless of the freedoms it will provide my family. Everything about this house is entrenched in my system. Sweeping the floor last night, suddenly I was 9-years-old doing my chores, bemoaning the injustice of the expanse of wood. Now, it’s an act of love for this place and a saving grace for my bare feet. The sounds of this house will be with me forever – the groan of the kitchen door on it’s hinges, the rattle of the bathroom window opening to clear out steam, the creak of the wooden steps going up to my room. The smells, the sights, the surroundings will always be with me.
In another life, I would probably scrap it all. I would flee from Colorado and choose to live here, on the coast, away from any bustle and far from the crackling dry forest that threatens to ignite in an instant. I would substitute a view of the mountains for walks on the beach. I would shop at local roadside stands, indulging in fresh vegetables and daily caught fish. I would hunker down with the few hearty residents who stay all year as grey moves in to dominate the sky and stays this way for months on end. I would wrap myself in scarves and hats to protect against the whipping wind that carries damp cold and chills to the bones.
Why we didn’t spend more time here in adulthood, I search my soul for that answer. Busy with a life in Colorado and blessed to have other places we visit, we haven’t been frequent guests here. We could have finagled time in between renters and soaked up the perfection of summer life. For someone who used to live with no regrets, our recent upheaval has brought my regrets fast and furious to the surface.
My sadness triggers my mind and all the ‘ifs, ands and buts’. The grief is real and normal, and yet the confusion of these past 6 months and the unanswered questions swirl to the surface making me wonder about everything. Which life should I be living? Where? How? And why? What am I doing after all? What am I doing any of it for?
The artisans bungalow in Evergreen is a sweet house. I am sure we will love being there and like any place it will have it’s downside. Going from 37 acres to .14 of an acre will be a tiny bit of an adjustment. Walking to get coffee or lunch or a newspaper won’t take long to love.
The final time I close the door on this house I may fall down in a heap – and right now I wonder if I will be able to get up again. I feel the fall inside of me, dragging me into the depths of despair. Right now, I am ragged, questioning, devastated. My throat tightens and my chest aches with a now familiar stabbing pain. I force my fingers to keep moving on the keyboard, knowing that it isn’t over, that I am not through. The waves of pain will keep coming and then after the door shuts, I will be on the other side. Gradually the pain will lessen as we begin our new life in our chosen home of Colorado. Right now I want to bargain with that State which once held the spot of my favorite place in the union. Now, my relationship is rocky, both with the spirit of the land and definitely with the powers that be.
Will we continue to scorch away each summer, with vistas filled with smoke from neighboring states and our own forests? Is this the way it is to going to be? Will summers always carry this threat, yet still pass too quickly? Will we flash through fall into snowy, mushy cold as the landscape turns gray and harsh? Will I love it again like I once did? Will I love a house like I love this one or my mountain top perch? Will I ever truly relax as I live with the knowledge of what a burning ember blowing in the wind can do in a nanosecond as it destroys at whim? As I fill our next house with these precious and familiar items will I trust that house to keep them safe? Will I want to patrol the borders, carrying fire extinguishers, build a moat, and never leave?
Then, I wonder how all of this will be 6 months from now on our 1 year anniversary of the fire. Will we feel we have made good decisions with our life and know that we are on a new path and excited for the future?
When my heart heals from this year of change, will it have scars of ash? Will it always stab with pain at the thought of this place? Will I wonder what might have been or will I be living in what could be? Or will I have become a non-attached Buddha girl as I sit in my Evergreen bungalow surrounded by the past and ready for whatever wild ride is next in the future?