I stood in the empty living room and turned a slow pirouette. Blank walls stared at me from every angle. Virginia crawled in circles around my feet, and her chubby toddler legs made echoing slaps on the bare Saltillo tiles.
The house was empty.
This had been our first “real house.” Six years earlier we had abandoned apartment living to become homeowners. It was a solid house, but in sore need of cosmetic improvement. Right after we took possession, we began to work on improving the style and substance of our living space. We left our stamp on every room.
The tile beneath my feet had been installed with our own hands. We had devoted days of labor to the project. Our living room furniture was crammed into unlikely spaces while we worked on the floor. The renovation made a trip to the kitchen an acrobatic feat, starting with sliding over the stair rail, and then by scaling awkward stacks of living room furniture that blocked the hall way. The inconvenience proved insignificant when compared to our beautiful new floor.
I had splashed color on white walls with reckless abandon – vibrant blue, pistachio green, sunshine yellow. I decorated Virginia’s nursery with bright flowers and stenciled ivy along the hallway ceiling. My oldest son, Elias, and I impulsively painted one living room wall sky blue while my husband was away on a church trip. We spent the day laughing and singing off key to our favorite CD’s. When Brian returned, his face registered only a moment of shock, but then he smiled wide and complimented us on our hard work.
What started out as a simple plan for new bathroom linoleum had quickly spun away from us and became a major remodeling project. We tore the room down to the studs and replaced every fixture except for the bath tub. I held up the dry wall ceiling while teetering on a step ladder and urging my husband to nail it in as quickly as possible. It took the better part of a year, but resulting room was worth every bit of effort.
Other plans never came to fruition. The kitchen floor was marred with cracked vinyl tiles. The upstairs carpet cried out to be updated. I couldn’t imagine that our ancient water heater had many more years of service left. Those projects would be left for the new owners, whoever they might turn out to be.
Bright rays of light made the warm amber tiles shine as if on fire, even as the sun dipped lower on the horizon. With all the windows shut and locked, the heat from a summer day was quickly turning the house into a solar cooker. I turned when I heard Brian’s steps as he descended the stairs.
“All buttoned up. It’s time for us to head out.” He paused and took one last look around. “We can stop in Holbrook tonight and then get a good foot under us tomorrow morning.”
The day had flown past us in an endless whir of activity. We picked up our Penske truck before 8:00 a.m. so we could start loading early. Random craziness plagued us all day. We snapped off a large tree limb with a poorly executed truck maneuver. After making sure the rented truck had suffered no damage, we dragged the limb to the back of our yard and simply left it there. The septic maintenance company hired by our realtor decided that today was the perfect time to drain our septic tank. The smell was horrendous. The stench intensified when someone ran over a skunk directly in front of our home, adding more noxious fumes to the olfactory assault. The chaos and the horrible odors seemed to be urging us to leave town – Go! Go! Go!
In the midst of the turmoil, close friends and relatives dropped by to help load the truck, to wish us well, and to say tearful good-byes. I had lived in this northern Arizona town for the last twenty three years, save for two years spent in the Phoenix area right after our marriage. It seemed unreal that I might be leaving that very day for a location two thousand miles away.
We were headed to western Pennsylvania where Brian would finish an undergraduate degree in Religion at a private college and then move on to four years of seminary education. Because the house we were leaving had not sold yet, we did not have sufficient funds to purchase a home. We would live with my in-laws temporarily, while we waited for our home to sell. Neither of us had a job prospect. Our two cars had been sold for cash, and the money set aside for the purchase of a new vehicle once we arrived in Pennsylvania. The plan was nebulous, uncertain, and completely dependent on the will of God and the benevolence of family and friends. Every step was being taken in faith and hope.
I wondered if I had lost my mind. Could I really be leaving today? There were still things I needed to do, places I wanted to visit one last time, words unspoken to people I loved. Stirrings of regret were waging war against my resolve. Doubt enshrouded me, and threatened to smother my hopes for the future.
Brian must have sensed my panic, or more likely he saw it frozen on my face which reflected paralyzed shock. He wrapped me in a strong hug and spoke words of encouragement into my ear. I don’t remember what he said, but the feel of his arms around me centered me, and granted me the ability to entertain rational thought again.
We loaded the last of our personal belongings and clipped Virginia into her car seat. Our sons Liam and Elias had already traveled east by plane, and were safe in the care of relatives. It would be only the three of us making this long journey across the nation. I waved to our family home one last time and Brian honked a loud good-bye as we pulled the moving truck out into the street.
My hand shook as I reached to brush stray hairs from my forehead, and my eyes filled with tears. I wiped them away but new ones appeared in their place. My mind was rolling like a theater reel, as I replayed both the joys and the heartaches that had happened in that cozy red house.
I struggled to let go, to remember that ‘home’ was our family together, not the walls that contained us.
We can do this, We can do this, We can do this. I chanted a litany of self encouragement inside my mind, afraid to think about anything else.
At the first stop light, Brian’s eyes locked with mine. He smiled broadly at me, and in return I offered him a small smile of my own. His grin was confident; mine tentative.
“We’re really doing this, huh?”
“Appears that way.”
We decided to pray together, holding hands lightly, arms stretched out to reach each other over the bulk of the car seat between us. Virginia reached out and laid her tiny hand on top of our intertwined fingers. I felt the tension slipping from my shoulders in slow waves. Prayer turned into discussion, and then into laughter. Virginia gabbled with animation as she asserted her presence in the conversation. We started to anticipate the trip ahead of us, and then to speculate on what life would hold for us when we moved into our new home…wherever that turned out to be.
We left Arizona in August of 2004. Brian became an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America in 2012.