There’s an orchid in my bathroom. It’s bright pink—not even a top-five favorite color of mine. I went to Pottery Barn, Home Depot, Marshalls and TJ Maxx in search of a blue orchid, something small and to match the paint on my bathroom walls; apparently, there are no blue orchids. I’m more of a sunflower girl, but our stager said the orchid is the #1 flower, so there’s a large, bright pink orchid in my bathroom.
There are crisp, white, rolled hand towels in each bathroom. I like a white towel, but rarely does one remain white in my house and it is never rolled. Oftentimes, a white towel is smudged with dirt, pen ink, or face paint, clumped and damp—even saturated—in the corner of the sink. An off-white towel can be found anywhere in my home, really: spread at the entrance collecting winter boots after a sled session, wrapped around a six-year-old’s arm as pretend sling, soaking up real blood from a skinned shin. These new, crisp, white, rolled towels are museum displays: Please Do Not Touch.
It was the stager’s job to tell me: she’d like a fern in an urn out front, something big and soft to wave in the potential buyer. Cream-colored, puffy pillows for the red couch, a larger rug, a larger print on the wall. The bookcase and corner cabinet gone; an easy chair repositioned; the kids basement play-area bottled up into baskets and bags; everyday paper work filed or hidden, and choice few personal photographs, neatly arranged. Pendant lamps, potted plants, clean walls, lit halls: my house looks fabulous.
But I want to tell you, potential buyer, there’s more to this place than meets the eye, and I guess that’s the point of the staging.
You don’t want to know, do you? That that corner molding there, on the floor in the kitchen, that can put a gash in the head of a two-year-old if she’s running around madly and then trips and falls just so. We may not have had a welcoming fern in an urn, but we had countless welcoming evenings on our back porch, some that burned into the wee hours like the tiki torches I’ve just stashed into storage. Our old microwave was a white one we discovered (only after painting the cabinets cleanly white) had turned a pale, disturbing green; our old fridge had a certain song; our old washer worked over-time cleaning onesies, and burpee blankets, pillows covered in unbelievable vomit and unseen lice.
There’s no getting around it or painting over it—this house has been lived in.
The landing is the “tickle zone.” And over there, movie night happens just about every Friday evening: crowded on the couch, we’ve seen plenty of Disney—princesses, Herbie the Love Bug, The Shaggy DA, Mary Poppins. That corner there hosts the piano: we’ve banged out Christmas carols, four-note basics and most recently the first eight measures of Frozen’s “Let it Go,” over, and over, and over again. The area by the bay window was once drenched in primary colors: play mats, bouncing seats, plastic toys, a pack and play. Newborns lay there; babies crawled there, toddlers walked there. And upstairs, directly above, that’s where we spent time in the blue glider, rocking, reading, gazing out of the window at all hours of the day and night. I remember being a new mom, drowsily alive in that chair, wondering if anyone else in the world was awake.
Dave’s office upstairs, now neatly lined with bookshelves and files, that small room once crammed a crib and changing table, a queen-sized bed, and a diaper genie. But before that, before I moved in, it was empty. To think, before Dave moved in, before we even met, this whole house was empty and before that, it belonged to someone else.
There is barely enough room for all of my memories here—I cannot give space to anyone else’s past stories and moments. The only ghosts here are mine.
I wonder how it will go, potential buyer. Will our ghosts stay and mingle with you? Or will you send the cleaners and burn sage? If you march in leather chairs and tailored window valances, our ghosts may favor different styles and colors. They may pick up and leave.
Will you tend to or tear up the hostas? The perennials up front have grown together for seven years now—they live in shade only, they do not blast of showy color, but the beauty of the blending of deep purples and variant greens may surprise you. Will you dig up the bulbs in back? Will you love the maple as much as we do? Our master window frames our maple like a photograph; the tree shines in red during autumn and gives glorious shade in August. The girls have eaten below it, hung on every reachable branch. We’ve painted and positioned bird houses; we’ve sprinkled seed on peanut-buttered pinecones, and the birds have come: cardinals, finches, robins, black birds and blue. We’ve had squirrels, ducks, hornets, bumbling big bees, even a possum.
Will you note the rhythm of the seasons? Will you search the clover for ones with four leaves? Will you sit with neighborhood kids out back and pop the yellow heads from dandelions?
I’m asking a lot of you. And I know, truly, that it is none of my business, what you choose to like and what you choose to let go. This is not my child, this is not a name carved in the bark of a tree, this is not a song or book, painstakingly composed and now out there in the world. It’s a building. It’s a number on a map, with a spacious and naturally lit kitchen, 3 bedrooms and 2 ½ baths.
It makes no difference to you that we lived here as newlyweds; it makes no difference to you that children were born here–and friendships, too.
We say “good bye” to our friends, but we see them again. There’s a permanence to these friendships, a special bond connects these wonderful people to us, the ones with whom we’ve raised our young children. What is different is that we will be visiting instead of just stopping by, but what is the same is our history and the realness of our time together—we will pick it up again.
But we leave this place and it is gone.
It is yours.