We have owned our new-to-us house in Scandia for nearly a month now, and still, the garage is full of unpacked boxes. I can’t find my antique kitchen scale or a good place for the toaster. We are still, in so many ways, moving in.
In another lifetime, I would have stayed up all night for two straight weeks getting everything unpacked and put away. But here, in the middle of my tired thirties, my body won’t cooperate with my grand schemes much anymore. It checks out at 9:00 PM and then wakes, flustered and clammy at 2:00 AM, unable to do much of anything except for read and stare into the dark quiet of our new world.
I am sitting now in the room that will someday (hopefully soon) be a library. It still has the wallpaper border – a cabin-in-the-woods scene, repeating infinitely around the room. The green carpet is old – both faded and stained – and since we sold all of our bookshelves, I only have a few orphaned IKEA-cube things to work with for a while.
All around me, there is the detritus of the move: a box of lampshades whose bases I can’t find. Three decorative pumpkins that got separated from the fall decorations. A few empty Rubbermaids, a Where’s Waldo book, a magnet that says “Book Hoarders Unite.” A stapler.
What I think that this house needs is a set of new bookshelves, several coats of paint, a cozy reading chair. It needs some kind of light fixture in the living room so that it’s not so dim at night; it needs a thorough removal of all blue-teal carpeting and better water pressure in the upstairs shower.
But actually, it doesn’t.
What this house actually need is time.
It has been a messy, difficult, exhausting couple of months for me. There is nothing simple about the finding yourself space between things – between homes or jobs or relationships or churches or lives. Even if you have the sense that this is right, even if you find yourself imbued with a kind of certainty that God is here, the whole thing still really sucks.
For a few weeks, I got to drinking too much wine again. Then I stopped keeping the box of Trader Joe’s Shiraz with its invisible Drink Me sign in the pantry. That was helpful. The wine kept promising me a way to get through this tiny door. The one in Alice in Wonderland. The one leading from our life in Andover to whatever is next.
But of course, there is no helpful potion to make the transition simpler. It’s less a door than a birth canal. Gross image, I know, but being born into something new is always a little gross and messy and painful and stunning.
I wish I had been able to spend those in-between months in a zen-like state of acceptance, hands open, receiving what I needed at all times. Instead, I was a little rabid, crying and over-sharing with the church ladies, eating McDonalds in the car, watching a lot of Hallmark movies and also Law & Order SVU.
During these past several months, I have had some of the most deeply connected experiences of my life. And. At times, during these months, I have found myself so profoundly disconnected from myself and from others that I could barely breathe.
This is the paradox though. While sometimes full and empty ebb and flow, like waves or seasons, sometimes they’re all mixed up together. You’re full and empty all at once. You’re receiving and giving. You’re laugh-crying into your glass of wine, and then you’re trading it in for a La Croix and a big sandwich.
The space between two solid landscapes feels like water, and sometimes you feel like you’re being baptized, and sometimes you feel like you’re drowning, and it’s all just very hard to pin down.
You can’t do a thing to make it go faster, though certainly you try. What it takes, of course, is time.
During our first weeks here, our dog, Marty, was so stressed that he howled mournfully whenever we so much as went outside. He also developed the world’s grossest abscess. For a while it was hard to get him to eat. For a few days, he couldn’t seem to stop pooping on the living room floor.
But slowly, he began to stay out longer when we let him out, disappearing around the house, sniffing, exploring. He began to shoot out the front door with me when I walked the kids down to the end of our driveway to wait for the bus, leaping through the snow drifts, trying to pee on every tree. The other night he dragged his favorite toy out for the first time in months and flung it around the half-furnished living room for a while.
This poor old dog, with his cataracts and bad teeth. It takes a while to look out your fuzzy eyes and recognize that the place you’re in is safe, holy, home. It takes time to be where you are.
You sit in a room crowned with ugly wallpaper borders, messy and half unpacked, and you see that messiness, that imperfection, all the things that still need to be put away.
But you also see out the window, where the deer are eating from the feeder, where the trees are sparkling in the cold, where the wood burner is puffing smoke into the cold air, filling your house with warmth.
And of course, it’s both. Exciting and overwhelming. Home and not yet home. Half boxed-up; half unpacked.
You breathe it in, full and empty all at once, because this is what it is to be alive.