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Blog Essay: The Hallway

Early morning light spilled onto the wood floor of the long hallway when I opened the front door. It illuminated a plethora of cardboard boxes and plastic bins in a variety of colors stacked haphazardly against wall. It was a familiar sight. I had moved five times in five years after Keith’s death.

The first had been due to necessity. Three years before Keith’s death we had moved two hours North to cohabitate with my mother and purchased a beautiful home beyond our means. It was lakefront property, as large and impressive as the mortgage payment that went with it. Keith was happy there. Lots of space for his need for solitude and quiet for his meditation practice. He loved the wildlife, especially the geese that returned to the lake each year. Keith’s kids were happy because we were in the same town and their father could attend more of their school and extracurricular events. My mother was happy there because she could feel closer to our family. My kids and I, not as much.

It was a hard transition for all of us. We were city people, born and bred, in one of the most liberal cities in one of the most liberal states in America. The little town we moved to was anything but. We were liberal, agnostic, and openminded. It was conservative, Christian, and xenophobic. The culture shock was palpable and unpleasant. We never fit in there and when Keith passed away during the economic crash of 2008, my mortgage payment was more than my meager private school paycheck and I was quickly headed for bankruptcy. By the time I moved out in 2010, I had grown to hate that house in a way I was unsure you could hate an inanimate object. It had taken the love of my life, my financial security, and most of my hope. I was glad to walk away from it.

The next five years was a blur of rentals, and moving trucks, and downsizing. Always downsizing. The lake house had been nearly 4000 square feet. The apartment I ended up in for move number three was a mere 600 feet. Marie Kondo couldn’t hold a candle to my ability to keep/give/throw the objects I had once tried so hard to accumulate. I became a Tetris level ten master of arranging boxes and organizing storage units. Packing and driving large moving trucks became second nature.

I had been fortunate enough to put aside my vagabond living situations with a small loan from a dear friend that allowed me to escape a doomed relationship and put a down payment on a modest townhouse. The first place I had every picked and purchased on my own. It became a haven for me. A place for me to recoup and heal. The place where I decided not to “settle” in life any longer and really get what I wanted. It allowed me to house my son and daughter-in-law the years she had cancer so they could focus on her healing. It gave a place for my daughter to live while she finished her bachelors and master’s degree. And when I was ready to finally sell it and make one last “move” in with my new husband officially, it afforded me the ability to pay off the mortgage on his house so we could live mortgage free.

Yes, I was well versed in the hallway of boxes, haphazardly taped shut and written on with various colors of markers denoted where the boxes were to go. This morning, they weren’t my boxes. They were my daughter’s. She had graduated with her master’s degree and started her own therapy practice, which thanks to the pandemic, now consisted of all on-line clients. While not ideal, it did afford her ability to move anywhere in the state. After recovering from a particularly bad break-up, she told me she wanted to move to Seattle. As a mommy, I was a little heartbroken. I didn’t want my little girl so far from me. As a mother, I was proud that she was brave enough to start over and try to claim the life she wanted, so I encouraged her. I had helped her pack these boxes. I was driving the moving truck I had just pulled into her driveway.

I thought about the beautiful third floor apartment we were headed to. I thought about our journey. How did we get here? To this place. A place where she could host her parents for a visit. A place of quiet, and order, surrounded by books about psychology, pictures of her with her family, and plants growing heartily in the corner. This place. Her place.

I wish I could have had a picture of this life to show her 13 years ago when I went to visit her in the hospital after I had admitted her under her counselor’s advice. I wish I could have shown it to me when I cried every day for the hour and a half drive home from that hospital.

I wish I had it 11 years ago, when she was agoraphobic and thought a GED was her best option for finishing her education or when we were tentatively enrolling her in running start at the community college. I wish I had it 10 years ago when our lease was revoked because our complex had become low income and it felt like life wouldn’t cut us a fucking break.

All the times, she was stressed about school, about college applications, about acceptance letters, about working forty-hour internships without pay. It would have been nice to have through all the self-doubts, heart breaks, uncertainty. Hers and mine.

One of the beautiful and confounding things about life is the not knowing. Not knowing “how” or “if” things will turn out. If your child will grow up happy, healthy, successful, or just the opposite. I wonder how much credit we get to take either way.

If you had told me 10 years, 11 years, 12 years, 13 years ago that my emotionally fragile, self-injurious, angry, confused, lost child would become a successful mental health counselor, living two hours away from me, making more money her first year of work than I made last year, I would not have believed it. Could not have believed it. Another lesson in questioning what I believe. Another lesson in not even being able to imagine the incredible and unexpected things that life unfolds.

That day when I looked at the hallway of boxes, with the sunlight dancing across them, I didn’t feel sad or angry or deflated. There had been so many moves downward. But this, this was a move toward independence, freedom, and an opening for growth. It was excitement. It was hope. It was everything this mother ever wanted for her child. To be brave enough to see a different life, a better life, and step towards it, carrying the weight of her past on the journey without letting it stop her.

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