Sunday night, Chris and I moved into our new bedroom. We’ve been working on getting our attached garage remodeled into a master bedroom suite for close to two years now.
I helped a lot with the demolition phase, but as construction started, nobody was particularly comfortable with me wielding power tools. Which is probably best. So most of the work fell to my brother-in-law, who used to work on construction, with Chris assisting. My dad and other brother-in-law helped as well. At this point, the only things left undone are a little duct work and installing the toilet and vanity in the bathroom.
At this point, the contents of the new bedroom consist of our bed, a small bedside table with a lamp, an alarm clock and my kindle. I don’t remember the last time I slept so well as I have the last two nights.
It’s not just that it’s clean (although the lack of clutter does make for a much more restful space.) It’s the absence of emotional baggage.
This room feels clean in ways that extend far beyond the material.
I recently read a flash fiction story on Tin House Lit magazine that broke my heart. “Brick by Brick” by Mika Taylor describes a community struggling to mend its broken heart after a school shooting. First they fill the bullet holes in the wall, but those spots are shinier. So they paint the whole school. They keep ripping things out — the floors, the duct work, stuffing all the desks and maps into storage — but it’s clear the trauma can’t be erased by mere renovation. It’s one of the best, most appropriate uses of first person plural point-of-view I’ve ever read. The whole story is told from the perspective of “we” and I think that captures the sense of communal loss poignantly.
When my mom passed away ten years ago, my dad gutted their house. Everything got painted, floors and cabinets got replaced, walls were torn down and moved to new locations. The whole thing got wrapped in a clean, sanitary package of light vinyl siding that couldn’t have possibly been more different from the rustic, dark brown wood in which it had previously been clad.
He did what the characters in Taylor’s story tried to do. At the time it made me angry. It had been my home once, too, and my mom’s presence could be felt clearly in every room. But that’s why he had to do it.
A person can’t live in a house that haunted. I was trying to hold on to my mom at a time where my dad needed to let go of her in order to keep going on with his life. Our grief was just out of sync. I get that now.
My home, and my old bedroom in particular, have been the scene of a lot of wonderful moments in my life. But they’ve also been the setting for a lot of terrible, traumatic moments as well. I don’t think I realized how much I needed a new space, untouched by all of that history, in order to feel free to move into the future.
I don’t think I realized the extend that my home is haunted by the ghosts of my own past.
This is my son’s senior year of high school. It’s my daughter’s last year of elementary school. Things are going to change soon. All the constants in my life are about to become highly variable.
For some people, this would be a time to hunker down and keep as many things the same as they can. But that doesn’t feel right to me. Instead, it feels like a time to exorcise those ghosts. It feels like a time to clean the slate and prepare the way for something new.
“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
I want to believe I’ve outgrown my old, stupid, unhealthy patterns. Maybe that’s at least part of the reason my old room felt stifling, almost suffocating towards the end.
Maybe this room is the beginning of creating more room for my soul to continue to grow.