In was a chilly, crisp fall morning that October and my hoodie was just enough to keep me warm. The smell of autumn was intoxicating and the colors of the trees were beautifully vibrant, painting the woods in our backyard various shades of burnt orange and red and speckled just perfectly with an occasional compliment of yellow and green. But surrounded by this exquisite color pallet, I was living in a world of black and white.
We started early that morning and we moved the very last of the boxes into the U-Haul. Somehow, we managed to pack 10 years of marriage into one 26 foot moving truck, a mini-van and the back of a pick-up. At the end of the driveway were reminders of days gone by. An old cracked sled that the girls used to drag up Herbert’s snowy hill and slide back down. Our first coffee table that found its way from the living room at the house prior to this one, to a spot in the corner of the laundry room where it served as a place to stack old clothes and an assortment of unused toys. And a little pink tricycle. Surely, it must have been a hand-me-down now covered in rusty spots and probably hadn’t been ridden in at least 2 years. I have no idea why we kept that old thing. I found myself just starring at it in wonder, surprisingly feeling absolutely nothing.
I was numb. Although we were leaving bits and pieces of our life here, I knew that another family would fill this home with their love and laughter and someday leave behind their own pile of remembrances tossed out at the end of the driveway. That’s just the way life goes, I suppose.
The entire day I kept reminding myself that every family eventually transitions. We all evolve. Plans are built and plans come crashing down. Sometimes, unexpectedly. Unfortunately, the storyline in your head isn’t the one that always plays out on the road in front of you.
As I made my final rounds, I moved slowly from room to room. I soaked in the sounds of the creaking floor boards. I knew where each and every one of them hid under the tan carpet because I used to try my hardest to avoid them when checking on my sleeping babies at nap time. On my final walk through that house I couldn’t decide if it was my heart or the home that felt emptier. There were a million memories here, and I tried reminding myself that this was just a shell that kept us safe from the storms outside. But I knew it was so much more than that, and I knew it hadn’t always been able to protect us.
The rooms seemed enormous with the absence of furniture. Our youngest child’s room was now only a haze of blue, with bits of dust dancing in the warm stream of sunlight that splashed on the floor. As I stood in the center of the empty nursery, I closed my eyes and could still smell the faint fragrance of baby powder. I felt my heart begin to ache and my eyes begin to fill.
As I walked down the hallway, I stopped and stood outside of the bathroom. I tried to imagine how many times I bathed the kids in that tub, or how many knees I cleaned and kissed and bandaged on that sink. This was the same bathroom I shared with both of my daughters the morning I took a pregnancy test. Standing there, looking into that room, I could almost envision myself sitting on the floor crying tears of joy as I listened to my girls screaming with delight, knowing there was a baby in mommy’s belly. I felt an enormous part of me yearning to somehow ensure the next woman that moved into my house was aware of what happened in that bathroom. It was important to me. “She really should know,” I thought to myself.
And the kitchen.
My pale yellow kitchen where I spent so much time as a young mom. This very room held more moments in my children’s lives than any other room. It was where we started our mornings together and where they giggled and laughed with the neighborhood kids that would come for lunch on hot summer days. It’s where our dog had some of his most delicious meals because little kids are messy eaters and they were always dishin’ out what I was dishin’ up. It’s where we worked on improving their cursive and gluing together science projects and decorating Valentine’s Day boxes. It’s where I sat while I talked on the phone with my own momma and my sisters and my girlfriends, stretching the phone cord from one side of the room to the other, making dinner and peeking out the window watching the kids in the backyard. Hundreds of family meals took place in this room and our little tribe evolved from highchairs to booster chairs to adult chairs. And sadly, around that kitchen table was where some of the most difficult conversations happened between my husband and me. Not all memories are happy, but they are ours, so we keep them close.
I moved to the living room and the emptiness of this space was almost more pain than my heart could bear. We would never have another Christmas tree in the far corner or celebrate family gatherings here. I looked over at the bi-fold doors and thought about all the times the kids would hide from one another from behind them. And then I saw the old recliner. I literally felt my chest wall shake as though someone reached inside and tore the last breath from my lungs. It was the only thing left in this house and we had agreed to leave it behind.
“That chair is so old. You’ve rocked kids in it for the past 7 years,” my husband said.
And when I agreed to leave it, I must not have thought it all through. I must have just looked at that old rocking recliner and realized it was not going to match the new furniture in our beautiful new home, so I approved. But just for one moment, I wasn’t sure if it really was okay.
That chair cradled our family. It’s the space my husband and I shared on Friday nights, pre-babies, snuggled up together watching a movie. And when the kids did come along, that chair is where we rocked them. It’s where I spent hours ensuring I memorized every centimeter of their precious baby faces while I breathed in their sweet baby smells. It’s the chair where I nursed all three of them and where I slept all night with that warm baby sprawled across my chest and in my arms. It’s the safe place where my husband would walk over to, lean in and rest one hand on each arm of that recliner and gently kiss me on the forehead. It’s the chair I cried in when being a mom, and being a wife and just being a woman was all way too much. It’s the chair I made life altering decisions in, some wise and wonderful that would make me a better person, and others that were very regretful.
Then, I exhaled.
So I turned, and left. Just like that. I did not even have to tell myself that I wouldn’t take one last look at the rocking recliner chair because I just knew I wouldn’t. I knew that I did enough rocking and loving and decision making in that chair to last me a lifetime. It rocked me and my marriage and my babies through the ups and downs of life. And maybe, by the grace of God and some tiny bit of courage I mustered up from deep down in my gut, standing up and getting the hell out of that chair was one of the bravest things I ever did.
Sometimes, it’s got to be okay to leave an empty chair, sitting in an empty room, in a big, old empty house and just walk away.
So that’s how it ended. He reached for my hand and we walked forward. And on our way out, much perhaps to my surprise, the door slammed closed and locked behind me. And it was that day I realized I no longer needed that old, worn out chair in order to be able to save myself, and most importantly, to be able to rock on.