And so this is the last time. The last time we will eat a meal as a family in the house we have come home to for the past 12 years. Tomorrow another family will move in, choose rooms, paint over the height chart on the wall, make this space theirs.
It won’t be the last time the six of us – four children, two parents – will eat together, despite ending the marriage we are determined to continue to parent as a team. But it will never again happen here, where we all lived as one.
Now there’s ‘Mum’s house’ and ‘Dad’s house,’ terminology I struggle with – for where is home in this arrangement? I doggedly call my house ‘home’. But there will no longer be such ease of identification; of routine or organisation.
A house can hold so much of a family, and yet not its soul; that lives among the people, the members of the family and is easily transportable. My family’s soul is bruised, but I know we will recover.
When we first told the children of our separation, our youngest son cried that he would no longer have a ‘real’ family. I told him of course we were a real family – we would just be in a different shape. We’re still defining the edges of that shape.
In the old house, as I scrub away at our collected grime from the back of cupboards and the hidden spots under shelves, I try to focus on how this move propels us all into a new future; into moving on, and not dwell on the loss that I feel so keenly today.
Later when we gather for fish-and-chips on the back deck, I reminisce about bringing newborns home here and in my mind I can see the gaudy balloons of several dozen birthday parties bobbing happily against the sky. I can feel the taut intensity of Christmas dawn and the dazzle of lightning storms that we stayed up to watch, warmed with mugs of Milo.
It’s as if by sharing these memories I’m giving the eulogy for the life that has ended, for this house and the ghosts of ourselves that we will leave behind.
We laugh, and I cry. The kids are solicitous and remind me with my own words of the brightness of the future.
I point out the trees; tell the kids how we planted them as tiny twigs. I cut a last bunch of roses soaking up the individual provenance of each one – I remember choosing them; planting them, talking to them as I pruned away dead heads and cupped their best blooms. I think it’s the roses I will miss the most.
This was a house of babies and toddlers; those days have passed now. My eldest son is looking to university, to leaving home. Getting his Learner’s permit has given him a taste of future freedoms, and I know he will soon drive away from us, into a more separate future.
It’s an ending of things. Of the baby years, of high chairs in the kitchen, sand pits and cubbies made of sheets in the lounge.
My daughter boxes up her Barbies and soft toys and wonders if she should even keep them anymore. She is packing away fragments of childhood within herself and although I know that it is time, I tell her to keep them; there’s no rush.
We take a last walk around the empty rooms and I hear the floating voices of children; see the many incarnations of the rooms; office; nursery; boys’ room; teenage-girl room. See myself pacing with babies in the night; worrying over childhood fevers and coughs; the thousand mundane, routine dinners that interspersed the fabric of our life; the school-morning chaos, the small triumphs and the days when I wanted to throw them all out into the rain to play.
On the front lawn, twilight has stretched the shadows, and a neighbour is shaking hands with my….my what…?.There’s more terminology I struggle with. My former husband? The man who I planned to spend forever with? The man who is father to my children? The man who will no longer walk beside me through life?
I cry for this, though it is what should be. I cry for the loss of what I thought was certainty, for the ideal of a complete and ‘whole’ family.
We drive away, the kids and I, back home, taking last looks at the house that is no longer ours. Taking with us the memories and moments that are important, and carrying within us, and between us, the only home that really matters.