Home is where the heart is.
While I don’t deny the verity in this common saying, I favor a slightly more expansive definition of home. For me, “Home is where the heart resides in privacy”. Home is where I go to leave the world behind, to drop off the weight of appearances, to allow the petty complaints of insignificant relationships to fade into the background. Home is where I can walk barefoot, barefaced without makeup, free of the concern for how I appear in favor of simply being who I am. Home is where the garden is, my favorite blank canvas, a work of creation that both is and is not under my control. But it is an easy give and take…plants grow if they are given what they need, there are no hurt feelings or judgement if in initial placement doesn’t work. You simply move them and a new dialogue begins. Home is where cooking manifests, that personal alchemy of comfort and nourishment. Home is where my husband walks in his own unadorned splendor, where I get to have a singularly unique relationship with him full of private jokes and comedic expletive calls to action against all those who thwarted us that day. And home is where my dog is, sweet, stalwart, and constant equally in his affections and his habits.
Only by this time, my dog isn’t there and my heart is already struggling. And the feeling of home, or even of having a home, is rapidly deteriorating under the insidiously invasive process of trying to sell a house.
The seed of this process really starts with the realtors, although when you interview realtors it is really just a matter of getting the house a little cleaner than it normally is. And I suppose for some people, the effort stops there. We had already seen countless interior photos of homes for sale choked with knick-knacks, dated furniture, bizarre paint colors, and questionable cleanliness. At the time, it seemed ludicrous that someone would not do everything possible to prepare their home to sell at the highest price no matter what the inconvenience of the process. But after experiencing myself the sinking and unsettling sense of losing my home while still residing in the house it used to exist in, I better understand. Moving itself generates enough change to manage in the future new house, no need to turn the existing house upside down in the process. Put off that feeling of being uprooted as long as possible until the moving trucks arrive and the boxes are taped shut for loading.
In direct opposition to this approach, we had decided to have our home professionally staged. The walk through with the staging designer resulted in a long list of changes, mostly eliminations to the home. Pre-packing of personal items, removing certain furnishings, taking down the window coverings. We were going to give him a semi-blank canvas to work with. In the midst of this stripping away process, we had scheduled the one major remodel project in the house to refinish the wood floors for the day after my husband returned from KC…and inadvertently three days after I put Shotzee to sleep. Refinishing these floors quite literally pulled the ground out from under us when a “misunderstanding” between us and the contractor resulted in a house reeking like someone had dumped ten gallons in paint thinner into our small house as the mineral spirits in the finish cured and dissipated sluggishly in the cold damp Portland spring. The house was unlivable. We were homeless and the selling process had hardly begun.
After two weeks in a hotel, we were able to return home and finish our preparations for staging. But the feeling of exile lingered. The brilliance of our staging designer had transformed our house into a chic showroom quality bungalow. All its tiny flaws hidden or de-emphasized. New furnishings added and our existing furnishings re-arranged. A strange hodge-podge of us and the staging…it was our house but it was far, far from being our home. And the entire front of the house had no window coverings and lighting on timers that remained on well into the night. It was like living in a beautiful fishbowl and we hid in the little castle comprised of the back of the house where we could have some privacy and respite from the public exposure. If that weren’t surreal enough, there were a large number of strangers walking through it those first few days. You could feel it in the air. Items would be moved out of place. The bed looked like it had been sat on. You wondered what else they had looked at, touched, commented on, evaluated and judged. And while the home sold in just a few days, we had to maintain it in the strange staged existence through the inspection period. To add insult to injury, the buyer asked to view the house again twice after the inspection period to show members of her family…as though it really was just a showroom existing only for her and waiting patiently for her arrival. Needless to say, both requests were declined.
Even after all the staging was removed, our home never returned. More things were packed, given away or sold. Shotzee remained painfully and heartrendingly absent. Because of the rapid proximity of the events, my mind had generated a strange and twisted logic that his absence was only temporary in order to facilitate the sale and if I could just restore the sense of “home” to our house he would return. But neither was really possible…no Shotzee and no home. Just a house that soon would belong to someone else to pack up and leave behind.