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9 Years on Norwood

Today is my work-from-home day.  It's the day I am supposed to be productive with the writing side of my life. I had planned to sit down and work on transcription, to work on the nuts-and-bolts information for my next freelance article.  But when the time came to sit down to my computer, I just ... couldn't.

I am usually able to push past the working-at-home reticence, but when I put my hands against it to shove it aside, I felt this panicked desire to cry.

And that's when I thought - maybe tonight is a bigger deal than I thought it would be.

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I am 25. From the time I was born to the summer I was 10, I lived on 13th Avenue in a half-double with my parents and siblings.  In the summer of 1997, my parents bought a house on Norwood Street.  I lived in that house until the September of 2006.  By then, I was 19 and had made the decision to move out into another half-double just north of OSU campus with 6 other girls my age.  I gave my father one week of notice - you should've seen the way his eyes bugged out.

It's been more than 5 years since I lived in the Norwood house.  Actually, since my father's remarriage, it's been over a year since anyone has really lived there at all.  And since my father decided to move in to his wife's fully-furnished condo in a better neighborhood, it became clear that it was time to sell the Norwood house.


Because their condo was already 'fully-furnished', it meant that my dad had a whole house full of useless duplicates.  So, to help minimize his storage fees and Craigslist ads, he told me to go ahead over there and pick out anything in the house that I thought Dave and I could use for our apartment.

We drove over there one evening a few weeks ago, and pulled into the driveway.  As I got out of the car, the red privacy fence at the head of the drive reminded me of the first night Dave gave me a ride home from work.  He had pulled into the driveway, the car still in gear, and with both hands on the steering wheel, he said "Well, have a good night."  I fumbled for an excuse for him to come sit in the backyard with me until my dad came home.  "How about I show you some pictures from my Costa Rica trip?" I had blurted.  It was enough to get him out of his silver Taurus and through the tall red gate; a couple hours later, we were lying in the grass together and holding hands.

Now married to that shy boy, I shut the car door and stared at the red fence, the new red shutters, the new red roof.  This time, I was hesitant to walk through the gate.  I wriggled around the picnic table on the deck and, using the key in the fence lockbox - the one with the code that has always been my birth date - Dave and I came in the back door to loot my childhood home.

It was early spring, and the first thing I noticed when I opened the mudroom door was the cold in the house.  With no one living there, my father kept the thermostat low to save on bills, and two lamps and a radio were left on to protect the house with the appearance of being lived in.  I passed from the mudroom to the family room, Dave a few steps behind me.

The house had become this strange stale tomb, a half-assembled museum of the 14 years my family had lived there.  My father's hulking oak desk stood empty in the corner, left behind because of its prohibitive size, all the shelves cleared of the books, the bookends, the diplomas, and my father's many electronics.  The three other walls of the room were a combination of piled miscellany and oddly-untouched pieces of furniture.

I retraced my steps back toward the kitchen, a room mostly untouched.  Spatulas hung on the wall above the stove, ready for a meal.  Mismatched tupperware crowded the cupboard, ready for leftovers.  That ghastly plastic ice bucket with the fat women in bikinis still sat on top of the fridge, like it had sat for years.  Even my father's little desk radio was still there, on the counter to the left of the stove and just below his rechargeable automatic electric can-opener.  A lot of Indians games and radio talk shows had filled that tiny yellow kitchen through those speakers.

Through that was the dining room, the one room that was probably the most different of them all.  It was a small room, with a wood floor and pink-flowered wallpaper left from the previous tenant.  It had barely been big enough for both the china hutch and the six-chair oak dining table.  I still remember having to squeeze between the hutch face and my sister's chair to get to my place at the dinner table.  Both of those defining pieces were gone, either in storage or in my father's new home, and had been replaced by half-filled cardboard boxes, hunched over and piled on the wood flooring.

Dave quietly walked behind me as I went from room to room of the two-story house, gathering my bearings.  It was filled with an unsettling stale air, the dusty smell of an unlived-in house.

The smell and the cold made clear that what had been my childhood home was now a mostly-abandoned building.

I didn't reminisce long - Dave and I both wanted to leave, so we fanned out through the two floors and basement for things of use.

An hour later, we locked up the house, returned the key to the lockbox, and drove away with a full car.  Shelves, pots, mixing bowls, cooking utensils - anything we thought we could use, scraps from a place my family no longer calls home.

Even with a car full of free stuff, neither Dave nor I were in good moods.  Our unease filled the car, my muscles bunched up in anxious knots.  "I didn't like being in there," Dave finally declared as we crossed High Street to the west side of E N Broadway.

"Me neither," I said, relieved that it had been palpable for him, too.

"Being there was really depressing," he said.  "A lot of sad stuff happened in that house."

My whole body felt like a sunken eye, dark and deep in the tired socket.

9 years.  9 years of my life.  Smack in the middle of that, my mother moved out and my parents divorced.  The following four years saw the first three of my father's subsequent relationships.


It's ... strange, how a physical place can manifest such emotions and memories, how connected it can be to such intangible things.  The house still reeked of all of it.

Just before I turned 14, I was standing next to my mother at the stove, pestering her about what was wrong while she was cooking dinner.  "Your dad and I are having problems!" she finally said, and I just stood there as she went back to stirring the macaroni noodles.

On the staircase, I remember seeing my father cry for the first time, his head laid in my lap.  On the front porch, I remember standing on the white concrete and watching my parents have a yelling argument about me shortly after my mom moved out.  In my father's bedroom, I remember standing there with my two siblings the night that he told us that his first post-divorce relationship, after two years and an engagement ring, was over.  And next to the grate in the front room, I remember huddling up and sobbing with my little brother and sister on Christmas morning as our dad rushed out to Toledo in response to a suicidal text from his second wife.

So much sadness.

Dave knew all of those things, had even been a witness and bystander for some of them.  And when he came into the half-empty house with me, that's what he felt, just like me - the broken relationships, the grief and heartache, the awful painful things.

So much sadness.

But those nine years had some goodness, especially from when I was younger, before I ever knew Dave.  And the grief and hurt is mitigated by the good.

In the mudroom, I remember the sound of Honey, our 50-pound golden-retriever/chow mix scratching at the back door to be let back in to the house.  In the back of the basement, I remember  standing next to the workbench with my father in a cloud of acrylic paint fumes as we (he) designed my pinewood derby race cars.  In the family room, I remember tickle-fights with dad against all three of his children, my father growling and crouched in a white button-up shirt on the cream-colored carpet.

And in the dining room, I remember what it was like to be a whole family of five.  We would all sit together at the 6-chair oak set, dad at the head of the table, my brother and mother to his right, my sister and I to his left.  Someone would pray before the meal, and then we would dish up my mother's home-cooked food as my sister and I fought for attention and talking rights.  My little brother would store unswallowed meat in the depths of his cheeks and try and distract my mother from his refusal to eat.

And this is the place where Dave and I first held hands.  The porch we sat on during my high school graduation party when my dad took the first ever picture of us as a couple.  It's the house where Dave picked me up for our first dates and for evening Bible studies.  And after Bible studies on Monday nights, we would sit with my dad in the living room and watch Jay Leno.

The 9 years I lived in that house are filled with grief, disappointments, growing up, and huge life changes.  But it also holds half of my childhood, the beginning of being an adult, and the beginning of my relationship with Dave.  That house is so full of so many important things, both horrible and wonderful, and the latter mitigates the former.

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When I was 19, I couldn't move out of that house fast enough.  I moved out that September and never looked back, thrilled to be free, to be independent.

What makes tonight significant is that it's the last night that this house belongs to our family.  My father recently managed to find a buyer for the house, and by lunchtime tomorrow it will belong to someone else.  Tonight, my dad, my teenage brother, my college-aged sister, and myself are going over to say goodbye to the Norwood house.

It's been almost 6 years since I've lived in that house.  I am happy to leave behind the great griefs with which our family has filled that two-story three-bedroom house, but that house bore such witness to so much in our lives, in my life.  I was, and became, so much in that house.  I was a child, a teenager, and an adult.  I suffered, I learned, I laughed, and I grew.  Those 9 years of family and grief and coping were some of the most formative years of my life, and now, the last place where my family was whole, the house I called home, the walls that sheltered me as I grew, will soon be gone.

I've known about the sale for a while now, and I didn't think that it would affect me that much.  It's been a long time since I've lived there, and a long time since it's felt like home to me.

But I think tonight is a bigger deal for me than I thought it would be.

At least, a big enough deal that I couldn't focus until I sat down to write about it.  A big enough deal that I had to stop and sit down to face it, understand it, move past it.

And get back to work.

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