(Thanks to Judith Hannah for the prompt and this phrase)
I daydream about apartments. I dream of the perfect building. It is old but kept up, urban but bordered by parkland with friendly trails. My dream apartment has one room that is just for me. The first time I would have a room entirely of my own, to paraphrase Virginia Woolf. Bright light would flood in through windows of unusual shapes and sizes, filtered through soft greenery.
And then something happens that fixes me further into my house. My little brick bungalow that was supposed to be a starter home. My house of the leaky pipes, scratched floors, squeaky stairs, gaping doors, and ancient cabinetry with layers of old paint. My house where I moved as an almost newlywed, where I brought three babies and raised them to adulthood, and from where I fledged them out into their own homes.
We all know that sometimes those fledglings sometimes come back home to roost for a little while. It might be that they are between schools or between jobs. Their old room might still be there for them or they might be sleeping on the sofa for awhile. They might be easy to get along with, they might not.
This March brought my daughter back to the house. She had an accident. The definition of an accident is:
an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.
Unexpected, unfortunate, and with injury- that was it. We needed a first floor space for her. We needed that third child’s bedroom which had since morphed into guest room and study. We cleared it. My precious desk (which I preserve as mine alone- no one dares to place their own paper on its surface- well, they do but I get mad)- my heavy old solid walnut desk got hauled up the attic stairs. The big reading chair was removed and squished into a corner of the small living room.
The walls were stripped of all the art and framed family photos were stacked in a tottering pile elsewhere. The naked walls were washed with bleach. The plush rug was rolled and removed, the dusty floor mopped with lysol.
A rental hospital bed arrived, so large it had to be assembled in situ. A metal over-the-bed trapeze came. We took the doors off of the closet and put shelves in, so that supplies could be quickly reached. The shelves filled with gloves, iodine, bedpan, wipes, towels, pillows, then more towels and more pillows until the stacks fell over. There were prescription meds and non-prescription meds- to swallow, chew, make into tea. There were gauzes and gels.
A wheelchair came, a walker, a cane came.
On the bare walls sprung up papers held with bright blue painter’s tape. Directions for wound care, day by day medicine schedules, an inspirational poem. Friends created a banner flinging encouraging words across one wall and an embroidered piece reminding that “this too shall pass” below it. And we put up a glossy Sierra Club calendar with big white squares for each day, to record all the steps of one person’s journey.
I remember years ago visiting with a friend. A job change made them leave a large gracious house I had always envied. When they moved, they remarked that upon seeing their beautiful home empty, totally emptied for the move, they realized a house was just a box, really. That you fill with your life and your family. No matter how fantastic or how flawed a box, it is just a box. What matters is what you put inside and how you use it.
So, how did I feel, when my small room- box was emptied? Losing my desk, my reading nook, my window with the glass bluebird, my door I could close? I stopped dreaming of perfect apartments. I felt grateful, so very grateful for my house. Our old house once again providing the space for us to fill with what we needed.