Empty Walls and Empty Halls
In 2006, I packed up everything I owned and loaded it into a truck. As I looked around the empty walls and walked the empty halls one more time, there was this sadness that felt like a leaded weight lodged directly in my heart. I knew at that moment that there would never be another kiss goodnight in that house, never another “I love you” spoken, never another round of cheers — at least not for us. And though I knew what I was leaving, I was excited about what was to come.
That’s the beauty of youth. In youth, you are always looking ahead because the road before you is so much longer than the one you’ve already walked. In middle age, you find yourself at a crossroads because it could be so easy to look back, or just as easy to move forward towards that new uncertain adventure. Somewhere on the other side, the directions seem a little murkier.
When I packed up my house again in 2014, I chose only to look forward to what was to come. And, yet, that same sadness I’d experienced before pervaded. The empty rooms whispered to me that my oldest child would never live in our new home and that my youngest would be there only temporarily before she left school and took another big chunk of my heart away with her to live on her own. But I saw in the distance the promise of Christmas dinners and family weddings and grandchildren baking in the new kitchen, so I walked ahead.
Two years later, my youngest child left and took a piece of my life with her, just as her brother had done before her, and just as I had done in 1992. I walked into her empty room and slid down the wall to stare into the abyss. That sadness stared back, just as it had in 2006, in 2014, or even in 1992 when I left behind the dated waterbed and stuffed animals of my childhood bedroom. This time, the road forward seemed far less inviting without my family along for the ride and a much shorter hike than the one I’d already traversed. But life pushed me on, the walls found new decorations, and the sadness faded back to where it came from, one last gaze telling me it would be waiting when the time came for us to meet again.
It’s 2021. Some of us never thought we would make it here, others never did — make it, I mean. Once again, my gaze finds bare walls and empty porches. It sees shadows where picture frames once hung and marks in the floor where a bedframe once rested. The guest rooms echo with their bare floors and furnishings and their memories of a life once more densely populated. I don’t have to stare long to see the sadness, I have felt it lingering in the doorways for months. It knows this is the furthest away I’ve ever been and the barest my home has ever felt.
After a lifetime of packing up my belongings and calling new places home, saying last goodbyes, and knowing the promises to stay in touch are well-meaning but often forgotten as the years pass by, I think it’s only grown more difficult to let go, though it should be old hat by now. Gone are the days when folks stay in one town, in one house, in one spot from birth to death. I’m nothing special, I just feel it deeper now, much like aching in my joints and the bittersweet march of time.
In the next month, someone will pack up everything I own and load it into a truck as my back and legs aren’t quite as forgiving and nimble as they once were. I will look around the empty walls and walk the empty halls one more time, feeling that familiar sadness at knowing there will never be another kiss goodnight in this house, never another “I love you” spoken, never another round of cheers — at least not for us.
My kids won’t be a couple of hours away. My mom’s porch won’t be across the driveway. My heart will have to beat that much harder to spread the love that much further, but I will look forward, however long or short the road before me might be. I will say my goodbyes knowing this time what I’m really leaving.