It’s been easy to believe since I’ve been here that this is all there is in my life, that when I got on the plane I wasn’t just leaving my friends and family behind but that they were just going to sort of…stop while I’m gone. I think of my life in Seattle as in a sort of cryogenic freeze at the moment: I, clearly, am the person who is growing and changing and doing new things and having new adventures. It’s been hard for me to understand, from so far away, that everyone else is evolving too, regardless of whether they’ve decided to spend some time on the other side of the world.
If Seattle, where I’ve spent most of my life for the past seven years, feels remote and incomprehensible, then so much more does Miami, where I go once a year and usually spend the entire time I’m there feeling a little out of it. It’s really strange to think about not being there at all this year, though, and even stranger to think that the next time I’m on the island I will not be sleeping at my childhood home but rather at my mom’s new house that she moved into last week.
It happened fast. In April we were talking about what it would look like to maybe buy a house together one day, and we said that the first step would be selling the old house and getting a new one on the island. I guess I didn’t think much about what the time frame would be but all of a sudden as I was getting ready to leave Mom started saying things like “I spoke to a realtor today,” and “My next door neighbor wants to buy the house,” and “I found a place I really love, just a block from the beach.” I heard her say those things—we talked about them quite a bit when we were in California together—but I was so obsessed with all the details of leaving that I didn’t take the fact that she was constantly getting calls from lawyers and investors while we were on whale-watching tours very seriously. I knew it was happening but I couldn’t pay very good attention and I figured it didn’t have much to do with me anyway.
By the time I arrived here she was talking about paint colors and floor treatments and all of a sudden it was moving day, and all of a sudden she had to give me a new address, one that I had to look up yesterday when I finally got around to sending her a postcard. That old address, that I have written on thousands and thousands of forms since I was five years old, that automatically means home to me, will belong to some other people for a while, a year maybe, and then won’t exist any more because the house is basically a teardown and not worth as much as the itty bit of resort-bedroom-community land it sits on. In a couple of years every single house on the street I grew up on will be a cramped quarter-acre mansion, and there will be no trace of the little pink and green house in the middle of my mother’s garden.
What happened, as far as I know, was that my parents came down to Florida a couple of times for the winters, when they were still together-ish. This would have been the mid-seventies, I guess. They stayed on the island in a rented house and I guess Mom liked it enough to think of living there when she decided to leave my father. I don’t know the details but apparently they went down there together (I would have been about three, maybe? Did Beck and I go with them?) and looked and looked for houses, on the island and off, and were about to give up when all of a sudden another one came on the market. I remember something about the owner’s having been convicted of some crime (Miami in the seventies, hello) and having to sell up quickly, or something. Apparently it was a wreck at the time but they bought it anyway and bought all its furniture on one day and I don’t really remember moving but I guess we did somehow because some of the things we had in New York were there either until the hurricane or until last week. I remember something about there being a lot of flying roaches when we first moved in, although maybe I just remember the story and not the event itself.
The yard evolved over time but there was always a maho tree in the backyard. We had a sort of swingset thing in the back, with what we called the summerhouse attached. It was sort of a duplex, with a top and bottom story, and for a long time, when I was obsessed with being Ayla from Clan Of The Cave Bear I would wrap myself in a sarong and run around gathering sticks and leaves and grasses to make my stone-age pharmacopoeia, just like in the book. Sometimes all my friends would come over and we would play house in the backyard, using my mom’s cast-off disco clothes from my dress-up box as props: Ashley was always the mom (drove a red convertible) and I think Marah and Manya were, like, two-year-old twins (rode matching red tricyles). One time I had to be the dad, and we had no idea what I was supposed to do because so many of us had divorced parents. We tried to find me a briefcase or something so I could come home from work and ask where dinner was but I was never very successful at it.
The front room has mirrors all along the walls, which is very seventies and I guess was meant to make it look a little bigger. The Florida room has all sliding glass doors and we’ve always eaten in there, watching the various birds and bugs do their thing. Possums and racoons come into the yard regularly and often there are anoles on the glass, doing their pushups and flapping their red throats, trying to go transparent to blend in and letting us see their internal organs. The year that we had three litters of kittens all in the same summer we made nests for them out of the Australian pine needles that blanketed the yard.
My sister and I shared a room for a while: bunk beds sheeted variously with Marimekko trucks and Bambi (Cinderella, one time? Could we have had Star Wars sheets?) I had the top bunk, of course, being the oldest, and I would sometimes tell her stories to help her fall asleep. I remember her moving into the third and smallest bedroom but I don’t remember if it felt lonely without her. Probably it did. In high school I painted all my furniture the brightest, most awful colors (emerald green, bright magenta) and put candles all over the place and pictures of unicorns and dragons on the wall and thought it was so cool. After the hurricane we sort of just…didn’t get me another bed, for some reason. We piled up a bunch of blankets and sleeping bags on my newly-pink-tiled floor and just left it at that, and I remember thinking how cool and bohemian that was.
It’s not a great house, although of course I could never afford to buy it today. The roof has basically never stopped leaking since the hurricane and each big storm that’s come through in the past three years has made it worse. The people on all three sides have torn down the little houses that used to be there and built the aforementioned quarter-acre mansions, so the sky is pretty much blocked out and you can see right into their TV rooms. The kitchen is cramped and unintuitive, although it does have a nice window, and the laundry room always has toads in it…because the laundry room is outside. I asked Mom a couple of weeks ago what it was going to be like not to have to put on shoes to get the laundry and she said “I can hardly imagine.”
Mom has been thinking about moving for a long time, maybe ten years. She said it only seemed quick, that she’s been thinking about it so long that the actual buying and selling of everything felt like formalities. She says the new place has immediately felt like home and that she was ready to leave the old place. Her last remaining cat was, sadly, run over right before she left, and a new kitten has magically come to her to live in the new place with her. She brought a lot of her plants over, as well as her hilariously be-flowered bathroom fixtures that she loves, and says she feels very open and free there. “There’s a room all set up for you when you come home again,” she told me on the phone the other day.
I can’t wait to see the new place, to see her happy there, starting a new kind of life. I can’t wait to see the paint colors and the floor treatments, the new kitten who will be a cat when I go back home. I don’t think I’ll walk past the old house, though. That was our house, for our family to live in, and no one else belongs there the way we did, all of our imperfections and oddities melding seamlessly into those of the three-bed-two-bath. There’s only so much cognitive dissonance I can take.