The places I’ve called home are becoming almost too numerous to count: eight childhood homes in four different states; three college dorm rooms on opposite sides of the country plus an off campus apartment and a room outside of Paris for a year; five apartments in Los Angeles, three in San Francisco, and file box and duffle bag that was my “home” for nine months in between. I guess that’s twenty-two, and counting…
I’ve moved so many times that I now hoard cardboard boxes and bubble wrap to avoid scouring trash bins behind liquor stores for moving supplies. I’ve loved each place for different reasons: charm, neighborhood, proximity to the beach. Even living out of a box had its perks: no rent, easy to pick up and go.
My present home is particularly dear to me: it represents freedom from a toxic relationship, my place to do with what I want without negotiations, a room with a view for the first time. My daughter and I have lived high on a steep hilltop in a safe, walking neighborhood for the past six years, post-separation from my ex-husband: an escape, a hide-away, a home for just us girls and a cat.
Yesterday I found out that I will have to move so that the landlord can renovate. I knew this day would come when I signed the lease, which reverted to month-to-month over five years ago. This earthquake shack is literally coming apart at the seams: I have duct-taped window frames together, patched brittle plaster with spackle, covered cracks in the flooring with throw rugs, and suffered without central heat for over three drafty years since the basement renovation was begun. Yet it has been more a home than any other place I’ve lived, from the living room couch that has hosted many friends and family to the reverie-inducing maps of Italy and Greece that line the WC.
Relocating brings with it endless possibilities: maybe I’ll get a yard, I’m hoping to have access to a washer/dryer, perhaps my daughter will have a door that shuts and a closet in her bedroom, most likely we will have heat again. And yet, I feel enormous grief and no small amount of fear. San Francisco rents are ridiculously high, and I will have to pay nearly 50% more to maintain my standard of living. How will I afford to live on my teacher’s salary? Who would rent to me when there are countless yuppie couples with high-tech salaries to woo a landlord? I cannot move out of the city because of the complications of my morning commute: dropping my daughter with friends so she can get to school a half-hour after my work day begins. Feelings of resentment toward my under-employed ex — who has lived in a gorgeous rent-controlled apartment in a prime neighborhood since the late 1980s — taint my attitude: why does he get the good fortune of a stable, affordable home five minutes from our daughter’s school when I am being kicked out on the street?
Then I look at my choices: stability has never been a high priority. The excitement of the new, the challenge of change, the adventure of discovery are carved into my psyche from my peripatetic past. Where is that sense of exploration now? Did it expire when I passed the half-century mark in age? Does my older body, with its aches and pains, resist the physical labor that moving requires? Is the financial bottom-line more important as I get closer to certain life events for which I am fiscally unprepared (my child’s college, care for aging parents, retirement)? I’m guessing the answer is yes, though my murky brain seems incapable of distinct thoughts at this point.
Deep inside I know we will be fine, that we will make the best of wherever we land, and that we will find another place to call home. Yet the daunting prospect of house-hunting and moving — with limited funds, a compressed timeframe, and a restrictive rental market — overwhelms me. Despite my do-it-myself attitude and my blind faith in the uncertain future, I wish I could curl up in my big chair with the downtown view until it all goes away.
Being the only grown up in the family is a heavy burden at times. And saying goodbye to the comforts of home is never easy. Yet I know one truth from the life I’ve lived thus far: the only thing certain is change. Embracing it, rather than resisting it, makes the path less bumpy.
And — cliché though it is — the dawn will break on a new day; it will just look a bit different from the change in perspective.