When I was ten, my parents bought their house. It was their first house purchase, and they still live there. In fact, the other night my mom told me over the phone that she had, just that evening, written out her final check for the mortgage. House=all theirs.
I remember very vividly moving in to this house. It was in a new neighborhood, probably about 1.5 miles from Home #2. Here we would finish out the school year at the elementary school I’d attended since kindergarten, but due to redistricting I would spend 5th and 6th grade in a different school in the neighboring town. That was where I would learn what people of a slightly higher socio-economic status taught their children in an effort to make themselves feel more important, harder-working, or more deserving. We were “dirty” kids, and their precious babies were golden children with new toys, designer clothes, and (for some) an accompanying sense of entitlement.
But I digress.
One morning, maybe a day or two after moving into the new house, I stood for ages at the kitchen sink with my dad, washing newsprint off all our kitchenware. I don’t remember exactly what we spoke of as we worked, but I do remember we both felt so proud and excited about our new digs. We let Mom sleep in, she being no doubt exhausted by the move, and even though I was only ten I knew my parents had worked so hard for this day. It was that knowledge that buoyed me when the new school kids would tease me about their monetary and moral superiority to me in the coming months. I knew the truth: money was nothing and our morals were intact. We worked hard and were good people, and I for one would not say anything mean in return even though I really wanted to, because I was nice.
I now had my own room, though it was an unfinished basement room. I cared not a bit about the lack of ceiling or carpet: it was mine! MY ROOM! I would dance across the concrete floor all evening long, bopping to the boombox I earned from babysitting my brother all day during the summer months. I’d ride a ten-speed bike earned in the same way around the neighborhood in the future summers, going to my friends’ houses or the McDonald’s that was a mile away, pedaling around the lake nearby. We played in the park across the street from our new house from sunup ’til sundown, it seemed. I perfected my “fishwife” bellow, calling for my brother to return at lunchtime to a gourmet meal of Kraft Mac&Cheese (doctored-up with parmesan once, infamously, in an incident that lives in the family narrative to this day as “the time Mark called Mom at work to tattle on Courtney because she put parmesan in the mac & cheese.)
And because we lived in our own house, we could now get pets! We got a cat, Gus, the meanest and cutest soft-grey cat with luminous green eyes and a crooked face. He wasn’t mean until after his “procedure” with a mean ‘ol vet, so I always empathized with his surliness and was rewarded with his devotion. We got a second kitten not long after the first, a tiny runt of the litter that was kept in a giant cardboard box for the afternoon in the back of Dad’s shoe store. I remember arriving in the storeroom to hear an impossibly tiny mewling sound, peering inside to see a correspondingly small ball of orange fur. This cat was named Joe, and his meow grew louder, more persistent and ever-present as he aged. Whenever I heard that old song about the very, very, very fine house with two cats in the yard, I thought about how true that was for me. And I felt really very lucky.
And all the while, I grew older. I went to junior high school, made new friends. I babysat children in the neighborhood. I had a million crushes, some on boys I pinned to my lavender walls and listened to on my radio and some on real boys I chatted with for hours on the phone. My first kiss happened in the living room one dark late-afternoon in late fall (sorry, mom and dad.) It was a tumultuous time, one filled with too much emotional intensity for someone ultimately so innocent. I didn’t know how unencumbered I really was, imagined my life as full of things worth agonizing over endlessly. To say my dad didn’t understand the manufactured drama is an understatement. But even though I ran with a group of mischievous boys, they were none of them truly bad and I was a paragon of good. I didn’t sneak out, I didn’t drink or smoke or do any drugs. I sang in choirs, spent summers in long rehearsals for musicals or on European tours with the choir, working pedantic jobs to pay my way. So while I do sometimes repent my melodramatics, I do feel I gave my parents a break on the things they might have worried over for me.
I lived here until it was time to go to college, and, excited as I was to enter that new phase of life, I was also nervous to leave home. Truth to tell, I knew it would never be the same again, even though I would come back on the occasional weekend, holidays, and one infamous summer between freshman and sophomore year when my dad told me I should not try to live at home again. Ha. But I think the reason it felt different was because I was so at home where I chose to go for college. I transplanted my heart to that 2-3 block radius of my campus. The kitchen was no longer just steps away from my bedroom, but it was a bigger, more populated home nonetheless. My relationship with my childhood home shifted to that of “home emeritus”, a term I knew because of that fancy and expensive college degree. It was no less important to me–after all, there in the driveway I would become engaged to the person who would be my home for my adult life, the one who had first kissed me in that driveway when I was still the hopeless-romantic teenager inclined to pine in her bedroom window on mild summer evenings. But though a piece of me would always stay singing along to the radio in the annals of those hallowed rooms, I had no choice but to keep moving.