What does the word 'home' inspire in you? Feelings of comfort, or safety? Coming home and being able to remove the armor necessary to navigate the world as a woman? Or a place where the shields have to go up higher?
I've been writing a lot this month about domestic abuse and domestic violence. It's not an easy topic for me to delve into but I also find it healing to look back on my experiences and, hopefully, in sharing them help other people. But today I want to talk more about creating a home.
Walking into my new house. Sweater from the Gap, skirt from local boutique Humanity.
I love to decorate. I get it from my Mom, who sold her house and moved roughly every two years after her divorce. She'd joke that it was because once she had the place decorated and 'done' it was time to start a new project. When she fell ill I spent a week out at her condo in Vegas packing up her stuff. It was hellish - not only because I was hauling boxes in her non-air-conditioned garage when it was over a hundred degrees, but because sorting through memories can hurt. She'd kept every comforter, every pillow. Wreath upon wreath for every season and holiday. Boxes of outgrown kid's clothes and toys. She directed me from in her wheelchair at the top of the garage's steps. It was an odd ritual, a day fraught with a deeper significance. I was packing her up to die. Usually children go through the house after the parent has passed away, maybe with booze, maybe fighting with their siblings over who gets what. But this time she watched as we sorted her life into boxes, piles of keep or toss, and called the junk man to take them away. At that point she was moving to a facility and down-sizing to one room plus a storage unit. She didn't want to move, didn't want to be sick, and it was really hard to convince her that no, the pink fluffy comforter from my sixth-grade bedroom couldn't go with (a photo of that monstrosity can be seen here).
When I started packing for my recent move I thought about that day again. Grief never goes away entirely, and it doesn't take much to bring up the freshness of pain. This time, I got brutal tossing stuff out. I'm not saying that the memory of sorting through her stuff inspired me but I'm not saying that it didn't, either. I talked about it a little in an article I wrote - my combination of single mom hustle and Kondo method (Does it give you joy and could I sell it on Poshmark and make some cash?). It was also because I needed to clear space, both mentally and literally. I moved from a five bedroom, two bath house into a two bedroom, one bath apartment. Which I love. But there's a lot less room for stuff. I have, shockingly, fit it all in, though the basement storage helped. But it was also freeing to take bags upon garbage bags of crap to my local donation center. It felt like I was shedding the weight and clutter of my marriage. But I refused to get rid of, or even truly sort through, one large set of my possessions. My books.
When does a house become a home? The answer is different for everyone but for me it's the books. When the books start coming out of the boxes, lined up on the shelf for the perennial debate of - alphabetical? By genre? But the Baen bricks don't fit, size-wise, next to my slimmer paperbacks, so should I split my fantasy books? I have a *LOT* of books. And my tastes range all over. Most of my fiction is genre but since I love to write historical fantasy I have a few shelves of non-fiction. And, oh yeah, lots of books on the various languages I've learned over the years. After a trip to IKEA that I survived without spending too much over budget (the sensory hell that is their stores gets me every time. By the fifth time seeing that ugly pillow it's started to look cute to me. And maybe I do need a thingamajiggit!) I assembled three bookcases over the past two weekends. And then I started unpacking the books.
For me, it was far more significant than the mere act of taking paperbacks out of a box. My ex had(s) multiple sclerosis, a disease that he's vastly in denial about. So anytime he'd trip or have a bad fall it was somehow my fault. The house was too cluttered or messy - though he never offered to clean it. Too much baby stuff - I'll own that one. But somehow books bothered him. A lot. They jumped out from their shelves and tripped him. And so every time he had a bad fall I'd end up packing away more books and collapsing another bookshelf. It assuaged his anger and stopped the complaining and verbal abuse...until the next time he fell. Slowly but surely all but a few of my books made their way into air-tight containers in the basement. Old friends and companions, out of sight and forgotten.
Pulling them out and arranging them on my new bookcases is much more than just 'unpacking.' It's re-discovering old favorites that I'd forgotten. It's remembering how one author's books got me through a tough time. Smiling when I reach the bottom of a box and find Tamora Pierce's Lioness series, remembering how it inspired me to start writing fantasy. It's making a looong list of books to re-read. It's finally sitting down on my couch last night with a glass of wine, looking around at my full bookshelves, and feeling home.
In my new home there are books. There is new furniture that I bought, ignoring the little voice that told me it might not be practical to buy all new stuff and I should just make do with the couch that was close to fifteen years old. Thumbing my nose at a man who would berate me for wasting money if I bought a ten dollar wreath at Target for Christmas. I own a light up cactus. And plants. I bought a hanging witch sign for my back door and Halloween towels.
Last night I sat on my couch and tried to make my way through the backlog of fashion magazines that have piled up during the move. You can read about my love of fashion magazines and the sexism I observe when men criticize them in a piece I wrote for Ravishly. My boyfriend, who henceforth will be called B so I don't have to keep typing that and feeling silly, had to work. The new place is almost put together and I decided I deserved a break. I'm proud of what I've created since I left my ex. Proud of the work I've done and the woman I've become. And if you, too, are a divorced woman and/or a survivor, take a moment to congratulate yourself on your growth. IMO, we can become so busy just making it through and moving on that we don't stop to celebrate how far we've come. Sit down with a glass of wine or a cup of tea. Look around, whether it's a new place or redecorated post-divorce, and allow yourself to fully take in what it means to be home.