Sunday, March 22, 2009

House Repair for the Heart

by Zinta Aistars

If home is where the heart is, mine has been absent. Something like 14 years in this house, and I have yet to truly embrace it as Home. From the moment I moved in all those years ago, I’d always had the thought in the back of my mind that this was a temporary stop along the way to … what came next. After all, prior to moving into this house, I changed addresses once a year, renting this place and that, never bothering to unpack the few boxes. With dual citizenship for two countries, I kept one foot firmly planted in each of two continents, Europe and the United States, and put down roots nowhere.

When this slamming about became too split-hearted for sanity, I did what a good mother would for her dazed children: I bought a house. For them. Good schools within walking distance, businesses and establishments they could reach for their various needs or first employment while their single mom was working two jobs. The house in its suburban neighborhood, just southwest of Kalamazoo, Michigan, seemed the sort of place one would have for kids. Fenced yard, reasonably quiet residential street, each their own bedroom upstairs, garage for one car. It would do.

For them.

So now they are grown. My daughter lives in an enchanting studio in Chicago, a block away from the Lake. My son is months away from his college degree and might be just ripe for a cheap foreclosed home of his own. There for the picking. The market is ideal for first-time buyers.

And me? Where did the years go? Ah yes, in the living. The rough tumble of a life that distracted me from, more than focused me on, a sound future. By now, I should have been in a far better place … but life wanted to chew me up a bit before spitting me out. I lost momentum. And if there is truth in the theory that a house is a reflection of the psyche that inhabits it, I stand outside on my back deck this morning, broom in hand, and look back at it—my house, so badly in need of repair. The patched roof needs to be replaced. New siding, painting inside and out, new windows, replace the carpeting and chipped tile with hardwood floors, and oh, how I long to toss the furniture! This deck on which I stand could truly be a pleasure. I have enjoyed many an evening here, sitting alone and watching the early morning blossom or the late evening wane. But the wood is old and weathered gray.

Well, I think, leaning on my broom: if this is my psyche, it needs some serious spring cleaning and spiffing up. I declare the roughest years behind me. The days when I could only count pennies to raise my kids are over; life is much more comfortable now, and I can see the brand spanking new air conditioning unit on the side of the house to prove it, connecting to a new furnace beneath the house. My first major investment in …

A slight shiver of pain sears through me. The pain of difficult years has held me back long enough. The wounds, I’ve come to understand, will heal, although the scars will remain. I’m working hard now to not just whitewash the ugly places, but tear away the ruin and replace it with stronger, better material.

My first major investment in … me. For 14 years, I’ve held myself back from this house, considering it but temporary shelter. A place to put my stuff before moving on. Dare I admit I still haven’t unpacked some of the boxes? If a horrible housing market has forced me to realize I won’t be able to sell this handyperson’s special anytime soon, it might be time to start thinking of this place as, gulp, Home. More than just shelter. A place to call my oasis, safe harbor in the storm.

I lean against the deck railing and squint my eyes and look at the place again, only my eyes see into the future. Modest house, yes, but I’ve never wanted the big and brash. Life has had enough complications; I want it to be clean and simple. I tick off my wish list in my mind and in order of priorities. This could be fun. A gift to myself, of my self, at long last home and whole. I sweep the debris accumulated on the deck from a long winter with new energy.

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