I moved from the home I shared with my husband in May.
He told me it was time to move on, that the house had served its purpose and would be better off as someone else’s home.
He died in November, but look, when a former co-worker tells you she has some messages from your dead husband? You go and sit on her sofa and you listen. Because guess what? He could have left you information on where he buried his treasure! Or, in my case, he might just have some good life advice. He always did.
The house he was talking about was the third house we shared as a couple, the last my husband ever lived in.
We bought that house knowing Aaron had limited time on earth. But homes hold so much possibility, so much promise about who you could become and what you could be, that it felt like our forever home, however short that forever would be.
It was about 14 months.
A lot happened in that house. Our son took his first steps, my husband took his last breath.
In between, we hosted the Worst Thanksgiving of All Time, where I decided to “wing it” and the only edible thing on the table was the pie my parents brought from Byerly’s – whoops!
We had movie nights in our basement. We barbecued in our backyard.
I thought I would stay, but the spell had been broken. The anticipation of seeing Aaron was no longer building at the end of each workday as I pulled off 35W onto Johnson Street.
I didn’t have him to call out to as I tossed my keys on the counter. I didn’t even have him to yell at when I forgot garbage day every damn Thursday.
The life we dreamed of within those walls was gone. No amount of painting or rearranging the living room would change that.
I have always loved moving. I loved packing my belongings into neat boxes and unwrapping them later, each earthly possession becoming a new gift. I loved learning the creaks and crannies of a new space, the way a house smelled like a stranger until your family’s signature scent could settle in.
That was good, because my parents moved us three times by the time I was 10 years old. We moved from northeast Minneapolis to southern Minnesota, to south Minneapolis and finally, to the Lynnhurst neighborhood in Southwest.
“It’s just a place,” my parents would say. “It’s just stuff.” I agree for the most part. Things are things. And houses are houses. But I also can’t help thinking of how the homes we’ve lived in always hold a piece of our story, a bit of the parallel life that might have unfolded within.
I moved enough to know the drill, but I was still shocked by how devastated I was to be moving from that house. A friend’s husband stopped by as I was packing the kitchen, and I dissolved into a puddle of tears, basically melted like the Wicked Witch of the West, when he casually asked how I was doing.
Because I wasn’t just leaving our house, I was leaving all the possibilities we let ourselves believe in. I was letting go of the Nora and Aaron who would grow old and squishy together, who would wait up on the couch for our kids to come home and teach them to back out of our perilous driveway. All those possible futures lived with us in that house.
I think of that when I pass any of the homes I’ve lived in over the years, like all of the Noras that could have been are still out there, exploring the possibilities that could have been.
How would the Nora who was born in northeast Minneapolis be different from the Nora who grew up in southwest Minneapolis? Or the Nora who spent two years in southern Minnesota and could catch a chicken with her bare hands?
What would have become of the Nora who got her first solo apartment in New York City, had she not moved back to Minneapolis? Would she finally buy an actual couch at a store? Or would the fact that she worked too much to ever sit down mean her living room would remain empty for all her days? Would she ever have anything in her refrigerator besides a half-bottle of wine and some moldy cheese?
I think most often of the Nora who moved in with Aaron just before he had a seizure that turned out to be a brain tumor that turned out to be cancer that ended up killing him.
How much she smiled the day she packed a U-Haul and shoved all her belongings into a house he owned (super grown-up alert!).
How she spent a whole weekend before our cohabitation going through his cabinets and tossing out food that somehow expired before he bought the house, moving his furniture and picking up dust bunnies that were larger than some actual living mammals, and making a list of all the things we needed to do to make the home ours. Simple things like not having an entire room filled with computer cords, or painting his bathroom anything but lime green.
We didn’t get around to much on that list. A few days after we packed the U-Haul with all my earthly belongings and tried to shove everything into his house, he had a seizure and the seizure was a brain tumor and the brain tumor was cancer and house projects fell somewhere to the bottom of our to-do list, which was basically:
- - Chemo
- - Radiation
- - Get married
- - Live???
We left that house, with its impossibly steep staircase and the one bathroom that seemed forever in danger of snapping off the house.
We ended up a few blocks away, in a one-story rambler that was just what we didn’t know we needed.
My dead husband was right: that house of ours had served its purpose. The rambler let Aaron stay home and stay independent. It let him amble out from our bedroom into the kitchen and dining room when he felt well enough. It let me get to his side during a seizure with just a few strides from the couch to the hallway on days I worked from home.
It let us be a family, even if we didn’t have long enough to be one.
Before our son was born, Aaron and I took a trip back to New York City. He wanted to see every apartment I ever lived in. So we made four separate trips to see them all. He took photos of me, smiling and pregnant, in front of them.
I love those photos. And I still get butterflies when I see any of the houses I lived in with my husband. Because they’re not just houses. They are reminders of all the girls I ever was, and all the women I thought I could be. And all of them, in their own way, helped me become the woman I am.
Ralph and I bought our new home on August 25. It was a date randomly selected by the mortgage company, inadvertently bursting with significance. It was exactly 9 months from the date Aaron died, the day our old life ended and our new one began. It was time for us to build something new, somewhere new.
“I like it here,” Ralph said, climbing the stairs to our bedrooms. “It’s cozy. It’s ours.”
[More from this author: Why I tell everyone to leave Minneapolis.]
Nora McInerny Purmort is the writer behind the acclaimed MyHusbandsTumor.com and many, many tweets. Her first book, "It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool, Too)" will be published by HarperCollins Dey Street in May 2016, and is currently available for pre-order. On Twitter: @noraborealis.
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