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“We’re heading home,” I told my youngest daughter, and she gave me the broadest smile. It’s the one that shows all her teeth, and my favorite as well. There’s just something about her showing enjoyment that warms my heart.

While still smiling, she responded, “To the new house, dad.” And — you know — she’s right. We were heading to the new house, which is our home.

bee4fa54e8953da02a57738c9e1a4c05--doodle-quotes-short-quotesWe were boarders for 18 months, caught in the circadian rhythms of another household, of another system. It was the longest I’ve ever held my breath, waiting for it all to end, to finally be in our new house. And here we are, ready to take on another fall and another winter, our first of both seasonal varieties ensconced in our dream made real.

Madeline likes to call it “the new house,” and I correct her by saying it’s “home,” but perhaps we are both right. I think she likes knowing it as “the new house” because it helps her distinguish it from the other places we’ve lived. It reminds me once again how her brain works, of the organizational structure with which she lives her life. For her everything is cut and dry, black and white, stark in its edges with nothing on the margins. This is the new house now because it wasn’t here before, and now it is. And now we live here.

But she doesn’t change her designations either. It is the new house now, and that much is true, but in four or five years’ time it won’t be so new anymore, but to her it will still be the new house. To her it will still be the new one because it can never be the old one, and I love the way her brain sees it. It’s as simple as can be, this reliance on a phraseology that distinguishes for the moment but also for forever. I wonder what she would call this place if we ever moved again.

I told a friend today, when she asked how the new house was treating us, that waiting to be in was endless, but now that we are in I can’t really remember not living here. It’s the same way with my children. That’s probably the only thing I can really compare it to, life before my kids getting hazier by the second. I think it’s because this house, just like my children, is a permanent part of my life now, because now all of my memories from here on in will include this house in some way, shape, or form.

It’s the new house because it has transformed us by being here, from some transients into a family with a stable homestead. It’s the new house because Madeline has deemed it thus, and I’m overjoyed to accept her label. And in four or five or twenty years’ time, when she’s still calling it the new house, I will still smile because she will be as right then as she is now.

Sam

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Boarders, Volume 12

“This is the beginning of all things — count your blessings, live your life, and be kind to those who need you. If someone, if anyone, crosses your threshold, treat him as you would yourself, for in this you will be rewarded.” ~Theodicus

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We have overstayed our welcome. Of course that would have also been true the first week we moved in. It wouldn’t have been so obvious then, of course, because there were smiles and greetings, a sense that it was a new beginning. It would have been believable too, if the signs hadn’t been there beneath the surface of such fake platitudes. Because for every grand show there is always some minor slip-up that tips the audience off, if they’re paying attention.

That first week was a whirlwind of activity, with boxes and furniture being moved in, with saying goodbyes to our former house and saying hello to what we hoped would only be six to eight months here. How absolutely naive we were. Someone once said that you can live through anything, that it only makes you stronger, and I believed it that first week, despite the cracks in the facade that were already evident to those looking for them.

And I gave myself over to it, the feeling that we could make it here, the optimism that always characterizes failed enterprises. I knew it wouldn’t be all peaches and cream, but perhaps if I could hide away somewhere in the house I wouldn’t be noticed. And if I couldn’t be noticed, I couldn’t be judged. How incredibly naive I was. Because the judging isn’t in the actuality of what is being done, but is instead in the brain of the person being judgmental. I could have become a ghost and I would be judged for my shadow.

Oh, and those six to eight months that we so hoped for, that I so hoped for, have long since become what will eventually amount to eighteen. My gray hairs have multiplied exponentially the longer we’ve been here, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence. It’s like this environment has affected every single fiber of my being in a negative way. I shouldn’t dread coming back here, to what is essentially my “temporary home.” I shouldn’t hold my breath every day and hope there is no blowup, no sideways glance, no hemming and hawing over whatever I’ve done or whatever I haven’t done.

But I’ve learned from the experience. Don’t get me wrong. It hasn’t all been negative. It hasn’t all been constant stress and anxiety, although I don’t wish this experience on my worst enemy. Even though there is a welcome mat at the door, I have had to create my own welcome, to carve my own niche into this place to make it livable, so I don’t explode from the exhaustion of being a boarder here. I’ve thrown myself into my creativity, into my writing, into making my own outlet so I don’t drown in this sea of animosity.

“We either find strength in adversity or we drown under its weight.”

As it winds down, and I can see a flicker of light at the end of this long tunnel, I know I should feel some sort of relief, but I know I won’t feel it until we are actually gone, until I can say I no longer live here. Instead I feel more trapped than ever, like the spring will never come, like we will be stuck in this unending winter for the rest of our lives. I went over to the new house yesterday just to breathe in its contained air, to feel more attuned to what the future will bring sooner rather than later.

So sure, I don’t feel welcome here. And I don’t think I’ve worn it out. I just don’t think it was ever really there in the first place. But that’s okay. Whole families weren’t meant to live under other peoples’ roofs, not for eighteen months, not even for one month. When you’ve had your own house, and you’ve had your own things, and you’ve lived your own life, having someone hovering over you can’t do any good. Being someone else’s boarder can’t be healthy, and it hasn’t been, not for the most part anyway.

And I’ll miss these blog entries, but at the same time I won’t miss them. Because when they stop I’ll truly feel welcome, behind a door that is my own.

Sam

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Home

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Every day I return to this place, and I exhale as I round the final curve and drive down the hill. I crane my head to the left to catch my first glimpse of our house, lonely out there in the field, waiting for us to move in. But there is still time remaining to get it ready, even though the outside is intact. Most days there are subtle changes that give me renewed hope that it will be our home soon.

Until then, of course, we are still here, in a place that can at once be both hostile and welcoming, depending on who’s home at the time. And I hold my breath after that exhale because in only moments after seeing our new house taking shape I can see this driveway, and I turn in. I have no idea what will await me here, but this is not home. We merely live here.

Someone once said that home isn’t a place, that it’s the people we love, and I find that to be partially true. My heart is with my family, so wherever they are is where my heart resides. But home is not as simple as heart. A home is an amalgamation of the two: heart and place. A physical place is necessary because it provides a context for interaction between family members. Because it gives a hearth, somewhere to come back to, a common ground that welcomes with open arms.

That’s why this is not home, and why this will never be home, even though my family lives here right now. That’s why I exhale when I round that last corner and drive down that hill, because they are doing so much more than just building a house out in that field. They are creating a home where we can grow as a family, where we can return after our long days and feel whole again.

Sam

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“I beat my machine. It’s a part of me. It’s inside of me. I’m stuck in this dream. It’s changing me. I am becoming.” ~Nine Inch Nails

available-room-sign-board-38173736Sometimes I feel like a time clock, sitting here on the wall, inert save for when people come and slide their cards through my mechanism. I sit here when I would rather be out there, working, holding my own card instead of being at the whim of others. That’s what this process feels like right now, this building process. Because we have a well; it’s dug, and the ground around it has settled again. That was a couple of weeks ago, and nothing has happened since. That was one card slotted through the mechanism, and I’m waiting for the others.

In the meantime I am here, in this expansive house that will never feel like home, existing. It’s not that I’m bored either. I’m doing more than I probably have ever done before, with my new book out, and having begun another one, with ferrying the children back and forth to appointments and various other fun activities. But things are on pause where it really counts, in a holding pattern that makes this existence a dull one, not uninteresting but like a knife when it hasn’t been sharpened. I feel like I’m sleepwalking through my life the second I step foot in this house.

I welcome any change in the routine, any chance to be myself in this place that doesn’t welcome individuality. I’m glad it’s spring now, at least, because I can open the windows Time-Clockand get a cross-breeze to at least try and get rid of this muskiness, to destroy these particles that I’ve been breathing and re-breathing for months on end. I want to go home, but there is no home, not yet. I can’t wait to see the walls being erected, but that won’t be until at least August, which seems like an eternity away from where I sit now.

It’s like being trapped, being here, in a way I’ve never felt before. The longer it goes on the more prison-like it seems, even though I can come and go pretty much as I please. Perhaps it’s because I can’t have friends over. Maybe it’s due to the insane need for constant order and organization. Or it might just be the fact that there’s still no real end in sight. If there were a defined end, if I could say I’ll be in my home by summer’s end, or by the middle of fall… something. Anything. But there is still no timetable. Maybe I’ll feel more settled here when I know there’s a solid expiration date.

Or maybe none of it will matter until we are no longer boarders, until we are finally actually moving into the house of our dreams, into our own home. I won’t hold my breath.

Sam

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“Oh the leaves they fall. They go so far sometimes. Do I blame the wind or the tree that let you go, or do I wave goodbye, settling?” ~Tara McLean

Settling: adopting a more steady or secure style of life.

il_570xN.509563643_15w9I used to think of settling as this process that happened once a house had been sitting on the same patch of ground for so long. It begins to creak and protest the inertia dragging it down deeper into the foundation that was supposed to always be so strong. There is a shifting, a settling that rearranges the position of things, that reasserts the power of nature to do what it pleases as it pleases. And as we move from a lazy winter into a reticent spring this settling is not for the faint of heart; neither is it for just houses.

The land outside the living room window remains as it has been, mowed down low but not active. There are no large vehicles sitting on it, no noise from backhoes or tractors, no sounds of riotous laughter from sweaty men working hard to raise a house, to raise a home. The place itself remains as a tracing sheet, imminently capable of holding form but empty as of yet because it has been placed over nothing. I can sense its possibility, though, when I walk out there on it, when I picture it in my mind. But it’s not enough, not right now.

Yes, I want to be there now, to have a house of one’s own (to loosely paraphrase Virginia Woolf), but I know I can’t. I can only hope, wish, and dream it into being in my mind, and wait for the day when it will start to come to fruition with baited breath. And in the meantime here I am — boarding. Settling.

For me settling means more along the lines of adjusting expectations and making the best of what’s around (to quote Dave Matthews). It arrives as mere transitioning, all proud and full of excitement because it knows it won’t be around long. It’s just making way for something bigger and better right around the corner. Then the longer it goes transitioning transforms into languishing, when it finally recognizes the length of time it will be around is more than just the nearest corner will remedy.

That’s when it becomes settling, when it knows its time is relatively open-ended and it tries to make lemonade from the lemons that seem to be everywhere at once. That’s what this boarding has turned into, what it has always been if I’m being honest with myself. I go from day to day in this routine, in this ritual that is neither looking forward nor looking back, because looking back is to pine, and looking forward is to lean. So I’ve settled instead, and I try to make the best of my time here. I try not to languish.

Which is hard. Make no mistake about it. It’s dreadfully hard not to get discouraged, not to feel that this settling is dying, that this easing into a routine isn’t easing into the grave, because that’s honestly how it feels sometimes — most of the time. I know I will feel more assured, more grounded, when they begin digging up the ground next door.

Sam

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I’ve been good, right? I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do this year. I’ve been a good father. I’ve spent quality time with my wife. So why am I stuck in this excruciating limbo here in this place where time stands still and I can’t imagine anything past it?

You know me, I’m not one to complain. I generally try to expect the best from situations and people until I’m proven otherwise, and even then I’m not too quick to shift gears. I try my best to be the best I can be, and sure, I make mistakes, but I try to work through them and learn from them.

So why am I being tortured like this? What did I do in a previous life to warrant the cold stares, the hard sighs, the loud judgments and slamming doors? My therapist says I need to confront this woman who has been making my life a living hell for the past few months, but I’m never been good at confrontation. Maybe I need to start learning how.

I think I may have yelled at one person in my life, and that was an eternity ago. I don’t even remember what it was about, or how I even got so worked up that it came out in that red hot way it seems to do with others on a steady basis. I’m generally softspoken, enough that people mistake my kindness for weakness, but I’m not generally weak. I just do things in a different way.

But nothing I do has worked with her. She took me in when I had no place to go, and I will forever be grateful, but she judges me more often than not. I know I haven’t been perfect, but instead of talking to me like a human being she usually talks AT me, telling me everything without telling me anything. Because I still don’t know what I can do to make her treat me like a living, breathing human being.

And it’s gotten worse since we’ve been living here, not that it wasn’t bad before. She would come over our house and tell me all the ways I’ve disappointed her (subtly, of course). She would assume I wasn’t going to do anything to help with housework, to get the children a snack after school, or anything else. But at least then she would eventually GO, she would head back to her house and I could breathe a sigh of relief.

I can’t breathe here. It’s only five months into this living together thing, and I can’t breathe! I’d like to be able to breathe again sometime, please.

Sam

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“Where are you from?” she asked me, and I didn’t know what to say, so I paused. I mean, I’m originally from Philadelphia, but I haven’t lived here since the ’90s. I live in upstate New York now, but I don’t know if I’ve ever considered it a pad from which to launch my life. My life as I know it did begin there, but can I possibly be “from” there?

She asked me this question on a bus in the Irish countryside, when we met for the first time. I asked her the same, and without hesitation she said, “Canada. I’m from Canada.” I found out later that she had chosen to interpret that question the first way, because it was where she had been born but she lived in eastern Pennsylvania. Now she lives in Texas, but if I asked her the question today she would still say “Canada” in a heartbeat.

I wonder how long it will take her to finally say somewhere else? Perhaps it’s a length of time thing. Wherever you’ve lived the longest is where you’re from. Maybe when I’ve lived in upstate for over 21 years I will finally be able to say without pausing that it’s where I’m from. Or it may not matter at all. I might always feel stuck between two worlds, just like in life.wp-1458475610286.jpgWe either love where we came from or we hate it. I don’t remember who said that, but I completely agree with it. There’s usually no middle ground, from my experience. And I think people assume that I hate it because I don’t live here anymore, which is a falsehood. I love this place. I love the atmosphere, the people, and just the “feel” of Philly. It has a hold on me, and it always has, so every time I come back I just breathe it in and try to hold it forever so I don’t forget.

Maybe that’s what I worry about more than most things, that I will somehow forget all the things that make this place so special. I think that’s the reason I just walked the streets of downtown the last time I was here, to soak it in, to revisit my old haunts and see that they’re still here. I didn’t get a chance to do that this time, well, not really, but I did get to walk a few of my old paths.

We can’t get back the past, though. Time always moves on, and it takes us with it, like it or not. I can’t go home again, and yet it remains my home. It’s still where I’m from, and I am so proud to tell anyone who asks, just like I told that girl on a bus in the Irish countryside 7 years ago, even though I paused. I think that was the 7 years pause (the length of time I had lived in upstate New York to that point), but I still gave the correct answer.

And when my friend asked me where I was going this weekend, I didn’t even pause before I told her, “I’m going home.”

Sam

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