Saying Goodbye to The Houses that Built Us

dark navy background polaroid of family moving in

A photo of the house the author recently moved away from.We left another house last month.

It was a good one. One of those houses where we felt at home quickly. We left diapers in the rear view in that house. We hunkered down and survived a pandemic together there. We got a dog, hated that dog, and then fell in love with that dog there. Two years of togetherness wrapped up with extended family and great friends. A good house with happy memories, that built us and made us stronger.  

Houses always amaze me as I settle in, look back, and remember the purposes they served.

Sometimes we leave them feeling built up; other times, there’s a breaking, good or bad, that happens. As we drove away from this house, I couldn’t help but think of all the we’ve left behind in this military life. And I cried, as I always do, saying goodbye to the houses that built and broke us. 

I thought of the 800 square foot apartment in the desert where I thought our marriage would break and float away in a sandstorm.

We didn’t know how to be married back then. He worked too much. I took it too personally. When he wasn’t in the field, we fought about all the things we couldn’t resolve in the 2 weeks he was home before leaving again. But that tiny apartment also broke our pride. It broke our independent ways of living. It broke down our barriers and made us work together. Through its breaking, we lay the foundation for all the houses and life to come. 

I thought of the house where he was in school in the middle-of-nowhere, America.

That’s where we brought our son home. That house was a builder. We had so much time together, and we started to build our family there. We fell in love with the life we were creating. We left standing strong beside the walls we built that year. 

Then I thought about our first house in the rain of the Pacific Northwest.

The house where I got the call that my mom was going to die. The house where I found out I was pregnant with our daughter.  This was where I had to figure out how to mother while pregnant while in the deepest pit of grief. I had to get out of this house because the rain was washing me away.

So we moved to another house – one that built us back up.

This was where our daughter learned to walk, and our son learned to talk. This house sat on top of a hill where the sunshine made it through the clouds, and I felt shelter from the storm of grief. I was broken and built up all in the same duty station. 

We got to our new duty station today. But it’s also an old duty station for me.

Another “school house” assignment, but I’ve been here before. As an Army brat, I knew we would be here one day, the same post where I lived in 7th grade. It was just one year, but I remember it as a building year for my family. We had time together. We fished and explored, and my family was whole. I was excited to drive by my old house, where so many happy memories resided.

But as I turned on the street of the one year of childhood that felt the most stable, I stopped. It was gone. Torn down and replaced with something new.

The tree where we took our family photos in the front yard was nowhere to be seen. The yard where we slept on the trampoline in the crisp fall air was unfamiliar. It carried a whisper of what’s been lost in the air by unbreakable strands of grief, reminding me of many things: a whole and happy family, torn down and replaced with something new and unrecognizable. Happy memories ravaged with the repercussions of grief. The ghost of the house that was once a builder now broke me a bit as I paused at the stop sign too long staring at the shadows of the past.

From there I drove back to our new house where my family was waiting for me. I paused there in the driveway, looking up at this new house looking back down at meA photo of the author's new house in their new duty station..

It’s old and dusty.

It’s “historical,” they say.

It wasn’t my first choice, something I’ve made known to my family and friends and anyone who will listen.

But as I walked up the steps, I vowed to make this a builder house. One that even when my kids are grown, they will remember how much this home built us all those years ago. Even if it’s torn down and replaced with something new, with locks that aren’t rusted and cabinets you don’t need body building strength to open, they’ll remember it with fondness.

When we drive away next year, I know I’ll cry despite the creaky floors and drafty halls. I’ll miss my son coming home from Kindergarten, and my daughter and I doing puzzles on the old hardwood. I’ll cry leaving the house we’ll bring our 3rd child home to and the joy this new child will bring.

I’ll drive away next year, and I’ll think back on all these houses. All these homes and duty stations. And for however long I get to, I’ll keep saying goodbye to the houses that built us.