A Small, Safe Room With a View

And what a view it is.

And what a view it is.

 

When I was young, we lived off and on in a small adobe house with four rooms. It had water running to the sink in the kitchen but no bathroom. We used an outhouse in the backyard and kept a coffee can under the bed for nights when it was too cold to go outside. What stands out in my memory is how tidy my mom kept the house, taking pride in little details like doilies and lace curtains. To anyone looking in, we lived in poverty but to me it was just where I lived until my dad picked me up and took me to his mansion in the foothills.

Well, maybe it wasn’t a mansion but to anyone looking in, it was a nice house with three bedrooms, two baths and a swimming pool. The house was on an acre of desert and since I wasn’t quite sure what to do with all that cacti, I spent a lot of time in my room playing with my Barbies. I preferred the narrow space between my bed and the wall, buffered between the dust ruffle and my imaginary world.

Even at a young age I was keenly aware of the disparity in my living arrangements. Kids are prone to take the information they’re given and fill in the gaps. Their conclusions are often a disconcerting mix of completely nonsensical and right on target. Sometimes we don’t know until years later what can be counted on as true and what only served us as children and can now be left behind. In my case, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t really have a home of my own. There was my mom’s house and my dad’s house but not my house. I didn’t belong anywhere. I was a somewhat inconvenient guest in other people’s lives. That sounds harsh, especially since I’m very close to my parents now, but that is the baggage I brought with me everywhere. I couldn’t wait to grow up and I felt desperate to get out from underneath the expectations that I served.

I got my husband to watch the movie Room with me by convincing him that it was a feel-good movie. If you don’t know about it, it’s the story of a woman and her 5 year old son who are being held captive by a sexaul predator, told by the perspective of the boy. My poor husband. He kept joking, If this is a feel-good movie, I can’t wait to watch a drama with you. It reminds me of when my son gets a bruise and says, “It’s the good kind of pain.” I couldn’t wait to see the movie after reading the book, which I read when we were staying with friends after we sold our house and our new mortgage hadn’t yet gone through.

It probably wasn’t the best book to read under the circumstances. Here we were with two kids, two adults and two dogs living in our friends’ guest bedroom. I’d lie awake at night in a panic over our situation listening to deep breaths and dreams. Everyone I loved was right there, sprawled in every direction and although we were safe and comfortable, I couldn’t suppress the fear that we would spontaneously combust and everything I’d ever dreamed could be mine would be gone in an instant.

I kept reminding myself that I can live anywhere as long as my family is with me. If we never made it into our new house, we’d still be ok. But the uncertainty cut me where I was most vulnerable. I was afraid of how my kids would feel if we weren’t able to buy the house that we’d built up in their minds in the school district we promised (a school they had already started, by the way). I wasn’t prepared to face their disappointment and I worried about how they might take the information they’d been given and fill in the gaps. What baggage would they carry with them everywhere because of my inability to give them the home I’d promised?

We have now been in our new house for two months. We lived in our previous house for nearly 20 years but I was still taken off guard by how deeply I was affected by moving. Taken off guard. Think about what that means for a moment. I have been guarding something all these years. That belief that I never had a home as a child. That feeling of not belonging anywhere. I take my nesting very seriously so it’s no wonder that I have burrowed myself into this new space and blocked out everything else. I’m going to have to learn that it’s ok to take down my guard. I can leave behind those old beliefs that no longer serve me.

My buddy, Jessica, wrote a post about letting go of old beliefs. “It’s connecting and letting go simultaneously,” she writes. I’ve been practicing with mixed results. I feel best when I’m in my home, looking out the window and taking in my new surroundings. Sometimes these little pockets of safety sustain me and sometimes they hold me back. We now live on an acre of desert and I’m afraid to go out my back gate because I don’t know what the hell is out there. I want to walk the dog in the wash but I’m afraid of the snakes, coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions. They’re not there all the time but they are there. When I look around I’m awestruck by the hugeness of the mountains and I feel so connected to everything because even though I still don’t know what to do with all that cacti, I feel how alive the desert is and I want to be that alive. For every fear that holds me back there is a new discovery that awakens my soul. I’m trying to figure out what fears will keep me safe (rattlesnakes, mountain lions) and what fears I can let go of (making new friends, being part of a community). I’m reaching out tentatively to connect, while taking baby steps out of my small, safe room with a view.

 

“We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won’t do harm – yes, choose a place where you won’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.”

E.M. Forster, A Room with a View

“And love is not the easy thing
The only baggage you can bring
Is all that you can’t leave behind”

― U2, Walk On

Sweet, little King snake.

Sweet, little King snake.

26 Comments on “A Small, Safe Room With a View

  1. Wow, I”m behind on reading your blog but this was the perfect day for me to read this one. I could so feel all this….Thanks for writing it!

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  2. Wonderful work as always, Karen. I have missed your writing, and this feels like coming back home (pun intended? Not sure). You write with passion and love and it pours out here.

    I read the book, and I don’t know how I finished it, but I refuse to see the movie. Too heartbreaking, even though I know what happens. But I understand the whole uprooting thing, getting out of comfort and trying to lay claim to something even more “you”. Sometimes I crave change, and when it happens, whether by design or fate, I am still unsure of it. Like the bobcats and mountain lions (which by the way, is a reason I will never move to that part of the world), there are things imagined and real out there which keep me from opening up and exploring. As you mentioned, it is important to categorize these fears and respond to them accordingly. In many ways, reaching out to others in the community is probably as frightening to me as confronting a snake.

    Wonderful post, Karen. It was a pleasure to drink it in. Congrats on the new digs.

    Blessings
    Paul

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  3. I’ve been holding this piece with me all week, Karen. First, thank you for tagging me here. I’m so touched; you’re writing always moves me deeply. I’m honored to be a part of it. You touched upon so many aspects of my own life — I just keep reading your words over and over again. The stark discrepancies between homes. “That feeling of not belonging anywhere.” The way we as children — and even as adults — try to make sense of things in our mind. When things make sense we can navigate them with less fear. At least I think so.

    But being uprooted, even by choice, and then homeless for a period of time, even though you had safe-keeping, this resonated with me so much. We sold our home in California after Zoe was a year old. Choosing to move back to the East Coast. But our apartment in Manhattan wasn’t finished in time and Rob and I had to be separated for over a month so he could start his job. I lived with family — with my baby and two 100lb dogs in tow. It was the most anxiety producing experience of my life. I went from being an independent adult in my own home to feeling like a small unprotected child again. I am now certain that the dizzying anxiety was my buffer from depression. For me moving “home” triggered so much fear. Being homeless and without my anchor, Rob, I was just spinning. I can barely think about it now. It makes it hard to breathe.

    “I take my nesting very seriously so it’s no wonder that I have burrowed myself into this new space and blocked out everything else. I’m going to have to learn that it’s ok to take down my guard. I can leave behind those old beliefs that no longer serve me.” I just had to close with this quote because I’m reading it again and again as a reminder to myself that, I’ve got this. I’m okay. Stepping out and coming back in — like the tide — into the safety of our own nests is a good, good thing. I love you and I’m happy you are settled with your beautiful view! Thank you for giving me so much to reflect upon.

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    • “The dizzying anxiety was my buffer from depression.” That really rings true for me. I think I overloaded on anxiety and once we moved in, the depression underneath was able to come through. It’s only been two months since we moved in but I feel like I’ve gone through enough emotions to last a lifetime. And I keep feeling amazed at my resiliency. I never used to be this resilient.

      Thank you, Jessica, for your friendship and love. You always give me so much to think about and relate to! ❤

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      • This made me smile — your surprise and pride in your own resiliency. I relate to this viscerally.

        Only years later am I able to draw upon my move and realize that the trauma flood gates had been opened because of it. Of course with hindsight and distance it’s easy for me to say this, but my hope is that you can be loving and gentle with yourself and use it as an opportunity to keep strengthening your resiliency and celebrating the growth and awareness that will come from this. I keep learning that the more permission I can give myself to feel whatever I feel without criticism, the easier it is to tolerate the feelings and not be afraid of them. When I hear about your move I immediately think, “Dear God of course she’s feeling and experiencing all of these things!” But when it’s my own stuff I’m far less gentle.

        I’m so proud of you. This is such a big deal and to me when I read your words I feel that you’re truly open to the process and experience. That in itself is a gift! Thank you again for sharing. You’re helping me be brave and open to my own scary stuff. XO

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  4. Welcome to your new home. I know what you meant about kids and their beliefs and memories. We create a lot in our minds when we are little to help us get through. Some ends up being true; and some not so much.

    I saw the film, A a Room With A View and absolutely loved it. The reason I saw it was the director of the music school I attended way back when, was Dick Robbins, who did the musical score for the Merchant Ivory films (and he got a cameo in each one).

    Good luck with the wildlife at your new home. We have coyotes here in the Pacific Northwest, but no dangerous snakes in my area.

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  5. Dear Karen,
    I am so glad you wrote this and honored that you shared it. Even though I could feel the angst floating between our text messages, I knew it was something I was powerless to help with (I hate that feeling!). Believe it or not, I totally obsessed over it during the weekend I knew you were without official walls and a threshold.
    Isn’t it amazing that the older we get, the more we sometimes feel like that child we thought was long gone?
    What you’ve described feels like a trauma and your recent move must have opened those wounds. That said, you are a master at gratitude and resilience – what an awesome lesson for anyone who reads this. And I hope everyone who needs to gets to read your story. Beautiful.
    xoxoxo
    Michelle

    PS: I am ordering that book!!

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    • I was going to text you this morning and I started writing a blog post instead! Squirrel! I totally agree with you that old wounds were opened. It was just so unexpected but being able to trace back to what old beliefs were being triggered has helped a lot. I was being kind of hard on myself for not “snapping out of it” and now I’m much gentler with myself.

      The book Room is much better than the movie! Save it for when you can handle some intensity!

      Thank you, my friend, for hold space for me and for always being here. ❤

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      • I’m so honored that this may have been sparked by a message to me.
        I’m glad you’re practicing some self-compassion…we do too little of that. Plus…think how empathetic you are. My guess is that you were dealing not only with your emotions, but everyone else around you. That “non-you mojo” is powerful. Whenever I don’t feel like myself, the surrounding emotions are the first things I look to for answers.
        You rock…I can’t wait to come see you in the new house 🙂

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  6. Wow Karen, that was an amazing post. You had my full attention from the first sentence to the last word. Get yourself some protection from the wildlife – like a handgun – and wander free. Beautifully written. Heart touching. I was with the little girl between the wall and her bed.

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    • I have a flashlight with a built in stun gun that I walk with! It’s really just to scare the coyotes away with the buzzing sound it makes but it makes me feel less naked. Thank you so much Paul!

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  7. What a wonderful post. My wife watched Room and told me all about it. I must sneak a viewing of it myself now I see. I blog as well: http://www.markgoodson.com If it’s alright with you Karen I’d like to add you to my ‘blog roll’ so your new posts show there. I followed you and liked your page so we can keep in touch!

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