A Small, Safe Room With a View
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