Moving house. How casually it is undertaken in youth, when friends with pickup trucks and free Saturdays are utilized. How mortally wounding in old age, when moving feels like being upended in a storm, like ancient oaks sprawling with roots exposed.
Carla thought about that more than once as she sorted through the accumulation of forty-five years spent in the same house. They’d come as young parents, bringing along their first-born, then welcoming his brother and sister. The children’s height was marked on the laundry-room door, inches ticking off the years. Now those children were measuring their own children’s life in inches.
Doug came into the bedroom where Carla sat contemplating a stuffed closet. He flopped full-length on the bed.
“Don’t mess up the…oh, well, I guess it doesn’t matter,” Carla said.
“Good thing, because I’m nearly dead. You can just roll me up in this bedspread when the undertaker comes.”
Carla shivered. “Not funny.”
“Are we sure we want to do this?” It was a question they’d asked each other a hundred times.
“I’m sure I don’t,” Carla said, “but the damn stairs. If we just didn’t have so many stairs.”
It hadn’t been a concern when they bought the house. They’d run up and down three flights like mountain goats. Now, with treacherous knees and spines like spun glass, they clung to the double banisters and took one step at a time.
“The new house will be better for us,” Doug said. “I mean, let’s look on the positive side. No stairs, not much yard. That will be easier.”
“Yes, and no laundry room door.”
Doug didn’t have to ask what she meant. They’d been married a long time.
“Well, we couldn’t change our minds now even if we wanted to,” Doug reminded her. “We’ve got two houses on our hands, and the sooner we move into the new one and sell the old one, the better.”
Carla reached into the closet and pulled out a pair of ancient suede high heels. They’d been in there so long they had whiskers. “I might need these…” she began.
But Doug stopped her. “You won’t, hon. Toss ‘em.” She did.
She tossed the box of kids’ drawings and letters home from camp. The leftover porcelain tile from the kitchen back-splash. The scraps from two carpets ago. Favorite clothing that no longer fit. Unidentified cords and converters and keys to who knows what, saved “just in case.” No case could be made for keeping them now.
It was supposed to be liberating, this out with the old and in with the new, but Carla found it deeply depressing. It’s my life I’m discarding – the best years of my life, she thought, but she didn’t say it. No point whining; downsizing had been a mutual decision reached after much thought, and Doug was right; it was too late to change their minds now.
Finally, everything was sorted and discarded, donated or packed. The kids came and took what they wanted, items for which there was no room in the new, smaller place. Some things nobody wanted and Carla watched the Goodwill truck drive them away. She walked through empty rooms that echoed with memories of family life. She felt angry and exhausted and sad, and…and…she didn’t know what all she felt.
The movers came, loaded up the neatly labeled boxes – guest bedroom, kitchen, master bathroom – and trundled them off to the new house. Carla and Doug followed, muscles and hearts aching. They sat in the car at the curb, obedient to heavily emphasized warnings from their children: DO NOT PICK UP EVEN ONE BOX! LET THE PROFESSIONALS DO IT! THAT’S WHY YOU’RE PAYING THEM! Darkness had fallen by the time the last load was deposited inside and the van pulled away. The crew left lights burning in every room, and the little house glowed like a jewel. It looked pretty. Homey.
“Maybe it won’t be so bad,” Carla said. “We’ll get used to it, I guess.”
Doug got out of the car, came around and opened her door. “Mi’lady,” he said, bowing creakily and holding out his hand. They walked up the path to the front door. She wouldn’t have thought he had it in him, but somehow he swung her up in his arms and stepped across the threshold. They were both breathless with laughter when he set her down in the tiny foyer.
“You’ll have a heart attack carrying on like this,” Carla scolded, but she was beaming.
“My heart still beats for you, my love,” Doug said. “We’ll make this house just as much a home as the one we left. If I can find the griddle, would you rustle us up some grilled cheese sandwiches?”
“I will,” said Carla, and it was a renewed vow for a new day.