Saturday we loaded a rental truck full of all the junk left in the old house and carted it away. We stood in mud ankle-deep and flung old furniture and trash into an untidy heap. To our right a pair of men emptied piles of branches from a beat-up trailer. To our left, another truck deposited a load of trash. We were the first three contributors to this new repository at the dump. I feel so proud.
That morning we went to the Starbucks in our old town for what will possibly be the last time. They know us there - what drinks we order and what pastries we always request. There is a little bakery and coffee shop in this new town, but it's somehow not the same. The apple turnovers are flaky and sweet but they do not satisfy the craving for a cinnamon chip scone.
Yesterday we came with brooms and rags to clean out the garage and wipe down the windows and collect all that remained. Yesterday we ate lunch at the little sandwich shop down the street from where we used to live. He had grilled ham and cheese, oozing lettuce and tomato. I dipped my grilled cheese carefully in ketchup. We ate outside, enjoying the warmth of the sun. Once upon a time, we used to walk down here on weekends. We would eat those sandwiches with oreo cookie shakes and then end our lunch with a round of RoadBlasters - one quarter for each of us.
Tonight we turned in the keys to the landlord, and walked around the house for the last time. There is the window where Ashton jumped through the screen, and my roommate and I had to wake our neighbors to let us into their yard to fetch him - he was chasing their rabbit (the one who always escaped). The carpet in that room is ripped because that's where the kittens lived when we fostered - a room full of purrs, small wet noses, and needle-claws who saw humans as trees to be climbed, with laps and hands to give food and affection. There is the towel rack that falls apart if you breath hard next to it, and the blinds through which Allegra would run at top speed, back and forth early in the mornings.
The backyard holds the deck where we hung the wind chimes and where, one year, we grew in the huge flower box to the left English peas, piles of pale striped Aremenian cucumbers, and one small stunted carrot. In the front is the window where Azrael used to sit, waiting for us to come home and put the key into the lock so he could bat at the turning knob. We walked past the kitchen I hated because there was never enough room; the linen closet where Zuchinni liked to hide until one of us would open it and be bowled over by a terrified cat; the water softener that overflowed twice, spilling enough water to soak under the walls into the dining room and saturate the carpet; the fireplace we never used; the hook where we hung the mistletoe.
I was still in graduate school when I moved in, six years ago, working toward a career in research and writing. In this house I discovered the joy of bottle feeding orphan kittens, the bitter acceptance that some would never survive no matter what we did, the pain of feline leukemia, and the true and hopeless hell of FIP. In this house I earned my independence and lived for the first time in my life entirely alone, never thinking I would ever find a reason to give that up. In this house I huddled in my room and told my grandfather I loved him over the phone as he lay dying in a hospital halfway across the country.
This was the house from which I was already dreaming my escape before I ever moved in.
This was the town I could never let become mine.
This was the house I would never let become home.