I am poor at conveying verbally how I’m feeling. Stoic is a good word to describe me, I think, when it comes to emotions. If hormones are high—if people are crying, especially—I have a tendency to tense up and be unable to communicate. I don’t share how I’m feeling aloud. I can’t share how I’m feeling aloud. I think that’s one of the reasons I have such a hard time telling people I love them.
So let me write it, instead.
Despite all the hardships I have endured—and trust me, there are plenty—over the course of my twenty short years, I have only experienced heartfelt loss twice. Circumstances forced me to grow up faster than I wanted to, but even that couldn’t prepare me for the blow of loss.
The first happened when I was eighteen. I lost my best friend of fifteen years: the family cat, Duchess. Some people might say that she was just a cat, that pets come and go, and they might be right, but not in this case. I was three when we got her; I grew up with her. She was part of my carefree childhood, my difficult adolescence, and was there when I finally became the person I am today. Though she was definitely a cat who preferred her space, she would still come into my room at night and curl up between my knees. If I left my stuffed animals lying around, she would settle in and knead them until perfect, and find an excellent pillow to nap on. If I left my Barbie Dream House for one minute, she would make herself comfortable inside and peer at me through the open door. If I left my laptop unguarded or was even busy typing, she would slink onto the keyboard and curl up on the warmth. And I would let her, despite the archaic keyboard shortcuts she would press and leave me to inevitably stress over, because she was precious to me.
If you have never watched an animal grow old, you won’t know it, but age hits them quick and hard. Only months before she passed away, she caught a huge rubber boa across the street and dragged it to our front door to show it off. She was tough, but when her age hit her, we could all see it. The night she passed away, I knew something had changed in her—we all did.
It was the hardest thing I have ever had to endure.
It has been a year and half since it happened, and still I can’t think about her without becoming uncontrollably emotional. Just writing this now is leaving me a wreck.
Tonight, April 30, 2013, I experienced a similar level of pain.
Though not as acute as the pain I endured when I lost my best friend, this is one of the worst things I have lived through.
I have lived in the same house my entire life. I was born in Vernon Jubilee Hospital and when I was taken home, I never left. I grew up in that house. I did everything there. I learned to walk and to talk, to read and write. In wintertime, I would sled down the same hill only a short walk down the street. We would always have our Christmas tree with the homemade ornaments up in the front room (and the cat would always hide amongst the presents). If it was still snowy on my birthday, my father would sometimes tow my friends and I around on sleds tied to his snowmobile. In summertime, I would play in my backyard. I would help my parents in the garden; I would build castles and dig holes half my size in the huge sandbox that encompasses a solid third of the backyard. I would use my father’s canoe as a slide. I would hike up the mountain behind the house.
It was always the same. The same school busses to and from the same elementary school and eventually the same high school—the same schools my brother went to, as well. The same prison-cell-sized pink and purple room, designed for a little girl. The same neighbours; we were the first ones to move in almost thirty years. It was the same address and phone number my whole life. It was easy to remember.
It was home.
The place I’m living now can’t even compare. It is a small basement suite still full of boxes despite me having been here over two weeks. It has my things—my library of books and movies, my clothes, my collectibles. It even has furniture from my childhood home, which I think has made the transition much easier than it could have been, let alone cheaper. I look around and it isn’t a stranger’s living room I sit in, because I have the same coffee table, bookcase, couch, lamp, that I have been looking at for the past twenty years.
But this place isn’t a home. It is a house. It is a place to live—a place to sleep and to eat and to spend time with people. And maybe over time I will build memories here and turn it into a home, but for now it is little more than a shell.
Home is a place woven with nostalgia. It is a place where memories were made and where time was cherished. Home isn’t necessarily a house, but in my case it is. The walls of my home saw everything: They saw the young owners who bought it new. They saw a baby in a blue blanket, and later one in pink. They saw the fish, the ferret, the guinea pig, the cat, the dog. They saw every cut and bruise, every unwarranted temper tantrum, and every kiss better. They saw the arguments. The anger. The pain and love. And eventually they saw the growth of two (generally) well-behaved children into two (generally) ill-behaved adolescents. They saw the highs and lows. They saw a genetic wave of depression and pain. They saw forgiveness.
And still they stand.
Only they aren’t my walls anymore. The walls—and the crack in the ceiling, and the one creaky stair, and the light in the pink room that dims whenever a vacuum is turned on—those walls belong to someone else, now. Someone else will put their Christmas tree up—but maybe it won’t be in the front room, and maybe the ornaments won’t be handmade. Someone else will help in the garden and dig holes in the sand. Someone else will write down my address when they fill out a letter.
But that building is and will forever be my home. Even when I eventually get married and have children of my own, and they mimic my experiences in a home of their own, the house in which I grew up will be home.
Tonight I stood in my home for the last time, and it is one of the hardest things I have ever done.