Last week was the end of a long chapter in my life. The house I lived in for 6 years transferred ownership to my buyers and I officially moved out. I will never pull into that driveway again, never dash up the stairs to grab the scarf I forgot in my closet, never make a huge mess in the kitchen while putting together a delicious meal, never enjoy a glass of wine with loved ones on the couch in the living room, never plant another garden in the backyard… It is with absolute certainty that I can say that this experience would serve as the perfect definition of bittersweet. All week long I found myself sitting in the middle of two extreme emotions: liberated joy and crushing sadness.
The latter was the stronger of the two feelings in the last few days as I went through the closing of the sale and emptying of the final things in the house; but there was a constant optimism underlying the sorrow attempting to remind me of the great things ahead. Emotions are tricky, aren’t they? The logical side of me was rolling her eyes at the weepy side and biting her tongue even though she wanted to shout: “Hey dummy, you’ve been waiting for months to sell your house and move on from this break-up, why are you so sad!?” Conversely, the emotional side of me was angry at the rational side and more than once she wailed: “Why doesn’t logical me and everyone else understand why I feel sad, and isn’t it OK to feel this way anyway?!” Fortunately I am somehow comfortable living in the middle of juxtapositional craziness and although I felt completely disheveled, I was equally fine with oscillating between the sad and happy, rolling with whichever felt stronger and appreciating that what I was feeing was all valid.
That said, it’s been a tough couple of weeks. Particularly the last handful of times I went into the empty house, after I had moved out and was returning to pick up the last of my boxes or clean up before handing over the keys to the new owners… I left the house in tears more than once and felt sick to my stomach every time I drove away. There’s something quite heartbreaking about saying a goodbye that you know is permanent. It was the same feeling I had when I said goodbye to the dog and the cats that my ex took after we split – there’s this terrible finality in walking away from something or someone you know you will never see again. And in this case, this goodbye was to a really beautiful house that I cherished very dearly as a wonderful home for many years. And even though the life I shared with my former partner is over and I know that he and I are both better off in our new lives, I still have happy memories of the time we had together in that home.
So my goal with this post is to pay tribute to the house, my home, which I loved and will always love. And if Julie Andrews has taught me anything (apart from the best word in the world, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious), when I’m feeling sad, I just need to think of a few of my favourite things. Here are a few from the first house I ever owned.
The floors. Hardwood oak, medium brown, with beautiful and unique swirls in every individual piece. I still remember the first days of installation – pulling each strip of wood from the piles of boxes, delighting in the idea that these gorgeous pieces were just like a fingerprint or snowflake, unique and unlike any other in the pile.
The mudroom. Square slabs of slate in shades of grey, blue, yellow, green, and even a speckle or two of red – all with a magical feel of the cosmos that would take me away into reveries of outer-space whenever I allowed myself to stop for a moment to recognize their beauty. One side of the room was comprised of pale grey built-in cabinets framing the washing machine and dryer with a large and sturdy matching bench opposite, all designed for optimal convenience in this welcoming room that served as my main entry on the side of the house.
The dolomite. The kitchen was already perfectly installed when we purchased the house (IKEA kitchens for the win!) so there wasn’t really much to do in this room apart from dressing it up a bit. The dolomite tile that I chose as backsplash was absolutely stunning: a soft white with the faintest whispers of grey streaking throughout, along with a pale grey grout… it was special. And then to top it all off, functional hand-build shelving was added on either side of the stove, just above the backsplash.
The closet. One of my favourite decisions made in the early days of the purchase was to tear down the wall between the linen closet in the hallway upstairs and the walk-in closet in the master bedroom, leaving me with all the space a girl could need for a (dare I say it?) dream closet. Pure white, good lighting, hooks for days, bead-board and ample shelving – it was the best closet I’ve ever had. (And that’s saying a lot, because the first place I ever rented had a spare bedroom that I used as a full closet.)
The fireplace. Remember that cosmic tile from my incredible mudroom? It was reclaimed for a fireplace-makeover in the first few years at the house. Where the fireplace was previously a pale indistinct purple-beige with absolutely NOTHING going for it, the refreshing makeover gave the mantlepiece new life with a crisp white on top contrasted by the bold and bright colours of the slate along the base.
The colours. Fossil Grey, Stratosphere, Seagull Grey… I can’t remember all the creative names of the paint colours I chose over the years but the colours are imprinted in my memory. Deep blues upstairs, a pale baby blue in the kitchen, varying shades of grey throughout the main floor, pure white in the bathroom and closets, and a pale greyish green in the mudroom all gave me joy from the first stroke of the paintbrush until the very last time I walked through the house.
Why were these my favourite things? I chose them. Living in this house allowed me the experience of my very first time decorating my own place, choosing the finishing touches, playing interior designer, and leaving my mark in every room. But, as much as I had a role to play in choosing the aesthetics in each room, my ex played a much larger role by installing them and adding special touches that I will always remember with gratitude. Strangely it occurred to me as I was writing – all the things I listed are vestiges of his handiwork. He was (and is) a talented craftsman – a quality that I continue to admire to this day. Just as I loved my house and will always love it, I loved him and always will. We weren’t right for each other, but he was good to me and we made a beautiful home together.
Saying goodbye to this house was as much a goodbye to the structure as much as it was a goodbye to him and all the beautiful work he did. “A few of my favourite things” could turn into an ongoing series about all the amazing work he did in that house – the raised bed for my garden in the backyard, the sturdy bannister that he installed after tearing out the weird wonky original that was there when we bought the place, those handmade cabinets and countertop he custom built around our washer and dryer in the mudroom, the inserts he installed in the oversized windows to give them an extra touch of character… It was a good home that we made, even though it wasn’t meant to be ours forever.
On that very last night in the house I walked from room to room, running my fingers along on the walls, taking in every corner in the hope that I would never forget those precious spaces. And now, as I write these words, I feel a fond appreciation for the home we made together and the lovely work he did for us in that house. More importantly, I know that there was great love in that home and that is something truly unforgettable. He worked hard and we worked hard together – regardless of how it ended, that house remains a monument to that love and work, and that is what I said goodbye to. These are, they were, they always will be, a few of my favourite things.
*Disclaimer: Most of this post was written over 7 months ago, when I wrongly believed that my house was sold. (Oh, how young and naive I was.) I started to write a congratulatory (and somewhat panicked) summary of how I was feeling in the midst of this transformational moment in my life… and then I abandoned ship when the sale didn’t quite pan out. Since then, I have lived through the highs and lows of additional offers that have fallen through, each time becoming more anxious and eager to sell. And now, over a year after listing the property, my house has actually sold.
Or, should I say, the house? It isn’t mine anymore. It is betrothed to another. It is no longer mine. It is surreal and strange to feel that using the word “my” isn’t even appropriate anymore. This is just a place for me to sleep and house my clothes. It is currently a hot mess of boxes and empty cupboards and I will be out of here in about 3 weeks. It is all very odd but satisfyingly clear that this is exactly how it was supposed to happen.
When I reread the extremely premature post that I started before the sale was really a final sale, and considered the title of the post (which is left exactly as it was when I started to write in April), what strikes me the most is that I really got it right with that concept: Sold. Or, Everything’s Changing. EVERYTHING IS CHANGING. And everything is ALWAYS changing… because the things I expressed in April have evolved and shifted and grown in such a way that reading my April segment feels like I’m reading from a different story altogether. The story-teller is the same, but she’s changed a lot in half a year.
April 2016: Written prior to the first heartbreak of an almost-sale.
My house is officially sold. It is so unreal that I sort of need to say it again: My house is officially sold. This is huge. This is really and truly and finally the beginning of the end of my 7-year relationship (and 6-month divorce). It didn’t occur to me until very recently that this break-up isn’t really over until the house is sold, the closing papers signed, and all of our things divided and moved out. While this house is still owned in both our names, while his last few things sit collecting dust in the basement, while the cats he will eventually take live here, we are still in a twisted post-divorce relationship. By default I am and continue to be intrinsically connected to my ex no matter how much I think and feel that I am ready to be separated from him. Until the day we walk away from this beautiful home forever, we are still part of each other’s lives and it was a total shock when I finally had this realization. (How was this not glaringly obvious from the start?) Here I was thinking I was moving forward, when really I have just been teetering on the verge of that final major change without quite falling off the ledge. Well. Now I’m in a free fall. Everything’s changing.
With this change comes an influx of varying thoughts and emotions that change more often than I can keep track: Relieved that the house has finally sold. Sad that I have to leave the (now broken) home that I have cherished for over 5 years. Happy that I can finally move on from this break-up. Heartbroken that I soon have to say goodbye to my cats. Satisfied that we were able to sell for the price we wanted. Scared (with a side of panic) that I am moving into the next phase of my life which is completely unknown and unplanned. Excited for the immediate possibilities just ahead of me now that I won’t have the burden of a mortgage and house to care for. Stressed about packing my entire house in less than a month. And just exhausted by the range of emotions.
When I first shared that I was going through this separation, I wrote about my need to take things one day at a time. Those digestible days started to roll into one another and soon weeks turned into months and I started to see this break-up in phases and steps. But all along, I felt this wonderful comfort living in a limbo where I was somewhat stuck between moving forward and staying completely still in the tightly bound restriction of my unsold house. So here I am, now freed of that constraint, and the certainty of change has me paralyzed.
Most people dislike change. Or at least this is a general assumption I have made to make myself feel better about my utter repulsion at uncontrolled change. It is uncomfortable and scary and I won’t deny it – I hate it! But… I am trying to embrace it, first, because I have no choice and second, because I know that the benefits of this particular change will be positive and exciting. When I shared my Thirty Thoughts at the beginning of the year I wrote about pushing to get out of my comfort zone and this is the biggest push I can think of. The fact that I can’t control it makes it an even better adventure, because I will have to force myself to let go and live my mantra of nonetofigo by going with the flow and making choices when they are immediately in front of me. Scary! Trying to frame it as exciting!
As I have inched toward that sold sign being displayed on my front lawn (FYI, selling a house is a crazy process), I have tried to mentally prepare myself for the discomfort of change that is just ahead of me. Going to yoga really helps, mainly by keeping me grounded and helping me release stress – that hour on my mat is an exercise in breathing slowly while focusing on my body and spirit, and after each session I feel calm and happy and at peace with whichever emotion might be at the top of my heart on that given day. Lately I have taken this further by setting an intention at the start of each session. This is something a few of the instructors encourage for your hour of practice and it’s a simple statement you repeat to yourself – may I be happy, may I be calm, may I find strength, etc. I always make a point to choose an intention that reflects how I’m feeling off the mat – to love myself and enjoy my time alone, to release my stress and anxiety, to say yes and try to live with yes energy, and so on.
When it became clear in recent weeks that the sale of my house was imminent, I found myself regularly repeating “may I embrace change” at the start of each session. Hopefully it’s preparing me for what’s ahead and incredibly, the very first time I set this intention I was offered the opportunity to embrace change almost immediately. It was a Monday night session of yoga with a new instructor I had never seen before and mid-way through the hour she announced that we would be doing wall yoga for the rest of the session. Wall Yoga! Talk about a major change in my usual yoga routine. I laughed to myself internally, repeated “may I embrace change” and (delicately) jumped into the harness.
It was terrifying for about 3 minutes… and then so much fun. You literally hang off the wall in your usual poses and completely let go, allowing the harness and gravity to hold you in place while pulling you downward in perfect harmony. It is one of the most liberating things I have ever done in my life: The act of relinquishing all control, releasing the fear of falling, and finding that magical spot between hanging and holding myself firmly in the pose, all while taking those deep and calming breaths… it was amazing. Yoga already makes me feel so powerful in body and mind, so pushing sideways off a wall with just the tips of my toes brought me to superhero level.
The universe was clearly trying to send me a message when I set that intention for the first time. Embracing change doesn’t have to be terrible. It can actually be the greatest feeling in the world. I don’t think I could make this statement without having gone through the process of evolving from being totally scared of letting go in that harness to being completely enthralled with the powerful energy I felt once I got past the initial discomfort. And I know this experience was meant to happen exactly when it did, just as I find myself on the very edge of this immense change in my life.
So although it is difficult, I am trying my best to put a positive spin on the coming changes. The safety of my limbo between the break-up and my new life has put me into a lull that I’ve been happy to settle into – you can’t make major choices or changes when you still have the responsibility of a shared mortgage with your former boyfriend, and that’s suited me just fine. It’s like I hit pause on my life while the house has been listed so I could go through the process of grieving for and moving on from the relationship.
Now I’m approaching the end of that cosy little pause; it’s time to hit the play button and I’m going to have to start making decisions about what happens next. There are some big questions looming… Where will I go? What will I do? Who will I share my life with? Have I really learned from the failings of my last relationship and will I be better in my next? It’s a lot to think about and with every question comes the implication of another change in my life. It’s scary. But sort of exciting. As my sister told me on one of my bad days when the prospect of all this change had me in a panic, the possibilities are endless and that’s not a bad thing! I have all the freedom in the world to do whatever I want – the only limitation is what I choose to impose upon myself.
My intention to embrace change in that yoga class and the ensuing adventures in wall yoga feel like a microcosm of my entire life and current situation. Saying yes to change instead of no, feeling that very real fear when confronted with making a change, going through the uncomfortable process of changing, and then realizing that the change is better than anything I could have imagined was exhilarating. I’m starting to believe that this could apply in all areas of my life and I think I’m actually getting on board with my sister’s excitement about the endless possibilities (instead of letting the crippling fear take me over). It’s a choice to say “yes, this is scary, but yes, this will be thrilling too.” It’s a decision to let go and accept that it’s impossible to control everything. It’s the difference between jumping and falling off that ledge. I like to think of it as somewhere in between – I want to jump fearlessly into the unknown and fall with an open heart toward whatever will come, knowing that wherever I land will be a place filled with people I love, fuelled by the positive energy that I bring with me.
November 2016: Written after a year of divorce and growth.
So much changed in the 7 months since I first thought my house was sold. My 6-month divorce extended into a year-long debacle that dragged on for so long that I would sometimes forget that I still had a house for sale and an ex-boyfriend still in my life. People would ask me if it was hard and stressful to still have this going on, and it became such a standard part of my existence that I would just shrug and say, “meh, not really”.
And yet, when I got the call from my agent – the call confirming that all the conditions were lifted, meaning that this was really done – I cried. I laughed and I shrieked and I cried, and I felt as though a physical weight had been lifted off of me. It was a weight that I had carried for so long that I didn’t even realize it was there, dragging me down and telling me that this was normal, this was real life. The shift was unbelievable. Suddenly I felt so light and so free – able to breath, able to stretch, able to lift my head and consider everything available to me in this enormous and amazing world. No more limbo.
Reading the incredibly long thought process about my impending (and then aborted) exit from limbo shows me how much things really do change. (And also how they sort of don’t?)
- I don’t have cats anymore. I said goodbye to them in July and it was heartbreaking… but I survived.
- Moving in less than a month? HA! What was I so worried about? I have 3 weeks this time and I’m thrilled to be ripping off this bandage as quickly as possible.
- I haven’t been to yoga in months… and this trip down memory lane has reminded me how much I was getting from that practice. Why did I ever give it up?
- At some point between April and November, I started to embrace the things that scare me. There’s something exhilarating about being afraid and pushing through that fear – there’s nothing quite like breaking through to the other side. To me, it brings out these amazing feelings of being powerful and alive.
- I feel dubious about how optimistic I was by the end of my April post. Was I fooling myself into thinking that I was ready for these big changes? Was it a beautiful lie I told to find comfort when so much was uncertain? I’m not sure that I really felt ready to move forward… compared to now when I’m practically counting the days until this is all behind me.
- The big questions still plague me (Where will I go? What will I do next? How will I do in my next relationship?) and so do the people asking them (CAN I JUST MOVE OUT OF MY HOUSE AND END MY 8 YEAR RELATIONSHIP PLEASE?) but they don’t bother me as much. Nonetofigo, one day at a time, I’ll get there.
- I feel no panic whatsoever. Complete uncertainty, yes. Extreme excitement, absolutely. But there’s an absence of panic for sure.
I’m ready. Bring on all the changes, let’s see where my next adventure takes me.