written by Irina Gallagher
I am walking with my seven-year-old daughter to visit her house – a place where two completely dissimilar trees intertwine and form a perfect little space for my magical girl to climb. She deemed this her own many years ago when she was the only kid in the family and has since then created additional spaces to house the little ones who followed. My son’s house is next door in a little pine. Along the same strip of land, adjacent to a canal, are several other tree houses designated for cousins. But the main resident here is the little girl holding my hand as we walk to her tree for the last time. You see, this week we are moving. Due to work-commute logistics and the phenomenon of ever-growing children, we had to find a new house. Our whole brood is saddened to leave though the little three-year-old hurricane is perpetually ready for a new adventure; my husband is looking at things in a rational and positive light; my girl and I have been mourning our move before it even happens. We’ve found a lovely new house, we are heartbroken to leave.
Nine years ago, my husband and I crossed the threshold of this 1,000 square foot dwelling and decided to live here. Honestly, it wasn’t so much that we fell in love with the space. It was nice. The neighborhood was nice. The townhouse was nice. The surrounding area was nice. But it wasn’t a matter of love at first sight. It was a matter of convenience. We had to move out of an expensive apartment as we adjusted to one income while I finished my Bachelor’s degree and a friend was moving and interested in renting out her townhouse. We simply thought it was advantageous for everyone. Nine years later, I think it was serendipity.
In this home, we celebrated countless birthdays. We mourned too many losses. We laughed and we cried. We grew pots upon pots of tomatoes as if we were going to start our own line of tomato sauce. In this home, we found out that we were expecting – twice. We witnessed our children taking their first steps. We watched countless performances in the living room. We stopped thousands of sibling squabbles. We made a million memories in this 1,000 square feet. How could we have possibly imagined that the small family of three who entered in 2008 – husband, wife, loyal canine kid – would also raise a daughter and birth a son there? That was not the plan nine years ago when we stepped into this dwelling and basically said, “Why not?”
In this home, fairies lived, benevolent witches perfected their spells, dinosaurs roamed nearby, friends from alternate planes came to visit daily, and magic flourished. Behind our townhouse neighborhood was the tree house settlement and adjacent to that, until recently, was the “Dinosaur Place,” which most people would have seen as an abandoned golf driving range where people thought it appropriate to dump old couches and televisions and where teenagers engaged in teenagery activities. To my little sprouts, though, this is where dinosaur eggs were frequently found and Brachiosaurus fossils were regularly discovered.
Behind the dinosaur area was the house of a friend akin to Pippi Longstocking. Hers is not my story to tell, here is what I will say, though – when the construction of a new neighborhood caused the demolishment of this friend’s house and the entirety of the Dinosaur Place, it was a sign that somehow the universe would fling us elsewhere. Don’t worry, we asked all of the fanciful friends to move with us. We will be busy finding them new homes, but the heartache remains.
Not all of the friends can be taken with us. As difficult as is is to believe, among the imaginary friends and dinosaurs there are the mortals of the neighborhood with whom we are saddened to part. There was the neighbor from a door over who walked at the same time as us daily. Most days, a friend would join her for her middle laps. The kids and I had many conversations about how lovely it is to have such a friendship. There was the couple in their seventies who left their house simultaneously but always walked in opposite directions; there was always a level of peaceful truth upon seeing this interaction. There was the running man who had a very strict regime of running a lap in regular fashion as a warm up and then three laps with his arms at his sides; sometimes he ended his runs with a cigarette by the pool, and for some reason I can’t help but find the opposition in those two activities charming. There was the large man with the “puppy pack” as we called it – four tiny dogs on four separate leashes always going in opposite directions. We imagined how these puppies wake the man in the morning by bouncing on him repeatedly. There was the man that we saw very seldom but whose joyous personality was such that a simple heartfelt “Good morning” from him could brighten your entire day. There were various dogs and their owners about whom we made up stories. We envisioned the three Huskies starting a Northern breeds club and inviting the Keeshond and the Komondor to join. It was a sea of colorful characters who we looked forward to seeing regularly. Unfortunately, we can’t transplant these people with us nor can we take the walls that nurtured our family for almost a decade.
Today, we tearfully closed the door of our quaint, loving home for the very last time. My son left his flip flops as a present to the house – I didn’t know this until we locked the door. My daughter left a note for the new owners: “Dear new owners. Please take care of our house. We hope you have no problems with this wonderful home.” – she listed all five family members who happily lived under that roof. No matter how much we grow to love our new place and no matter how many interesting characters we collect there, we will never forget the warm embrace of our little nest.
My daughter climbs for the last time into her tree. She says to me “Mama, I can feel the tree breathing.” I try to hold myself together as I pray that she can enrich our new home with as much love and magic as she did here in this loving little neighborhood where our family became whole.