Note: This is a continuing story. Part 1 can be found here, part 2 here, part 3 here and part 4 here. I'm sorry that this is so much text, but I have no photos that can go with this...
After living for a time in Dublin, we returned to DC to close up our house in preparation for our move to Belgium.
Our last months there went by very fast. We set about dismantling our life, step by step. We lived in a three story house, with plenty of room. We'd never had to make decisions about where to put things—there was always more space. Now we had to take it all apart. We planned to put most of the furniture in storage, send some things to my sister, take a few things with us, and leave some things in the house for the tenants. We had found a wonderful couple to rent our house for the two years we planned to be gone.
One day I was in the den, surrounded by things with post-it notes on them: “Take”, “Leave”, “Store”. I was working on something, not paying attention to anything else, when Dan tapped me on the shoulder. When I turned around I saw that he had put a post-it note on his forehead that said, “TAKE!” Heh, he was the next thing that I packed.
After several months of weeding out, we were ready for professional help.
The first step was to have the movers come. (HA! You thought I meant psychiatric help, didn’t you?) They spent two days packing our things and sending them out in three batches: a very small one to go to Belgium, one to go to climate controlled storage, and the third to go to regular storage. When they left, there was only a little furniture left—those things my sister wanted and those things that we were going to leave for the renters. It felt like we were camping out.
It was at this stage that I first began to notice the phantom furniture. You know how they say that after a limb is amputated some people still feel it? That's how I felt about our furniture. It was gone, but I could still feel it. I kept thinking that I knew where something was--"it's in the middle drawer in the buffet". Guess what: no buffet. No stuff. One day I walked by the bedroom door and reached in to drop my keys on the dresser as usual. They fell to the floor. Phantom furniture. It took a while to get used to an empty house.
My sister came for a couple of days with her husband and younger daughter. We had worried about whether the furniture that they were going to take would fit into their car—since it was too late to put it into climate controlled storage, we didn’t know what we’d do if it didn’t fit—but when we loaded the car, it all fit with not a single inch to spare. Someone was living right! I suspect it was my niece.
The next step for us was to move ourselves into the basement (which was also the garden level with its own entrance) so that the floor people could come and re-finish all the hardwood floors on the other two levels. Since they needed for us to be absolutely off the floors for at least four days, and there was no shower in the basement, we imposed on some friends in Annapolis for a couple of those days. The rest of the time we held our noses. But the floors looked fabulous when they were finished.
Next came the painters. They needed an entire week to paint every surface in the house that wasn’t floor. When they were finished, the house looked absolutely gorgeous. By that time, we were living out of our suitcases, moving from room to room to stay out of the painters' way. The only furniture left in the house was what we were leaving for the tenants: a guest bed and dresser, kitchen table and chairs, bookshelves, and a work table. I was VERY glad that they wanted the bed—we didn’t have to sleep on the floor! We felt homeless. Actually, at one point, we decided that we WERE officially homeless--we had cleaned out our "junk" drawer. I don't think I'd ever been without a junk drawer before. I felt a little disoriented.
We sold our cars. My sister bought mine, and we sold Dan’s to the Volvo dealer the day before we left. So then we were car-less. Our last morning, we made one final trip to short-term storage with last day/first day stuff, then went to the airport. The whole month was a logistical adventure for us—we had to think ahead and decide where things should go—Belgium, climate controlled storage, regular storage, short term storage (for things we might need to have access to before we moved back), Goodwill, my sister. It was the first time that Dan and I had worked together on anything like that. I had more respect than ever before for his organizational skills.
In the end, it all got done. We had returned from Dublin to find our house looking like it always had—just like home. A shockingly short time later, it was empty, painted, sparkling, just like new. A lovely house, but not our home. Sometimes as we were giving things away, I found myself getting sentimental. Dismantling our life sometimes felt like betrayal. Every day brought new losses.
Letting go is always hard for me. One day I just got tired of it, and I sat down and cried. For the people I wouldn’t see again for a while, for the ones I might not see again ever at all. For the china that my grandmother gave me when I first got an apartment of my own. (She’d gotten it through a promotion at her bank; she’d had to move her money around for about a month to get me a whole set. I still smile when I think about her doing that.) I felt like she would know that I gave it away.
But it wasn’t all work and no play. I had a group of friends from the Shakespeare theatre who I met with every week to read plays and rehearse scenes for acting classes. One night this play group met and we had a “chocolate tasting” with some different varieties of plain dark chocolate that I had brought from Belgium. (ok, it was actually a play READING group—we didn’t really have play dates.) That evening we had three or four brands of chocolate laid out to taste as soon as we had finished working on a scene. One of the players commented that we were probably the only people who entertained our chocolate before consuming it. (On second thought, it sounds like a play date to me!) I miss the play group and that kind of quick, dry wit.
In truth, I miss a lot of things. Changing our life was not an easy process. For us, though, it’s been worth it.
To be continued... click here for part 6