I've moved eight times as an adult, twice in Richmond, so I know the bizarre combination of order and disorder: pack your belongings in those boxes and your memories in your head. We want to believe that our decisions about schools, neighborhoods and commutes will produce a happy life. We try to establish control with lists, labeled cartons, sorted stuff to be discarded or given away, but it's all a facade. Underneath the order is chaos. Hidden underneath the chaos is the beginning of a new life, which isn't likely to be orderly.
Emotions are rarely orderly. When I was 9, I hated my parents the night they told us we had to move. It wasn't fair. Only I understood the gravity of the situation. My brother and sisters were thrilled to be getting new bedrooms—traitors. I was miserable.
As a child I promised very seriously to myself and to my poor, dumbfounded parents that I'd never be happy about moving and I'd never like the new house even if I would get my own room and even if I was tired of my sister elbowing me in bed. And I swore that one day I'd buy back the old house and live in it again.
I paid attention to what we were leaving behind. Those pencil marks on the white brick wall proved I was almost as tall as my older sister. There was the creek down the hill with the bridge we built and the tadpoles we tended. And the basketball court out back with its asphalt volcanoes that made dribbling impossible. Now, an adult move meant I'd miss another creek down the hill and the pencil marks on our pantry door that charted my children's growth. There was no place like home.
Some moves aren't awash in angst and sentimentality. I've made moves that were of the good-riddance variety and excited me to move on to the next thing. It's a form of magic — a moving-van sleight of hand — and it makes this current life disappear. And suddenly, here's a new life with a clean slate, perhaps even clean cabinets if you're lucky.
I'm grateful I've lived in so many different apartments and houses over the years. It makes it easier to keep track of memories. If I remember building forts with my son on a creamy carpet, it was 1989 in South Carolina. If my fading memory recalls a barbecue on a brick patio, it must be Richmond in 1993.
Back in 1971, when my parents tried to bribe me by letting me pick paint colors for my new room, I chose olive and khaki, just to show them. Since I didn't want to be tricked into liking the new house, I made up rules for myself. Never look out the front windows onto the new street unless it was an emergency. Never say anything nice about the new house (even if I did think the swirly wallpaper in my little sisters' room was neat).
The most important rule was to cross the creek and sneak through a couple of yards every day to visit the old house, once I got around to building a bridge. But then it was basketball season, and the smooth driveway basketball court made practicing layups easier, and I had to look out the front window for the car pool to take me to practice. When I did remember to ride my bike over to the old street, I couldn't turn into the driveway or collect crab apples from the front yard, so I didn't stay long. When I huffed up the hill on my bike, charged around onto our new street and flew into our driveway, I felt better because then I was home, though I didn't yet realize it.
Coming home is always a matter of timing, yet it's so unpredictable. The night I moved to Richmond, I had just driven six hot hours with my 15-month-old to beat the movers who were arriving the next morning — and I was locked out of our house. The key was stuck in the door and I had to wrestle with it for an hour. I put my daughter to bed and began cleaning. Wiping the sills in the dining room, with the newly polyurethaned floors glowing, I felt so strange; I didn't feel overwhelmed. It didn't make sense. I knew no one in Richmond. I didn't like to clean. I expected I'd feel uncomfortable, jittery even, staying in a strange new place. I should have felt frazzled. Looking around the empty house, it felt solid and the echoes were good company. It really was going to be fine. Settling into the living room, I felt wrapped in the summer warmth of home. It didn't make sense; I never expected it, but during your next move I hope you feel it, too.