I wrestled the door open and stepped inside.
Hinges needed oil.
The old apartment. Two floors of incongruous space.
Live. Work. Horde.
A familiar smell greeted me. A wild musk of animal and mineral. I encountered it second-hand last summer. … In the middle of the night, bleary-eyed and sleepwalking, letting the barking dog out to exercise her demons.
I bet they're living here, I said to myself. It is, after all, an unoccupied barn.
Up until this winter, it was a place someone – many people over the years, in fact -- had called home.
Years after we signed the deed, we'd meet dozens of folks from all generations who'd lived at our place at one time or another.
Renters, mostly. Before they'd bought their real homes.
Once in a while we'd invite them in. Show them around. They'd give us their own grand tours. Smaller, cozier tours. Filled with all manner of changes someone else might have erased.
We'd laugh about our home-renovation adventures. We'd tell them stories about how before every major life event we'd make a drastic change. Weeks before our first Thanksgiving we demolished the kitchen; days before our at-home wedding, a friend and I (without a shred of experience between us) tiled the bathroom floor; and hours before we brought our first child home from the hospital we framed out her room.
For us, that old barn was where our adult lives really began: The first place we called our own. It was where we were married. Where our children were born and where the first dog was buried. It was where we'd planned to stay forever.
Sure, we haven't lived there in nearly five years. But we still own it. We've often joked that the building owned us.
I hadn't even been over there in a while. There isn't much reason to go other than the momentary checking of pipes or the cursory search for something left behind. My old snowshoes. His ski boots. The fancy siphon-brew coffee pot that seemed more like an amusement park ride than an kitchen appliance.
Our old stuff – the possession we didn't have room to live with but didn't want to live without – still dwell in this place along with the transient mammals that den up in this suddenly silent cave.
Soon it will be emptied of all the things we neglected.
We will have to make some tough choices.
Are we ready for the “good” couch to come and live with us? The children are still slobs, and I have trained the dog to comfort me as I laze about on the couch. It has been a three-dog winter, after all.
The old couch. The dressers. The bits and pieces of household inheritances that made their way into our lives from time to time. Things that were owned by someone we loved, of course, but perhaps nothing that contained memories of our own.
Some of it will stay, some of it will have to go.
We will argue:
“Why don't you want my grandfather's battered croquet mallet and his empty liquor bottle collection?
“Don't you love me?”
And we will laugh:
"These have to be yours," he tells me, holding up a box and pressing down to hear the flock of rubber chickens let loose a chorus of wheezy-whistles.
“Those are not mine.”
“Oh, right. They are mine. I remember now. I was going to make a rubber chicken pot pie. ...
“I think I might want to keep them.”
He's not serious. I hope.
Still, we will let it go.
The most painful choice has already been made.
When we close this door for good, we will leave all these memories there, too. Unseen, perhaps, but there. Another thin layer of history.
In time, someone else will take up where we left off.