There is nothing quite like living in the house that used to be a home. Do you know what I mean by this? To have a home is to be in space that feels safe and comforting, where you are untethered enough to relax into the solitude of your own soul. When you share that space with another being you love, whether it be another human or an animal, that house becomes a home. It becomes full of love, of snuggling, of laughter. It’s the one place you go where you know you can walk in and feel unjudged and welcome. It’s the place you can shed that outer tough skin life has forced you to wear, where you can air your dirty laundry and not feel ashamed; in your home you can sit with your secrets and your organs exposed and still feel like nothing can harm you.
Until one day it does. Until one day the walls crumble and you’re left standing by yourself in the wreckage of the home you built, the reminders shattered like windows blown out all around you. One day the dog you shared your life with leaves the mortal coil. One day the human you called your beloved decides the home wasn’t their home, no matter how many times they convinced themselves and you it was. And then you’re left there, in that house that was once a home, and all you find are remnants and debris of a life’s future once imagined. You are left with the pieces of your life carelessly scattered like rubbish in a filthy and forgotten city alleyway. And the light that once gently kissed your lemongrass and cedar-scented kitchen now tears across the floor in jagged vicious bolts. You might try to chalk it up to the change in the seasons or the shortening of the duration of the sun, but the deeply defeating and painful truth is, it doesn’t feel like home anymore because the loved one you shared it with is gone.
I have been experiencing this devastation of a loss of my home too many times in these past few years. Two years ago it hit when my first dog died. When he finally left this world I was left feeling like I could never move from my then partner’s apartment we’d been living in to go back to my own place, the one I once called a home when my dog was alive. When I did have to return, which for the first few months was only to retrieve clothing or his ashes, it felt like a masoleum. The energy I knew was gone. The life was extinguished. The once merry home full of laughter and resounding dog barking was a chamber of silent mourning. It was as if his death hallowed out everything good in our home and left it an empty, ugly shell of loneliness. I hated it so much without him I didn’t move back until I had to, until absolutely every other option was exhausted. And then I was in pure misery pretty much every moment I was there. This place of love and warmth and family was now a blackhole of unending pain. Until I finally moved out, all I ever felt there was absence.
After I moved out of the apartment I had shared with my dog, I moved upstairs with my new partner; together we covered our small one bedroom in love and twinkling string lights. We lit pumpkin candles in the fall and had not one but two Christmas trees. We kissed as we danced in the kitchen while we cooked together. We laughed into the wee hours of the morning with our tiny new baby dog curled silently sleeping between us. We loved with reckless abandon. And then the light went out; one day he turned from the loving man I knew to a walking vessel of depression and anger. He flipped from one mood to the other without me ever knowing exactly what thing I’d done had brought it on after such a calm conversation had been had, or what comment I made to strongly or arrogantly in his mind that set him down that path. It was as if the place had a vacuum attached to it, and everything that we made and brought and burrowed into it to make it a home was sucked out in the blink of an eye. It became a dungeon of fickleness, a place I’d unlock our door to and become immediately anxious about who I would find occupying our house in place of the man I had fallen in love with. After some time passed, hoping the feeling of love and safety would return, I realized it couldn’t live there anymore, and so I left that place and promised him he could come to me if he wanted to, if he ever wanted to be home again. I just couldn’t be in that house that had become a residence of memories of the things that silently slipped away. And so I left, and I spent every single day missing him, bottoming out after being leveled time and time again by the truncation of our infinity promised.
Which now brings to me now, the second loss of that same home, or at least the person who made it home, even if home didn’t feel as safe and hopeful as I had hoped it would. He moved here, my ex, from the old place we lived, after he called and told me all the light went out when I left. I let him back in because I felt like where I was living would never be home without him. Now I live in our two bedroom apartment with my dog but not his human dad, because he left me and us again, emotionally at first and then finally physically this time. He didn’t leave before the damage took its toll. And I’m still here. I am here but I am not here, in this house that isn’t a home.
This man left me after helping me pick this place out. He left me after we raised our dog here for almost 9 months. He left me after a long winter and before the break of summer. He left because he didn’t like who I was a human, he said. I wonder if he knows he left because he didn’t like who he is as a human, but I guess none of that really matters now, does it? Because he still left. After promising a lifetime and what he called, “forever and a day, come what may” (should I have known then, when he first uttered that phrase?), he moved out after yelling at me for staying in our place while he packed his car. He screamed at me telling me my presence was basically another annoying reason he didn’t like me and why he was leaving; he said he was angry because I was there, wanting to say goodbye to the man I’d loved for three years, when all he wanted was to be left alone, to leave on his own terms to disappear from our lives.
This was a man who had asked my father for my hand in marriage. This was a man for whom I bought groceries and paid our utilities and sometimes a portion of his rent when he didn’t want to get a second job when he couldn’t pay the bills making $12 an hour working 25 hours at his one job, because he “didn’t want to just take any job to pay the bills,” (which may I just note he had absolutely no problem with my working a 45-plus hour a week job to pay his portion of the bills or for the furniture we bought together, for which he was supposed to repay me). This was a man convulsing in tears and kissing me and holding me one second, and then pushing me away in the next, blaming me for forcing him to stay all of the times he wanted to leave. Nothing he said indicated he understood the real reason he was still with us was because he knew leaving meant life without us, that leaving meant he no longer had his home. He didn’t seem, to me, to have one within his own heart like I did. I guess he figured if he could point the finger at me he wouldn’t have to be responsible for his choices or the repercussions that were sure to follow. I wonder now if he falls asleep with our phantom limbs around him, holding him in the pain of his realization. Maybe he doesn’t realize it. Maybe he doesn’t miss me. Maybe it’s just mine to bear.
Suffice it to say, there is no reason why I should feel the way I do, but this house has lost almost all of the feeling of a home since he left. Yet I am remembering even in the tumultuous times he was still here with me, holding me on our angriest nights. He still woke next to me, held our dog close to his chest. He was still physically here, even though I acknowledge he had left in his heart before he really even arrived. Now this place houses two beloveds instead of three, now it holds two beings with the broken hearts he promised to spend forever with. The home is here but not really, so every day I come back after work, my brilliant and beautiful dog in tow, to this house that used to be our home. And it nearly kills me every time. It kills me to remember, it kills me to forget.
This man, he lingers here, in between the folds of silence. His laughter still rings out when I quiet my broken heart’s throbbing in my ears. I still feel my stomach churn when someone walks up the stairs, even though I always know in my head it cannot and will not ever be him again. The hope that existed when we hung our love in frames on these walls exists as pictures void of emotion, as a painful reminders that that iteration of that too has gone. So here I am, with our dog and our memories, old notes and things left behind, living with the ghosts and talking to him at times like he is just in the other room; even the sage, and the crystals, the crosses and the Himalayan salt lamp, they can’t keep his absence from being present here.
I have been stuck in this place devoid of him and the life we shared for almost five months now. I had to finish the entirety of the lease on this two bedroom place we rented to start our new life together, inescapably contractually bound to the hell our home has been replaced with. I have caught myself sitting in pools puddled with my own drops of salty disappointments, the pain so rampant at times it rips my insides into shreds over and over again. Sometimes I have to let the rage and anger and sadness escape from me or I fear the worst for myself. Sometimes I let it tear across the surface of me and escape into silent sobbing screams into the empty rooms he once loved me in, just so I can be sure I will not be consumed from the inside as I sleep.
And so tonight I sit down on my bed, in tears, and I write this. Tonight I sit and methodically sift through the memories, good and bad, after I cleaned our place so the next potential owners can fall in love in it in our stead. It unravels me in a way I wasn’t expecting, on a day I was genuinely feeling a little less devastated and a little more willing to try to make sense of the life I was left to make my own again. In a moment of my weakest resolve, I message him and tell him the pain I’m feeling. I tell him how I have to pack this place up, the memories of furniture we were so proud to pick out, of nights we danced with our dog in our arms in the kitchen, of the love made and promises and whisperings and champagne drunkenness as we celebrated the places in him that didn’t end where I began. I tell him how I’m almost finally free, and yet I’m devastated by the imprisonment of the loss I already feel, knowing I will never live in a space where he lived with us again. He will never be my home again.
I leave you with this, because these events and writing to him what follows spawned this entire entry I’m sharing with you tonight. Earlier in the evening I found a piece of mail in our post that read to “the _____ family”; it was of course a painfully-blindsiding reminder we were no longer going to be that family with that last name, with that man as our anchor. We were a family of two now, our dog and myself. And then, just now, after moving my perfumes on my vanity I found an old receipt, a reminder of the moment he went from beyond intoxicated with happiness to start our new life here in this place together, to the downward spiral he took as an exit from our life. The card and the receipt plus the acknowledgment within me he was never coming back leveled me so mercilessly it took my breath from my lungs. And so I took a picture of that card and that receipt and I sent it with a message. Here is what I said:
“This is what it’s like to live in our haunted house every single day. You move something you swear you’ve moved a thousand times, and suddenly, every room is full of ghosts.”
And now, as I lay me down to sleep, I drift off with the apparitions that torment me in the house we once called a home. And I am undone.