We have taken a small apartment in the city. A place with white walls, scant square footage, not enough space to fit many things. There are linen curtains and large windows in a bay and the bedroom is an alcove at the back of the room. It’s perfect. It’s also a place Willa never saw. It feels strange to live in a place without her. It feels on the sneak. She touched nothing here. There is no echo of her laugh or her cry and the floors, though having been walked by many, never felt her foot.
It’s clean of her.
I love this place.
Then there is the house. All Willa. All echo and foot, and memory and loss, and wishing for something that can never be again. The loss keeps. A friend told me that, it keeps. It truly does.
The house has become such a vessel for me. It isn’t a house anymore. I fiercely remember the first time Colin and I ever set foot inside. We had been searching all summer. I found this place. A small old farmhouse with a large yard. It had three tiny bedrooms and as I walked through them I could see the future children. I saw the space in the living room where the Christmas tree would go. I saw all the paths of our future, the future I felt so assured of, spread out from the door ahead of us. I said to Colin, “our kids will be proud of this house.” I was proud.
I got pregnant a year later and then there was Willa. She filled the rooms with herself, her story, her fight. She saturated the driveway, the garden, the large yard with her smile and her adventures in them. She hated the feel of the grass. She loved the water on the deck in the small inflatable pool Memorial Day weekend. She stared at the magic of the Christmas lights on that tree. She gave the house to me in a way I had never expected. She opened it up to us, writing the history of our family. She made that house our home.
In the year after her passing I would sit in it, alone. I would listen to the shadows of her voice. I would see memories flash all around me. She was there on the kitchen floor as I prepared dinner. She sat on the couch as I passed by. She called from her room late at night. And her room. Well, it positively hummed with her. But she was not there and that absence built its own story. The loss created more layers in our family and it turned our home into a gravestone. Her absence stole our home from me.
Now we are in a new place. Though the house still belongs to us. It stays in Pennsylvania. I can feel it, even from here. I can see it as if I were looking at it. It is in my marrow. I can hear it move in the changing temperatures. I see the leaves falling from the tree next door. They always turn yellow in the fall.
That first fall after she died I watched that tree change everyday. Horrified that it dare shift. Shocked that the world continued to turn on its axis. I hated that tree. I hated that it was proof time was passing without her, that we were to enter a season she would not experience. I hate that this is true still. I want to strangle time. Kill it so that it will not force me forward. But I haven’t the hands for this task.
So we moved.
There are trees on this little street. I have no idea what they will do in the weeks to come. They will surprise me. I surprise myself by how much I love this thought. It does not make me feel guilty. It makes me feel a little more free. Not from her, not from what lives in Pennsylvania, not from the crushing everyday loss. It makes me feel free not from anything but instead for something. I am open to the possibilities that stretch out before me. I know there are new paths from this new door. I cannot see them yet. My eyes are still too set to the dark, but I know they are there. I know they wait. And I know more than anything in this life that when I finally find the strength to walk out on them she will be with me, not as an echo, not as a ghost, but as my girl looking forward to see what new adventure lies ahead for all of us.