My entire life has been an exercise in starting over.
I’ve moved twenty-six or so times in my life and lived in five different states (Indiana, California, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio). I’m thirty-eight. Statistically, that amounts to moving to a new home every one and a half years and to a different state every seven and a half years.
Based on a quick run-down through my memory, I figure the longest I’ve ever lived in one place is five years when my husband Sam and I bought our first house in 2004 in Mishawaka, Indiana. The most moves I’ve ever made in one year (1983-84) is five when I was nine and my single mother had to make some quick decisions when her mother made us leave her house for some unknown offense. My brother and I went from living in our grandmother’s house in South Bend, Indiana to living with my best friend Stephanie’s family, also in South Bend, to living with our father across town. Eventually, my father drove us to Wisconsin to our mother and we lived with her and her girlfriend in Marshfield, Wisconsin. My mother had moved to Wisconsin to follow that girlfriend and to find work. After my mom and her girlfriend had a fight, my mother moved us across town in Marshfield to a small apartment, and a few months later, we moved back to Indiana to live with my grandparents again. Full circle.
Makes me feel sort of transient.
Now, after four years in a rural town in Ohio, Sam and I are moving again, back to where we’re from: northern Indiana. We originally moved to Ohio in 2009 when Sam got a job there. We’re now moving for the prospect of jobs for both of us, him as senior pastor of a small church and me as an assistant professor at a college (he’s already been hired and I’m still going through the interview process).
This move from Ohio has me thinking about what we take with us and what we leave behind. I’ve lived in transition my entire life, trying to never amass too much that would weigh me down, particularly things, but mostly people.
Sam’s home, the place he grew up, is his mother’s house in Bourbon, Indiana, a small town of about 1,500. It is a town among a collection of small towns in Marshall County, bucolic. It’s the type of place where the high school football field is the Friday night destination to see and be seen as is church on Sunday. It is his mother’s hometown—I believe she was born there. She and Sam’s father decided to settle there when Sam was seven. He played travel league baseball there and was captain of the basketball team. He was the high school’s starting quarter back there and was on the homecoming court there during his senior year. His mother still has a bevy of home videos of Sam’s games at the Triton Jr./Sr. High School football field tucked in the built-in shelves in her living room. It was the place he returned to on breaks from Baldwin-Wallace College near Cleveland. Up until just a few years ago, she kept what I liked to call “the wall of Sam,” which featured all of his high school football and academic awards, framed newspaper clippings about which college he’d signed with, and school photos from kindergarten through is senior year. To Sam’s utter delight and relief, she finally took down the “wall of Sam” when she redecorated. But he’s rooted to that place. He has a history there. That history was witnessed, written, photographed, video-taped. It’s partly been stored in boxes in the basement of his childhood place. His mother doesn’t even trust him to take the stuff for fear that he’ll throw it all away, leaving no documentation for the next generation, to tell them, “We were here.”
I have a box of childhood doodads in my garage. It contains a homemade Cabbage Patch Kid my mom gave me for Christmas when we lived in Wisconsin and a teddy bear she gave me for my birthday when I was in seventh grade and we lived in Lakeville, Indiana. When we lived in Plymouth, Indiana, in 1991 I ordered a subscription to a girly teen magazine, now defunct, called Sassy. I was a freshman in highschool, trying to learn what it meant to be a teenaged girl. I kept one of the issues because it featured a photo of Nirvana lead man Kurt Cobain, who committed suicide in 1994, and Courtney Love, lead singer of Hole, from before they were married. I also kept a small white and yellow receipt from a gas station where my mom worked on the corner of Indiana 23 and Edison Street in South Bend. I went to work with my mother nearly every chance I could and one day in 1991 former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz came in to pay for gas. The gas station is down the street from the university, and I pestered him for an autograph. He obliged and my mother gave him one of the gas receipts from the register to sign his name. He wished me the luck ‘o the Irish. I keep journals from my time in college at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. I’ve been lugging that box from place to place, eleven in all, since I was in college. It contains bits and pieces from so many places.
When Sam and I move back to Indiana in a few weeks, we don’t intend to bring much. We’re giving away most of our furniture, except for a few well-liked pieces—my desk, our dining room table. We’ve already given away a kitchen table and chairs and we intend to give away two living room sets, bookcases, and our bedroom furniture. We’re donating our Christmas decorations and fake tree. We’ve drastically thinned our closets. We simply don’t want to move it all. We’ll take our books and photos, our two dogs Amos and Emmie, the ashes of our other dog, Abe, who had to be put to sleep this past April, our clothes and electronics, important papers, my box of childhood in the garage. We’ve decided to mostly start over.
It’s the things I can’t give away and yet can’t take with me that have me burdened, namely a couple in our church, Jim and Dotty, who have become Sam’s and my surrogate parents. A writing mentor and friend of mine recently wrote on his FB page that you can’t choose who your biological parents will be but you can choose those people who will help pull you through the encumbrances and joys of your adult life. This made me think of Jim and Dotty. We’d recently broken the news to them that we were moving.
I cried as we told them, experiencing a sort of grief. I’ve known that sort of grief exists; I felt something similar to it when my father-in-law died in 2002 and when my ex-husband left me in 2000. These sorrows—the death, the divorce, and now this departure—originate from the same place even though they’re all of a different stripe. Of course, I’m probably being dramatic because I’m still in the throes of this new sorrow (after all, I will likely see them again). But it’s a grief that stems from a loss that requires me to start over with something else, perhaps something less than what I had before. Isn’t that part of what grief is anyway? A process by which we learn to live without that which was so dear? For good or ill, we are forever changed by it, this starting over.