Filling the Glass

Even a tiny house can feel too big when the person you thought would be there is gone.

For almost a year now (longer, depending on your perspective), I’ve been living alone in a home made for two.

I’m not talking about the size of my house, but about the organization of its space. Places once occupied by my ex-husband (so strange to use that word!) had been left undisturbed. Even though he no longer lived here, it felt appropriate to reserve his place until we sorted out whether fate, circumstance, and the will of our hearts were going to give us another chance.

In one of the unspoken traditions of my family, the space we live in not only says who we are, but also embraces us. “Home is where the heart is” can be rephrased as “the heart is in the home.”

I learned this not through words and lessons, but through the example set by my mother, who keeps a bright and welcoming home; a place where guests always feel at ease, a space that expresses the family’s heart. All my life, no matter how humble my dwelling, I’ve tried to emulate her magic touch.

Last August, when the writing on the wall became clear and I peered down the long road toward divorce, my first instinct was to sell this house. It seemed empty without the promise of my husband’s return. Too big, too much, for just me to live in and take care of. It’s not a large house, mind you. It’s just that when we purchased this place, I envisioned it as a home for two. Now, it was half empty.

After some consideration, I decided to give myself a chance at making this space work for one. All those little household and garden tasks my husband used to do I folded into my own schedule (taking care of him was replaced by taking care of my home), or I hired out for help when it was too much to do alone.

The biggest expression of this change was the decision to repaint earlier this summer. The trim was peeling, and some of the siding needed replacement. All in all, the exterior work was more than I could afford, and I will be paying off the debt for some time. But at a deep, emotional level, I needed to do this. New colors don’t necessarily make a new me, but they can herald a new beginning, evidence of ownership over a project that is slowly but surely becoming mine.

Changes to the interior have been a little slower in coming, but after I signed the divorce last week, I knew what would be next: the closets.

The master bedroom of this house has two closets. Ever since we moved in, one has always been “his” and the other, “hers”.  Of course, “his” has stood empty for a while, evolving into a storage space for random belongings that sooner or later must be claimed by him or will be given away.

I could have left it that way (his few remaining possessions still need to be stored somewhere), but “his” closet had become dead space. A small mausoleum that housed the ghost of my husband past. Now that the decision was made and the papers signed, I felt it had to go. Or rather, be transformed.

What seemed a simple idea at first (clearing out his stuff and dividing my stuff between two closets) turned out to be a week-long, intense process of cleaning, packing, sorting and re-sorting. It was physically exhausting, with an unpleasant emotional undercurrent that I managed to ignore if I focused on the mundane tasks of dusting, vacuuming, folding, and at the very end, deciding what to put where.

Late last night, I finally finished. I now had two closets, “mine” and “mine”, each with their own set of functions going forward. Pleased with the results, I showered off the dust, made myself a cup of lemon ginger tea, and watched a little late night TV. Then, for the first time in almost twenty years, I slept in a room that was 100% my own.

From a certain perspective, all of this sounds kind of trivial. After all, they’re just closets. But on a deeper level, those closets mattered in a way I didn’t understand until I finished last night. After all, at the beginning of the week, my bedroom was half empty. Now, it’s full – not just half full, but full. A small but significant affirmation that one is – and will continue to be – enough.

There’s a something of a miracle in that, and also, a touch of joy.

Next week, I think I’ll start on “his” office…

10 thoughts on “Filling the Glass

  1. What a nice post on the meaning of space. I have a little story about space that involves you, which I hope is not too personal. When you were a graduate student going back and forth to Costa Rica, you usually traveled through Houston and we became a welcome stop. We loved seeing you, even when you were sick with the flu (we didn’t catch it). But part of this lovely tie was that you had stuff in our attic. When you came through you visited it, I imagine adding or subtracting, or just handling dear possessions not ready for the many moves of a grad student. Finally you graduated and moved on. But the dark green trunk that was yours stayed on. We didn’t mind since the attic was large. But when we were up there frantically screwing in hurricane ties before Hurricane Rita made landfall (farther east), the trunk caught my eye. Might you not, wherever you are, want some of the things in it? Would it be invading your privacy to actually open it? I guess I thought the privacy statute of limitations had passed and I opened it. I remember a floppy hat, some gym shorts, a pair of very warped tennis shoes and some more interesting things, including what looked like a diary or agenda, which of course I did not read. There were also some knick knacks that I thought might be of sentimental value. So I threw out the tennis shoes and the musty hat and packed up what was left in a solid little box about the size of two shoeboxes. This was taped up and brought downstairs to my study closet. Now what? I think it sat like that another couple of years until I had a USA address for you. Then I mailed it on. I recall you were glad and bemused to get it.
    What do we leave behind? What became of the field equipment, butterfly nets and the like, that we left at Hato Masaguaral in Venezuela? Other things we left at the Castillos in El Limon Venezuela. I might even have left some stuff at Rita’s outside Florence. I still discover things at my parents house. I just hope my things and my space work for me, not trapping me! They are worth thinking about, so thanks for the post and the memory.

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    1. Oh my gosh, I remember that! I remember receiving the package; I think I’d already forgotten that I’d ever left a trunk in your attic. 🙂 Especially when we live such mobile lives, we inevitably leave things behind. I hadn’t thought about that in terms of our “space” but you’re right; that’s part of it too. I still have some things that I need to gather up and bring back from Costa Rica, as well.

      I really felt this week like I started moving into this house all over again. It’s strange but also, I think, a good feeling to have.

      I’d like to go to St. Louis again soon, by the way. Maybe for the next ecology & evolution retreat?


  2. This reminded me of a time in my own life, when upon the exit of a man I had lived and loved with for 13 years. Reclaiming my bungalow was a way of defining myself moving forward. It was a joy filled process, despite the tears and sadness of letting go. I applaud you!

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  3. “taking care of him was replaced by taking care of my home” and, as you said, “home is where the heart is. YOUR heart. Yourself. You are caring for yourself by caring for your home. This is so wise, so tender and such rich advice for those of us married or single. Fill ourselves up by tending our homes rather than waiting for someone else’s stuff or life to make us feel “enough.”

    Thank you dear one.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am doing the same, I can’t get myself to move a thing or roll over to his side of the bed 😢 still hopeful but every day reality becomes more clear. I am very sorry that you are going through this pain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so sorry to hear you’re dealing with a similar situation! It’s so hard, but all we can do is take it one day at a time. I’ve been through some very dark periods with this, but over the past couple of months, the skies have started to clear a little. It’s a pain we learn to live with, I think, rather than fully overcome. Many hugs and healing thoughts to you. Thank you so much for sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

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