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…