This Saturday, I stood alone in our empty apartment. The movers and my husband had gone downstairs, and it was just me, the sunlight, and the dust. I stood in the apartment that was where we’d moved in together the first time (after moving across the country with everything we owned, combined for the first time, in a Ryder truck), where we’d come home the afternoon after getting engaged, where we’d woken up the day after our wedding. It was the apartment where we’d struggled with soul-sucking employment, law school, with unemployment, and where I’d written my first book. Echoing through my head was Edna St. Vincent Millay’s line, “… but the rain/ Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh/ Upon the glass and listen for reply.”
The ghosts coming out of those walls were painful, in a sometimes-you-don’t-realize-how-hard-it-was-till-it’s-over way. I was transfixed. Frozen to the floor. Listening. Then my husband came back and grabbed my hand and told me it was time to go. I hugged him, and we looked around, touched the walls where we’d spent half a decade of our lives. And then slowly, painfully, we walked out the door. We have the apartment for another week, and we’d talked about going back to do a final sweep up, but after the latch clicked shut, I said, “I can’t go back. I can’t leave again.”
It’s amazing how hard it is to change, even when you know you need to. Even when you know what you’re headed for is probably much better. Even when the whispering ghosts are full of anxiety, misdirected dreams, and sadness. Still, they ask you to stay, to stay forever, and it’s so hard to go.
We left. We visited the beach first, and then drove across the city, across the bridge, and thirty minutes later were at our new house (house!). It was fifteen degrees warmer, and we had a garden, a basement, and a house big enough that we could no longer chat away while in different rooms.
Then everyone left me alone again, sitting cross-legged in the new empty house, and for the first time in awhile, I felt real hope springing up. Hope, of course, mixed with fear. What ghosts would haunt us here? Happy ones? It was impossible to know. But that night, with all the boxes out of the truck, I felt rather surprisingly at home… perhaps more at home than I’d ever felt in San Francisco. The house reminded me of my rambling old Victorian in Brooklyn, with space to make things (messy things, possibly terrible things, the potential of things) in its creaky corners. It reminded me of the summers I’d spent from infancy through my childhood in, well, Oakland. And how I thought when we moved here that San Francisco would be just like Oakland, but for city people. It wasn’t.
As I told David that first night, I’d forgotten how much I loved moving (as someone who does it so rarely). That sense of turning over a new leaf, of fresh possibilities. And the next day there was unpacking to be done, and laundry to hang in the garden, and roses to be picked.
Today, the verse of Millay’s echoing in my head is this, “I think I will learn some beautiful language, useless for commercial/ Purposes, work hard at that./ I think I will learn the Latin name of every songbird, not only in America but wherever they sing./ (Shun meditation though; invite the controversial:/ Is the world flat? Do bats eat cats?) By digging hard I might deflect that river, my mind, that uncontrollable thing.”
So I sat in the garden… our garden now… for awhile today. I read poetry. I looked at my legs stretched out in the sun. I thought: about nothing and about everything. Because if anything is going to solve creative block, it’s not trying to solve it.
I’d forgotten how hard it was to change. And how necessary. And here we are, ready to grow, with no proper idea of what’s coming next.
“Dig, dig; and if I come to ledges, blast.”