Moving (Forward)

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.”

Poems: Edna St. Vincent Millay, first fragment from “Sonnet xlii,” second two from “Intention to Escape from Him.” Photo: In my garden, by Emily Takes Photos (taken on my camera) 

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  • Peabody_Bites

    I don’t know how you read my mind. This week, we are making an offer on a house (a house, a house) and leaving our perfect, central, city flat with its high ceilings and fireplace. Where we first moved in together, fought and cried about not getting married, got engaged on the sofa, came home from honeymoon. Endless dinner parties, drinks parties, family parties. Job application after job application, practice interviews and GMAT math tests all took place at the dining room table. And I have been so happy there that I can hardly bear to leave.

    But I can’t have a baby there. I can’t expand my burgeoning vegetable garden there. And we have outgrown it. So our tiny family is buying a tiny family house and I am terrified and excited and sad in equal measure.

    Thank you for expressing it so perfectly, and sending me back to ESt.VM. Congratulations on the new house.

    • Rasheeda

      Wow… are you our couple doppleganger? Meg, well said.

  • Maria

    Those first two paragraphs gripped my heart and made me cry. Luckily we haven’t had time to get attached to our apartment here, but all that you described hits home with me, how I felt leaving my college after graduation. Two years later I still miss it something fierce. I know that’s kind of a weird analogy but it just hits perfectly.

    I hope you enjoy your new space, even while missing your old one. You have all sorts of new things to explore :)

    • meg

      Oddly, I don’t miss the old one at all, though man, leaving was hard. (I do, however, still miss Brooklyn, so there we go).

  • We are moving across the country this summer, final destination as yet unknown, but we will be moving from a city of over half a million to a town of around 40,000 or less. I know it’s the right thing, but sometimes I get apprehensive about leaving the city. But this helped. Thanks.

  • Katharine

    “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.”

    I’m sitting in my mostly-empty New York apartment, filled with dust, in preparation for moving overseas to start a new life with my partner, and this post hit me like a train. I have no words.

  • melissa

    90.34% chance that I’m moving 1,900 miles this summer to New Mexico. It will be a little bittersweet and scary, but who am I kidding, I live for that shit. I can’t wait!

  • Allison

    As usual APW is right on target for me. My apartment right now is filled with half-packed boxes, as I prepare to move in with my fiance in an apartment new to both of us. It will be my first time living with a partner, and my first time living with anyone at all in years. I do feel a little melancholy as I pack up my single girl life, but I also feel hopeful about everything our (our!) new life in a new place will bring.

  • Another Meg

    The next time I move, it’s probably going to be across the country to spend a year away from my fiance. I think I’ll save this and reread it for strength when the time comes.
    Beautifully written!

  • Oh, how I love Sonnet XLIII! Edna St. Vincent Millay has long been a favorite of mine.

    It’s not just the ghosts, but the tiny deaths. You *know* you need to move on so that you can grow, but you leave a piece of you behind when you make a change.

  • There is a story here, that Meg has put so beautifully into words, of all the women in our community packing their lives for a big unknown, like Madeline said yesterday: “Where am I? Where am I going?” and today, “Where were we? What will we be?” Absolutely beautiful, Meg.

  • Marbella

    I am just starting the process of getting our home for the past 5 years ready to go on the market, so we can move across the country to AZ later this summer. This is making me teary! Brilliant writing today Meg. It is so nice to hear your voice again.

    • meg

      You guys make me feel terrible when you say that! I think I just skipped one week of writing, not so bad for a big move.

      • kyley

        I think it’s just that when you write these long-ish posts (beyond your fabulous intros to all the other posts) they are always rock star material and, speaking for myself, I could never get enough. So I “miss it” in that, like really good chocolate or something, I want it all the time.

        Good luck unpacking and settling into your new home, Meg. I also love the tangibility of new possibilities that comes with moving–speaking as someone who has moved about once a year for the past ten years! I never get sick of that freshness.

        • meg

          I know, I know! But other than with huge life transitions, I write a long post every week (I swear to you!!!!). And every week y’all are like OH FINALLY. Which is flattering, I guess…

  • Lovely, Meg! The perfect post and poetry for a spring morning. Thank you for sharing. I’m so terrible at goodbyes, even with spaces. It’s nice to think of you being able to blog from your garden!

  • youlovelucy

    And the “Days Since Crying Because of APW” ticker goes back to zero.

    Beautiful post, Meg.

  • This is gorgeous, Meg. And I think it sums up how I will feel when we leave where we live now- which we will do soon, as we’re already looking at houses. I am excited about going on to something new, but I will miss where we are now.

    Congratulations. :) A HOUSE!

  • Carrie

    The sonents remind me of my favorite moving song (yes, I’ve moved enough that I have a favorite moving song). Dar Williams’ “Traveling Again” – captures all these feelings. Good Luck in all your moves, everyone, and listen to Dar if you need to.

  • Oh Meg, this was so beautifully written. Thank you for sharing.

  • mimi

    I bought my house 6 years ago and my boyfriend moved in with me last summer. We have no plans to move now, but I’m definitely saving this for whenever we do, because this is our first home and will (hopefully) be the setting for all those important baby-family events. (And Maddie’s recent post about engagement pics at home really makes me want to do that and capture those memories of us in our first home).

  • Ever so lovely. Non-linear is probably exactly what you need to refurbish the creative neurons.

  • As someone who has moved 5 times in the last 4 years, I come at this from a different perspective but I definitely understand your feelings. For the first time in that period, I’m coming upon a summer with the prospect of NOT moving and am feeling really weird about it. I’m getting into that mood of “looking” and I have nothing to look for.

    Congratulations on your new space; I’m happy you have found such a wonderful place to grow.

  • first milk

    Bats eat cats.

    • meg

      I will not debate you on this. Unless you’re buying the coffee.

  • We had a couple over for dinner last night. They’re in town to do the training for Forrest’s new job. It was lovely to have people over for conversation. They were interested in what made us come to our own AND what was forcing us to leave.

    We’ve poured so much our ourselves into this little house in a little backwards town that I am so saddened to leave but as we stood outside in the waning late spring light I realized how brilliantly I smiled at these friends and my future husband as we described living a life happily on the road, FREE.

    I’ll be heartbroken to leave the house I thought we’d live in for closer to a quarter century than two years but I’m even more excited to set forth on the road again with my partner.

    Best wishes on your new home, Meg. This house sounds like wonderful things for you guys.

  • What a beautifully written post. Cheers to your Oakland home – may laughter and inspiration fill your rooms and your garden.

  • I never really got that attached to the first (tiny, shoebox) apartment that Jason and I lived in together, but your words reminded me so much of how I felt on the first New Year’s Eve we celebrated after we got married. We were counting down the seconds at a friend’s, champagne in hand, and I suddenly turned to Jason and said, “I don’t think I’m ready for this year to end yet.” And he just nodded, because he understood what I meant. It was like all the ghosts of the year, both good and bad, had crowded forward in that moment and I couldn’t quite process that we were leaving behind the year in which we’d gotten engaged and married, moved, made so many changes.

    (The following year was both amazing and astonishingly difficult at times, like life always is, but it was a good one in the final tally. I imagine your new house [house!] will be the same.)

  • More like this, please.

  • SarahCruz

    Oh, the East Bay. I swear my heart lies there. I live in Santa Cruz now, which is incredibly lovely in it’s own way, but whenever I drive up to Berkeley or Oakland my heart just swells.

    I hope you love your new home! Gardens are amazingly therapeutic and creative.

  • Cate S

    Oh Meg, that third paragraph is so perfect. I’m saving it for all such future events (of which there will surely be many).

    Wishing you & yours every happiness in your new home. x

  • Love moving? Oh man. I moved too many times through university to feel that way.

    Sometimes those places become a part of you, I’ve found, when you’ve lived hard and good and grown a lot in them. It’s almost like a snake shedding its skin, to grow into something new.

    • meg

      I don’t move very often (other than when I was in college, which is different) but when I do move, I tend to like the newness of it.

    • I’m one of those people too.

      Since I moved out of home at the end of high school to go to university, I’ve moved slightly more than once a year on average – and lived in 4 different towns or cities. I’m bored of moving, and I dont think I have ever felt a real emotional attachment to anywhere I have lived. The few places that came close, things soured around leaving for various reasons…

      In fact, it felt odd to me to NOT be moving over the summer just been, since we bought our own home the week we got married. And, it is only thanks to the awesome team over at Offbeat Mama that I am truly happy with the thought that we can raise a child here. Admittedly, its definitely only big enough for one at the moment!

    • I love moving, too. I love packing, sorting, throwing things away. I love the fresh start and the possibilities. And decorating. :-)

  • I bought my little house all by myself and made it my own, so many good times and not so good times were had in that little house. I gardened. I met and married my husband. I learned how to share. I got pregnant. I lost that pregnancy. I got pregnant again. As we were cleaning for that final time I lay on the floor crying, heavily pregnant, sad to leave that little house but so ready for the new one. And the new one is the home we are making together and where my daughter will grow.

  • RachelM

    Beautiful. Just beautiful. This post comes at such a perfect time for me as my bf and I have made the decision to move from our San Diego harbor view apartment to the suburbs of Poway, CA in order to have more space (I want to garden) and more time together since we won’t be commuting and hour plus each day. I know it’s practical and I want this change, but the thought of leaving my lovely city and the water for the suburbs makes a piece of me so, so sad. I hope I have similar feelings as you’re having when we finally do make our move!

    On a side note, I’m pretty new to APW and I absolutely love everything about it. Especially giving me a name for this spot I’ve found myself in: the pre-engaged state. Meg, you and your APW staff (and everyone else in this community) have really created something amazing!

  • Laurel

    <3 Oakland <3

    I had similar feelings in March, when we left the apartment we'd landed in when we first moved out here. I hated that shitbox, the new place is beautiful and perfect, and still I felt this sense of loss about leaving our ghosts. The best thing about moving is it's so damn much work that by the end, I'm so effing happy to be finished that it takes the edge off the sadness.

    p.s. Let me know if you want restaurant & bar recs. I make a pretty fair East Bay food guide.

  • Class of 1980

    Oh, I heart everything about this post.

    I am on my fourth rental house since getting divorced and moving halfway across the country. Each house, but one, has been a spec home that was never lived in before. I could give you a laundry list of every little flaw of each house because I am a frustrated architect in my mind.

    Yet, when it’s time to leave, there is always reluctance and sadness. The first house had the most issues, yet after the lease was up and a move was planned, I walked outside and cried. My life changed completely in that house because it was the first place I lived in after my divorce. Even though I was moving to a house that was three times as big, it was hard to say goodbye to all that.

    And now it’s time to choose yet another house – this will be the fifth. Except, one of my cats died a couple of weeks ago here. It’s so hard to leave his ghost and the evidence of his life that is in this house.

    I guess my heart will always hold a piece of each house and the characters that populated it and the events that happened there. It’s getting harder to let go of attachments and eras as I get older, even when the change is an improvement.

    Used to be a piece of cake, but now I truly understand what “gone forever” means.

    • DorieG

      I so identify with your comments. After my wedding (in 10 weeks!) I am leaving the house I bought after my divorce and moving to the state where my now-fiance/will be husband lives. This house I am leaving was capital “M” mine –chosen solely by me, decorated solely by me, and I just recently threw out the decorating mags I had been collecting in anticipation of redoing the (for me) ridiculously-hard-to-keep-clean white kitchen counter-tops. I honestly thought I would retire in this house. I am just trying to keep in mind that this impending change is a good one. And worth saying good-bye to this artifact of my life.

      • Class of 1980

        Dorieg, that is even harder … because you BOUGHT it! ;)

  • Celeste

    Welcome to Oakland! I’ve never loved living anywhere else as much as I love living in Oakland, and if we ever have to move from our wonderful apartment in Fruitvale I will have similar feelings I am sure.

    • Estrella

      Agreed – I <3 Oakland! I'm in the Dimond and I couldn't be happier. Where else can you be two blocks away from a gorgeous park and a fabulous taqueria at the same time?

    • Elizabeth

      I am moving to Fruitvale in two weeks! Any good recs for places to go or things to do?? My husband is a bit scared for the crime but I am so excited for the move. Glad to hear you like it there!

  • Mmmmm, fresh starts, new spaces. Shittons of possibilities and hopelessly frustrating — and satisfying — options. Hot damn, what a great start to summer.

  • April

    Beautiful writing, Meg. Totally teared up reading about your feelings of leaving your little apartment.

    But the opening photo – lovely you in lovely garden – is like, *YES*. She’s home. Congrats on the new place, darling!

  • Thank you for sharing this. It is so beautifully written, and it speaks so truly to that part of the human experience that we all go through (change – and moving) and which comes with such conflicting emotions. What you said about how hard it is to leave, to change, even when you know it’s necessary rang so true to me, and I think it’s a meaningful, necessary thing to write about. Because when you’re in the thick of that change, with all those feelings, with all that hesitation and the ghosts crowding around, it’s easy to forget what will come next, or even what a normal and important part of life change is. I have trouble changing, although I’m pretty much always happy to have done it, so I love reading about the experience, especially when it’s so honestly described. I also love the sense of possibility and hope in your new home; I hope it brings so many good things for you.

  • Class of 1980

    I just have to say, this paragraph, Meg, captures it all.

    “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.”

    There is nothing else to say after that.

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  • Lacy

    I swear I owe APW money for the unintentional therapy it’s provided me over the last few years. Praise be to God/TheUniverse/Oprah/Jah/SteveJobs that these posts find me when they do. And I’m not even close to planning a wedding. I’m just trying to plan my life.

    Long story short: Last year saw me walking away from an engagement and the end of a five-year relationship (enter posts re: knowing when it’s not right). What followed was a 12 month period of living alone for the first time, faltering a bit, drinking a lot of whiskey, but ultimately finding myself again (cue: posts on the importance of being single). Just last week I decided to quit my stable job and leave the only town I’ve known for the last eight years to move across the country to New Orleans, because for the first time that little voice inside me that tells me to go for it is loud enough to hear. And just as I started to panic this afternoon, and those anxiety-ridden ghosts set in, this post found me.

    So I guess what I’m saying is thank you, Meg (and other APW posters). For unknowingly helping through the last year, and for getting me back to myself.

    (And let’s face it, providing me with lots of distractingly beautiful pictures of weddings.)

  • Claire

    Ahh yes! Thanks Meg for another completely relevant (to me) post. I’ve been living in Mongolia the past year and we’re packing up to move back to Australia soon. I’m in the don’t-want-to-leave-but-am-excited-about-the-move frame of mind currently, and I think I’m going to be battling that for a while yet. The poetry was perfect, too. Thank you!

    • Random, but couldn’t help but comment- I live in Mongolia too!

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  • Meg, I just wanted to say this post was absolutely beautiful. You captured the complex emotions around home, belonging, change and identity in a beautiful and moving way. I love the way you chose to convey your journey. And I have too many favorite parts in this one to start to name them…

  • welcome home!

  • I somehow missed this post, but I love, love, love it. We moved from an apartment in the city to a house in the ‘burbs (my grandparents’ old house) almost two years ago, just after we were married. The adjustment was tough at first (no more walking to dinner and stumbling home from the bars!), but having enough space to stretch out has made a huge difference. We have “creative space” now, we can dig into a crazy woodworking project, we can garden, we can make a mess.

    And I love that you quoted Edna St. Vincent Millay. She’s one of my favorites. I hope you and David are very happy in your new place.

  • Eve Sturges

    this is positively lovely. thank you.