The first time I really had to say goodbye to anywhere I’d called home was when I was 22 years old.
It was January of 1993. Although I’d been away at university for three years, I hadn’t actually moved out of my parents’ home. The emotion I felt, spending my first night all alone in a strange room, cold and bare, in a house with people I’d barely met, shocked me.
Of course, that was all just part of growing up, of finally becoming an adult: a necessary rite of passage. As we make our way through the last day of 2012, though, I find myself having to say goodbye to home in a way I’d never expected.
This is the home my partner and I created for ourselves as it was in July 2011. It was finally finished, after 11 years of work. All plumbing and wiring complete, every window and door draft-free, the last lick of paint applied. Less than a year later, all that was left were the stone walls. An incorrectly fitted flue. Pyrolysis. Fire. 12 years and seven days after we moved into the house, the roof burned up before our eyes.
My relationship with the place has changed dramatically over the nine months since the fire — which I’m sure I’ll write about more, at some length, in the future — but it’s not until now, at the end of 2012, that I realise I have to say goodbye to the place as it was, as I remember it, and accept the place as it is.
I have to say goodbye to here, where every builder who visited us in our first few months laughed to see the state of things.
Here, where our dogs met their first baby hedgehog, with much yipping and snuffling and canine confusion.
Here, where I did battle with a giant dogwood and won, allowing light and air to a stunted oak.
Here, where I lay in the blazing sun, naked, lost in the lap of Life.
Here, where I experienced for the first time the proper awe and terror in the face of a blizzard.
Here, where I lost my fear of the dark in an evening of dog-walking: dark moon and deep cloud and no torch.
Here, where I dug a grave with my partner, to bury our first, beloved dog; here, where we planted an apple tree, and harvested its fruit, and made his life part of our bodies.
Here, where we stood and gaped at the Northern Lights: beams of bright white across the horizon; sheets of red and green; a luminous yellow phoenix flying above the house.
So many more memories make that here, which is no longer here; this place, which no longer exists. Here has become there; this place has become that place.
Because places are not simply built of soil and vegetation, animals and humans, in present time; places are built of memories. When we look upon a place, we see not only what it is now, but what it has been to us in the past , and what it might be to us in the future. The sudden destruction of our home has disrupted my relationship with those memories, those future possibilities. My heart and gut are left with threads of connection dangling.
I am at a turning point: standing with Janus at this turn of the calendar, I must say goodbye to all that this place, this home, has been to me, and reweave those threads into myself, separate the memories in myself from the memories in the land, and allow this place to be what it is now.
But places are also built of all the lives that have lived in them, stretching back into the distant, ancient past. Our lives are part of this past, are part of this land, are part of this place, forever. By saying goodbye I am not turning away, but making space, cleaning the way within myself to the new possibilities of what this place may be to me — now, and in the future — and of what new life may emerge from what is.