I feel sometimes, like I’m asleep; like I’m sleepwalking through everything. Like I will only remember the months after my son’s death in the patchy, vaguely creepy, déjà-vu way in which one remembers a dream. This is how I remember the time when I let go of my house.
The sale of the house was meant to be healing. I imagined it as a shedding of the vestiges of my life that had gone so wrong. A cleansing breath. In the end, it felt like drinking poison. Though, I had been the one to leave, my resentment at failing at marriage and family, my sadness at losing the people and things I’d loved, was no less potent. I hadn’t lived there in months and could barely bring myself to cross the threshold into this place I’d labored so hard to make a home. I still loved it, of course. My estranged husband and I had agreed to sell the house before finalizing our divorce. We agreed this because our house was haunted. In the end, though, selling the place, letting it go, solved nothing. I brought the sadness with me. The ghosts were everywhere.
When my marriage fell apart, I decided to leave our house and decamp to an apartment my parents owned. It was a financial decision; neither my husband nor I had any money to spare and it seemed kinder to do it this way. The new place had no memories. I hated it there. It was the place where I landed when I ran away from home. I tried to decorate, to feel warm there. But I pined for my house, for the house where my children’s sandbox lived and my favorite chair, a place where I had last been happy and hopeful, pregnant with Joss, drinking hibiscus tea and buying art for the children’s nursery. Most painfully, I pined for Lev’s house. I felt far away from Lev’s life in this sterile, tiny apartment, miles from all of his things and from the place where he danced in videos to the music of 2009 and watched Elmo in our bed.
My husband hated living in the house where we had been a family; where everything went wrong. He wanted nothing more than to be rid of it, called it the Museum of Sorrows. Without my constant screaming fits of nagging, my husband let the house decay around him. He and Joss lived like squatters among piles of toys and books and wadded up clean laundry left unfolded. It broke my heart to go home. Before we put the house on the market, my husband undertook every renovation we never did while we lived there. Patched all of the cracks in the walls, repainted all of the rooms, landscaped the backyard. It made my heart ache to see it the place beautiful again. Once it was ship-shape, I staged it for sale. I hung new paintings, bought accessories and candles and throw pillows and plants. I made it perfect. And it sold quickly. Before we closed and handed over the keys, the new owners came through with their contractor, planning to add the second bathroom we had never gotten around to building. The blueprints for the new addition hung on the door of the guest room like a scarlet letter.
Leaving home, letting go, was in some way my variation on self-flagellation. It was a relinquishing of control, a self-inflicted punishment. I had to leave in order to wipe the slate, but also to prove my asceticism. To prove I could live without comfort, without the totems I had gathered around me to signify my arrival as a functional adult. They were arbitrary. And without Lev, they were meaningless.
When we were children, my parents told my younger brother and I that we could pick which of their religions we wanted to join. My father is a secular man, raised an observant Jew. Spent of his patience with ritual, he married an Episcopalian: my mother, a private woman, never one to discuss her political leanings or religious inclination with her children or with anyone. Neither of my parents—at any point—spoke to me of a higher power in which I could or should believe. Perhaps—as an outgrowth of my precociousness—each assumed that I had badgered someone else into illuminating for me the concept of God and creation and the afterlife and how to live well on earth. It seemed to me that both of them were, at best, lukewarm on the whole business of worship. Certainly, they were not fervent. As it were, no one introduced me to the holy, to reverence, to the infinite. And so, I never did believe in God. In the absence of God, I found comfort in superstition, in gut feelings; in coincidence and connection; in magnetism.
In the months before Lev was born and in the months surrounding his death, I accepted prayers on his behalf. I coveted them. I didn’t believe they were going to a God who would hear and answer them, but I was moved by the desire of the faithful to make them. I was taken with the idea that friends and neighbors and congregations of strangers in faraway suburbs were thinking of my child and wishing him well. I was moved by their collective belief, which I envied and respected. The resonance of their devotion felt powerful. That these people cared for Lev and our family and that they wanted their God to know it was a wonder to me. Their prayers were something in which I could have faith. After Lev died, my husband—who had always been spiritual—dove headlong into religion. He began attending synagogue regularly, and embarked on Torah study with the Rabbi who’d memorialized Lev. My husband’s sudden and genuine commitment to Judaism, to organized religion, to God, served to affirm my certainty that there was no saving us.
The house in which I grew up sits across the street from a church, a lovely grey stone building where I attended nursery school a few days a week (the other days, I went to nursery school in a synagogue across town). On Sunday mornings, I’d watch the crowds of Methodists assemble and disperse through the great wooden doors. I especially loved it when there was a wedding and I could treat my front steps as bleachers for the big event. I’d wait there, sometimes for hours, for the bride to emerge in her gown, holding her flowers, beaming. I believed in love without anyone ever explaining it to me. I always believed in love.
I felt something approaching religious devotion toward the romantic ideal. I worshipped the twin idols of chemistry and human connection. In those moments when the world stops and you and the object of your ardor are the only people left in it, I glimpsed the sacred. Bed was my church, my refuge. I fell in love and in lust with saintly fervor. But in love, like everywhere else, I fought ghosts. I am not easily swayed from the path I want to be on, one I believe to be the right path, even if it’s aiming me straight off a cliff. I had been so lost for so long. In the haze of summer, there were decisions to be made, things to be worked out. The fog was lifting. I had glimpsed a light.