Getting Back Home: Prologue to a Work in Progress

11/17/2011 09:02 am ET

After three years of being suspended somewhere between Limbo and Hell, I may finally be able to get back to the only place that means home for me. A divorce was the impetus that first forced me from my roomy sanctuary and into a cramped upstairs apartment where the downstairs tenants' ceaseless cigarette smoke and screaming matches coiled up through the ductwork. I then escaped that nightmare by buying a small Cape Cod, which doesn't comfortably lend itself to entertaining -- something I miss doing very much. Now, though, after serendipity stepped in, I might be able to get my home back and return to the comfort of my spacious Colonial. Nothing is definite, though. I should know that by now.

I could never have guessed when my daughter, Natasha, recently asked what would I do if I found out that our house was for sale, that the possibility would actually arise.

"Would you try to get it back?" she said.

Without hesitation, I replied, "Absolutely!" I stunned myself with that rapid-fire response, but after all, my children and I did not leave on our own terms and we longed to get back what a broken marriage had taken away.

It's not a house that stands out among others in the Long Island suburb, but it defined home for me, just as it did for my children. There were the parties that friends still like to recall, and the holidays that had a Hallmark card feel to them. But then those memory-making moments began to change from happy times to something much darker. The atmosphere shifted from home to house and we were biding time before the outcome concluded in divorce. In my numbness, I was trying to look forward without glancing back.

It was February 2004 when I shut the front porch door behind me for the last time. I refused to cry, needing to be strong for my kids. Granted, they were no longer children, my son already graduating college while his sisters were just beginning to go down that academic road. Still, it didn't mean their foundation hadn't crumbled. As I walked toward the moving van where my brother, who'd come up from Maryland to help me in my life-changing hour, was sitting at the wheel, I tried not to think about the years invested in that house, about the addition we added in hopes of adopting more children, after having had adopted Corrie and Natasha from Korea. I tried not to think of the time their older brother Jason called up to me from the laundry room, "Mommy, Kelly's pooping puppies!" Kelly was a friend's gentle golden retriever I was caring for while he and my then husband were going on a ski trip together.

"Gerard, if she has those puppies while you're away, I'll hurt you!" I jested as he headed out to the van. He laughed and said Kelly would be fine. "She's not due for weeks," he insisted as he slammed shut the van door.

Like I said, nothing is definite.

Before long, I'd called up friends to come on over to share in the excitement. I boiled some pasta and we celebrated the birth of the eight puppies squealing in my laundry room while the kids danced around Kelly, a panting, new mother not sure what to make of the mayhem.

So that day in February, I was leaving my home, the memories tucked in the overstuffed boxes, and heading to a cramped two-bedroom apartment a few miles away. My ex and I were divorced by then, he already beginning his new life with his new wife. Friends were helping me in the transition and together we tried to make the move lighthearted. After all, my new mantra, one I borrowed from Emily Dickinson, was to dwell in possibility. Besides, I felt I'd gotten a new lease on life when the recent biopsy of the lump in my breast proved to be benign, even though surgery would be required, not once but three times, after I was settled in my new place.

My new place. The axiom "home is where the heart is" didn't prove true for me. After the last three years, that is all the more apparent. Even though I'm in my own house, my daughters still with me, it's yet to feel like home, no matter how many familiar knickknacks surround me. Sometimes I wake in the dark of night and refuse to open my eyes, imagining I'm in my master bedroom from years earlier. When I stand at the back door, I look out at a nondescript backyard, the grass brown, and recall the deck where I used to sit while reading and hearing the gurgling of the nearby fishpond. I came to believe I would never get that settled feeling of home again.

Then, amazingly, just one day after Natasha's question, I was sitting at a table at a street festival in my old hometown signing copies of Without Grace. There was hardly a cloud in the cerulean sky as revelers, carrying cotton candy or gyros, strolled by. It felt good to be immersed in the familiarity of the town where my children attended school, where Jason and Corrie played softball, where Natasha went to dance class several times a week. I wanted still to belong to that town, but I resolved to acknowledge that I used to live there and absorbed the atmosphere while cherishing the day and signing copies of my novel for those passersby who stopped to meet me.

Then, my previous next-door neighbors, having recognized me, broke from the crowd and dashed over, pulling me into a hug. "You wrote a book?" they said with surprise; so much for my publicity efforts. After talking briefly about our kids and what everyone was up to, I then broached the topic and said, "So, how's your new neighbors?" You know, the people living in my house.

"Great! Great!" was the response. "But," they added, "they're going to sell in the spring."

Immediately, my heart lurched. "Really?" I said, my mind racing, grateful I was hiding behind sunglasses concealing tears that sprung to my eyes. "Really?" I repeated, wondering, is this it? Is this why I've not felt rooted for the last three years? Yet, as a single woman who's been solely freelancing for two years, how could I afford this dream house--the one with the drafty windows, the leaky roof, and the porch floor with an obvious slant?

My doubts, however, didn't stop me from blurting, "I want it back."

My previous-perhaps-future neighbors' eyes widened. "Really?" they said in unison, which seemed to be the word of the day. Just then, Natasha, carrying the shish kebob I'd sent her off to get for me, came strolling our way. She broke into a big smile when she recognized the couple standing with me. After handing over my messy lunch, hugs were exchanged and the news broken. Her mouth dropped and seconds later she was on her cell phone calling her sister, who was on vacation in Vegas. Corrie's immediate response mirrored ours: "We're getting it back."

Could the universe be telling us something?

I handed my business card to the wife and said, "Have them call me, if they are really interested in selling." Even as I said it, I kept thinking, am I really up to moving again?

Of course I'm up to moving again -- if it's back home, back to the house that once held so much promise and hope; the house where my children's laughter is embedded in the woodwork; the house where Scout and Shiloh's names are carved into the cement near their doghouse -- Yes, I'm up to moving again! Bearing in mind -- nothing is definite, and as the weeks unfold, that is becoming all the more apparent.