Homes We Leave Behind

08/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Jessica Keener Author, 'Night Swim' and 'Women in Bed' (coming Oct. 1, 2013); contributor, Boston Globe, Design New England, O

Yesterday, I was walking in my old neighborhood in Newton, M.A., and I passed a house that I think of as "Ginny Hyde's house." It's a lovely wood shingle house with Dutch colonial lines. I knew this house as an 8-year-old child. The thing is, Ginny hasn't lived here for more than 30 years. A close friend of my mother's, she moved with her husband to Florida decades ago. This past year, she passed away. She was in her 80s. She was a lovely, ebullient woman with a strong, upbeat personality. As a child, she was one of my favorite adults.

I have no idea how many people have since occupied her house, and I don't think it will ever matter. For me, that house will always be Ginny Hyde's house along with memories of what it looked like inside, the memory of who I was at 8 years old, and of course, Ginny.

It's like a strand of DNA has mapped that experience and stored it forever inside me in the shape and vision of a house.

Though I didn't spend a whole lot of time in this house, I felt the pull of the past and was reminded, again, of how strong it can be, like a tide that goes in and out. Maybe the heart is another kind of moon tugging at these memories, lifting them up and sending them back under depending on what's going on in our lives.

Houses will do that to us. We project our hopes and great expectations on these structures that stand witness to our days and nights, our habits, our most private moments.

Walking past Ginny's house is an easy memory for me, not fraught with ambivalence. I've got plenty of that where I live right now.

Which brings me back to the comment "anonymous" made in response to my post about favorite things (see July 13 post). Anonymous said how difficult it can be to leave a home, and the desire to go back a source of ongoing pain. I also heard from a few others offline. One person said she didn't like her house growing up, another person said she hates the house she's living in now.

I'm here to say that these feelings of discomfort about where we live or lived are not uncommon -- at all -- but they are signals we should listen to. I'm also here to encourage you to do something about that discomfort. Start with something small.