I did. For three years, I couldn’t. But last week I went back home.
This house had been my home for 33 years. After we sold it, I couldn’t even bring myself to go back to the same street. The mere thought of seeing my house as no longer my house, was more than I could handle. When I wanted to meet my former neighbors, I would pick a restaurant.
I always believed that this was the house I would live in for the rest of my life. It was here that my son Asim started Kindergarten; where my children played ball on the narrow street, got costumed-up and went trick-a-treating, and blew birthday candles all through grad school. It was where we first welcomed our daughters-in-law, and held their first wedding anniversaries. If in those years anyone had said that one day I would sell this house and move into an apartment in the City, I surely would have said, ‘Are you kidding!’
But life doesn’t stay still. A new job with a long commute compelled us to move into Manhattan, into a 750 sq. ft. apartment. We would come back to our home in Staten Island on weekends, and continued to hold family gatherings, Thanksgiving, and anniversaries.
So what made us sell?
We fell in love. We fell in love with City life—the perfect habitat for empty nesters. We were seduced by everything the City had to offer: cultural events, book readings, indie movies, volunteering, Shakespeare in the Park, lectures, city lights, and the sheer energy on the streets. Even after my husband retired, we choose to stay put.
At some point, we started to feel the expense of maintaining two homes, and were spoiled by the no-maintenance of condo living. When family visited from overseas, they wanted to stay in the City, but we had no guest room – just an air-mattress. We broached the idea to our family: ‘we are thinking of selling the house’.
“But you can’t! This is our family home.”
We backed off –for a while. We too didn’t have the heart to let go. To let go of the most beautiful house in the world, the memories, our family gatherings, and a home which was not only our home, but everyone’s home.
It took years of procrastinating before we finally decided to sell. We went through the pain of letting go of memorabilia, and moved on.
A year later, I met the new owner at an event. I wasn’t sure how I would react. “We love the house!” She gushed. “The next time you are in Staten Island, please stop by. It will always be your house.” I almost cried.
I still couldn’t. But I did take baby steps. Instead of meeting my former neighbor at a restaurant, I went to her house, on the street where we once lived. I walked up to the house, and stood outside. A girl’s bicycle rested against the door, and a basketball hoop had been put on the front lawn. The house had once again become a home for children.
This month when I ran into her again in the City, I was able to say, “We are coming to Staten Island tomorrow afternoon. If you are going to be home, may we stop by?”
“Please do. You will love what we have done to the house, and I am sure you will cry.”
A Santa by the door, and the house all decked up in red bows and wreaths—something I had never done. I rang the bell.
The door opened for us.
It’s the same, and it’s different.
“Come, let me show you.” She took us around. I knew my way, of course, but now this was her house, and I followed her.
In the living room, with ceiling-to-floor windows overlooking the valley, was where we held one-dish parties, sitting on the rug, playing the tabla, and singing our hearts out. I looked across at the wall where our wedding picture had hung, now adorned by an entertainment center. This is where Saqib’s sehra bandi was held on his wedding day.
The dining room still had the black lacquered china cabinet that we had left behind. My silver, black and grey colors had been replaced with Christmas colors, bright and colorful. And in the corner stood a tall Christmas tree that my home never had. She showed me my master bedroom, now a girl’s room, and oh so pretty. She led me upstairs. Asim’s room was now a master bedroom. We stood in the kitchen and chatted, trading stories of our lives in what was once our home, and now theirs. Excited, she showed me sketches for renovating the kitchen, and I stood there picturing how much nicer it would be.
When I moved out, I had prayed that this house bring as much joy in the lives of the new owners as it had in ours. That day, as we said goodbye and the door closed behind us, I knew for sure that this house is blessed. And, I did not cry.