When I turned 18, I thought I knew it all. Everything about anything, and no one could change my mind or tell me any different. I didn’t go to college right out of high school. Working full-time and making money seemed like a better plan for me, at least until I could pick a major. My mom and stepfather told me that if I wasn’t going to college, I was going to have to pay rent to continue living at their house. They were going to charge me $135 a month. $135 a month? Yeah right, I thought. I’ll teach them and just move out.
I got an apartment with my friend, and we split the cost of everything. It wasn’t too long after starting my adventure in the real world that I realized how good $135 a month really was. I only made $7.25 at my job, and between rent, utilities, groceries and all the other odd little expenses, I was coming up short to even put gas in my car – let alone have money to go out and have fun. My friend was starting to feel the pressure too, and she moved back in with her parents.
I could barely afford to pay half of the bills! What was I going to do now? I was terrified and realized I didn’t know it all after all. I was slowly sinking. It was time to swallow my pride and ask to move back home. I’d gladly pay $135 a month to live there.
As if my mother had some sort of psychic connection to my thoughts, she called me and said she wanted to talk. We met for lunch, and I thought this conversation was going to lead to my light at the end of the tunnel. Instead, I was dealt a devastating blow.
My stepdad had taken a new job in Pittsburgh. They were leaving Sioux City and moving over 1,000 miles away! I was crushed. My mom said I could come with them, but the thought of moving to a big city scared me half to death. I decided that I would brave it here, alone.
My parents put their house on the market, and the months to their moving day ticked by. The house wasn’t selling as fast as they’d hoped. My stepfather made the move to Pittsburgh, before the rest of the family, in the spring.
I began helping more with my brothers, picking one up from kindergarten and the youngest from daycare every day. I’d bring them home and usually stay for dinner before going back to my apartment for the night.
I longed to just be able to live at home again. I knew that as soon as the school year was over, my family would leave. Now, more than ever, I felt how devastating this move would be for the relationship with my brothers. They were so young, and we were closer than ever. I was scared that the distance between us would sever our bond.
Eventually, the school year ended, and my family decided to move, even though their house was still on the market. I was given the keys to my childhood home, and my mom said the realtor would be in touch with me.
Shortly after my 19th birthday, their moving day arrived. With the moving truck loaded, I hugged my little brothers and step father goodbye, and sobbed in my mother’s arms. I didn’t want to let her go. I didn’t want to let any of them go. I made a last-ditch effort to stall them by saying I wanted to move with them after all, but we all knew that wasn’t true.
My friend Amy was with me, so I wouldn’t be by myself when they left, but while I watched the moving truck pull away and disappear down the street, I felt more alone than ever.
Later, my mom called to tell me they made it safely to their motel at their first stop along the way to Pittsburgh. I tried to not cry as we talked, but I sobbed in my pillow for close to an hour after I hung up the phone. I drove from my apartment to their house on the other side of town and let myself in.
I walked through the house, looking at each room. I stopped in the living room that was always filled with family. I peered into my brothers’ empty rooms. My heart ached. I missed them already. I eventually made my way to the backyard and stopped at the spot where my dog Red was buried.
We got her when I was four years old, and she was the same age as me. From then on, we were inseparable. She was with me when my parents divorced when I was five. She was with me when we made a big move from Wyoming to Sioux City when I was ten. She was with me until I was seventeen. I cried thinking of how some other family will soon own this house, and how they’d never even know that Red, my best friend for thirteen years, was buried right in this spot.
I went back into the house and sat on the cold kitchen floor with my back against the cabinets. I stared at the empty space where our dining table once stood, remembering all the family dinners that this kitchen hosted and all the cookies that were made.
I ended up falling asleep right there on the kitchen floor that night, using my jacket as a blanket.
As the days passed, I visited the house every day right after work. I almost felt obligated to do so, like this home was my child. I had to make sure it was safe and protected. Each day I went, I cried a little less than the day before. I slowly adjusted to the fact that my family had left.
The day came when the realtor called to tell me that the house had been sold, and she was going to need the keys. I made the drive across town to the house one last time, and I walked through it once more from room to room, and said my final goodbye to Red.
I left the keys on the kitchen counter like I had promised the realtor I would do. It was almost freeing to know that I could not visit my childhood home anymore. Going back every day took its toll on me, but I felt like I had to visit so I could hold on to the memories of my family. I had to let go. I needed to build a life of my own. Right then and there, I decided that I was going to prove to myself that I could make it on my own. As I drove away, I took one last glance at the house in the rear view mirror and smiled.