Monday, August 27, 2007

My Big White House

In August 1987, my family moved away from the pretty, curved lanes of our Wilmette neighborhood to the unknown--Lebanon, Ohio. There are few things I remember about this period of time (I was, after all, only 32 months old). Mainly, I remember the large cardboard boxes, whose rough edges, in my many attempts to make forts or climb them, managed to slice open my hands and knees many times over. I also remember a profound sense of sadness, though I couldn't quite place that description of feeling at the time. I knew things were different than they had been and that things were changing. I simply didn't like it.

Then, one night, shortly before we left, my mom took me on a walk around our neighborhood. It was one of those walks where we brought the stroller, but I would jump out and then push the contraption myself, playing Mama to my doll Baby Nikki, who was named after our six-year-old neighbor (who I revered). We trailed about the quiet black street, the decorative rocks that flanked the road catching the last orange-pink light of sunset. It had rained earlier that day, and the wetness held fast onto the light in its last moments. My mom had already explained the move to me several times, but I asked a lot about it. As we rounded onto another street, she explained again.

"We have to leave Caitlin's Big White House"--that's what I called our home--"to move into a New Big White House," she told me. The prospect that the new house would also be Big and White was somewhat reassuring, although not entirely welcoming. But it wasn't just the house I didn't want to leave--I didn't want to leave Nikki, or our other neighbors, or the garden we had, or this neighborhood. My entire world revolved around about a square mile radius around Lake Avenue and Meadowlane Road, and I wasn't about to leave it.

As I shuffled my feet along the blacktop, I spotted a different white house, not quite so big, but close enough to our home. "Couldn't we move to This Big White House?" I asked.

"No, honey," my mom said. And then she explained why, but I stopped listening because I realized that it was inevitable. We were leaving My Big White House, we were leaving my world.

Eventually, my parents closed the sale on our house, and that night we stayed in a motel near Old Orchard. We hit the road in the middle of the night--3 AM, actually--so we could be in Lebanon the next morning for my parents to finalize those papers as well. I don't remember any of this, but I do remember stopping at a Perkins somewhere in Indiana as the sun approached rising. I wore my Doctor Denton's jammies and padded around the restaurant, excited now about all the activity.

I fell asleep for the rest of the trip and woke up as we pulled into Lebanon. My eyes adjusted to the light as my neck, gone limp in sleep with my head lilting onto my right shoulder, now craned to see what was around me. As things came into focus, a large, baby blue building towered over me at the corner of what I'd later know as Broadway and Silver Streets. We continued down the town's main street, already bustling with weekend tourists, and finally made a left turn to trudge up our long, hilly driveway. There, at the top, was the New White House.

I'd like to say that it was here--where I got out of our Jeep Wagoneer, running about our huge yard, hugging the towering trees and chasing butterflies--that I fell in love with my house, that I adjusted. But I don't remember. Here, everything goes fuzzy again. My mom tells me that I cried sometimes before bed and asked when we could go back to My Big White House. I didn't understand, it seemed, that this wasn't just a long vacation where we brought all of our belongings. But, evidently, I adjusted. This New Big White House allowed for lots of Big Changes as August slipped into fall that year--a big girl bed, potty training, some light swimming lessons. And eventually, it wasn't the New Big White House, it was just My House and it was home.

I guess I write this out so that as I pack up the things around me, interview for more jobs, try to convince my parents that I haven't ruined my career future and cope with leaving behind a city, a boyfriend, and a life that I love, I can remember that it'll be okay. That there are more Big White Houses in my future.

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