What I’ll Accept

“Accept whatever comes to you woven in the pattern of your destiny, for what could more aptly fit your needs?”
—–Marcus Aurelius

I’m still trying to write Part Two because I wrote Part One and I already posted something in-between, but I can’t quite get there because this is the story that wants to come out, and really, it can be An Ordinary Miracle in its own right.

And I’m wanting to write this because for whatever reason it was that came over me, I seized a box of photos from when my kids were little and so many years away from losing the innocence that’s their birthright, tore through them and picked out the cutest of the cute and took them to my therapist to show her.

“Here,” I said as I walked in. “Look. I don’t know why, but I had to show you.”

There should be a word for the kind of loneliness you’re left with when someone you love more than life – or maybe you love life because of them, or maybe you’re not so sure what you feel about life, but you do know they’re what makes it bearable – when that one you love is all of a sudden dead. Just…dead. One minute they’re here, then they’re not, and one year, eight months and three days later you still can’t believe it and no matter how much good you know they’ve helped you see even though they’re dead,  you just don’t see how you’re going to go on much more without them.

Signs” notwithstanding.

We moved to Montclair when Philip was seven and Natalie five. Phil and I had been looking for a house in nearby Verona, which was somewhat less expensive. But our realtor’s office was in Montclair and the more we drove through it, the more Montclair’s funky, artsy, hipster, stately atmosphere started to feel like home, and I began to wonder why we were driving away from the place I wanted to live instead of toward it.

So Phil and I decided to expand our search into Montclair, and two weeks later I did something I hadn’t once thought to do during the five months we’d been on the hunt. I opened the real estate section of The New York Times on Saturday morning and saw a “Cozy and Charming” house for Sale by Owner in Montclair at a price that made me think there must be something wrong with it. There were built-in corner cabinets in the dining room and I don’t know why that’s what they mentioned in the ad instead of the the huge backyard with the deck and the patio and the stand of six cedar trees that stood guard over the large plot of grass just beyond them. But corner cabinets worked for me. I’m a sucker for aged and charming and “built-in” anything.

I made an appointment to see it on Sunday. Even if “Cozy and Charming” turned out to be “Cramped and Confined,” at least we’d spend some time in Montclair.

So next day we went to see it with Philip, but without Natalie, who hated car rides and asked if she could stay with Grandma, promising she’d come to NJ when we bought a house and were really going to live there.

Montclair is a lovely, hilly, hip and shaggy-tree town. It has lots of parks and a 408-acre reservation that spans three towns. It has movie theaters that show Manhattan-movies and restaurants and shops that make weekend parking impossible. It has a museum and a university, an uptown, a downtown and even a town in the middle. There’s the diversity of the not-so-mini-mansion-rich and lower-east side poor. And it’s filled with artists and writers and journalists and actors. High-level creatives, the kind of people I imagined had something I didn’t but living among them felt right even if I wound up keeping mostly to myself anyway.

When we pulled up in front of the house, I did what I always did – got out of the car, looked up and down the block, stood for a moment and asked, How do I feel?? To my surprise, the answer was good. Like, really good. Like, I think I could wake up and come outside and be really-glad-I-live-here good.

You already know the end of the story – we bought the house. But more importantly, we bought a home.

I suspect most of the house-buying-and-selling-thing is a transaction of the kind Nadiya had to suffer. Where the realtors swoop in, take the soul out of the house and hussle you out the back door when the buyer’s coming in the front. So the people who are making one of the biggest decisions they’ll ever make in their lives don’t get to meet each other until maybe it’s all said and done. I don’t know how it got to be like that, but welcome to Real Estate 2013. Me? I got lucky. I got Sam and Gina.

Sam and Gina raised their two kids in that house, but with a third on the way, they needed more room. They didn’t want to leave as much as they felt they had to. But it was the home they’d spent years creating and no matter how many realtors called begging to sell it for them, they said no, we want to try to sell this ourselves.

(And as I found out later, one of those realtors was mine, who called Sam and Gina and said, “I know a couple this house is perfect for – and I can get them to pay you $25,000 more for it!”)

The house was smaller than what I’d imagined for us, but its advertised Charm-and-Cozy actually was Charm-and-Cozy. The yard was lovely, with a wooden swing set in one corner and and a shed that looked straight out of a farmhouse with red siding and white trim in the other. And when a bunny leapt past me as I stood outside contemplating all this, I knew this was my  house.

And I suspect Sam and Gina thought the same when, sitting at their dining room table making our offer, the French Doors slid open and Philip walked in. He’d been in the yard playing with their five-year-old daughter. “Excuse me,” he said, addressing himself to Gina. “But the little girl went into the barn and I don’t know if she’s supposed to.”

No, she wasn’t supposed to, since what Philip meant by “the barn” was the shed in the corner with the lawn mower and paint cans and garden tools and bug spray and pretty much every parent’s toxic nightmare all stashed into one spot. Sam ran out to get her while Gina gushed her thanks to Philip. And on the way home in the car, I turned to Philip and said, “You know, if we get that house, it’s because of you.”

Which I did and do believe. Because when Sam called us that night to congratulate us, he also let us know they turned down a higher offer because Gina was firm that the house needed to have children, and I knew it was Philip she had on her mind.

I’m not immune to the what-ifs, but thank God I don’t take them seriously. It’s crossed my mind that, well, what-if we didn’t buy that house, what-if we’d moved to Verona instead, what-if we’d chosen a different school for Philip to go to. Except more than that is the way my past has been woven, the way one story overlaps with another and how I can’t unravel one thread without unraveling it all. And Philip has been so much a part of whatever’s recognizably mystical in my life that even though I hate that I have to accept that he’s dead, I’m willing to accept he’s not gone.

© 2013 Denise Smyth

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12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. behindthemaskofabuse
    Oct 26, 2013 @ 15:03:26

    Hugs friend. xo

    Reply

  2. tric
    Oct 26, 2013 @ 15:30:00

    Lovely post. Photos really bring the past back, and in a way give it life again. My best friend this very night is beside her 13 year olds bed as he is once again seriously ill. He got leukemia at xmas and since then I cannot count the number of times she was in danger of losing him, This time it looks worse than ever and we wait for news. It is so sad. Sometimes when I read your posts I wonder which is harder, to see your child suffer for ten months at such a young age with the possibility of death at the end or to lose him suddenly. Neither is one I think a mother can fully recover from.

    Reply

  3. Denise
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 15:26:54

    I guess you can’t say which is harder – but I think it would’ve been worse to watch Philip suffer and then lose him. Because on top of all the awful ways I feel, I’d have added memories of him suffering with me being helpless. But then, who knows? I think of Elizabeth Blue, and Lucia was blessed to have been with Elizabeth when she moved on. But the bottom line is as you said – it’s nothing a mother can full recover from.

    Reply

  4. tersiaburger
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 19:30:08

    Hugs xoxoxx

    Reply

  5. Denise
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 19:32:33

    And many xoxoxoxo to you.

    You okay?

    Reply

  6. tersiaburger
    Oct 28, 2013 @ 12:26:10

    Vic died over many years. There were times that I prayed that she would die and there were times that I was grateful that we got to say everything we wanted to say. The goodbye became too long and protracted and emotionally debilitating. When Vic realised that she was dying is was so hard for her to say goodbye to her boys and friends. There is no easy or difficult way of losing a child. It is hell. Sheer, undiluted hell.

    Reply

  7. Denise
    Oct 28, 2013 @ 12:54:57

    Yes, Tersia, it is; and I know you’re not “okay,” it was just my way of reaching out to tell you that I’m thinking of you.

    Reply

  8. Susie M
    Oct 28, 2013 @ 14:02:38

    beautiful. ❤

    Reply

  9. Becki Duckworth
    Dec 19, 2013 @ 21:47:22

    The house sounds exactly like what I would choose. I love built in-ins.

    Reply

  10. Denise
    Dec 21, 2013 @ 01:36:52

    It’s a sweet little house. Not so little, maybe, but it’s surrounded by houses twice the size.

    Reply

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