Four walls, a floor. A roof, and a door. Doors leading to other four walls, windows leading to the other side, the outside. Maybe even a window looking up at the sky? All this, and our things, our dreams, our moments, our memories.
This is what made a home to me. Real estate can assess location, square footage and price all it wants, all I wanted were walls, a floor, and a roof. A few doors and a few windows. All I wanted was a place for my children to grow up in, to make mischief and messes in, and to spread their wings from. A vagabond my whole married life, I wanted permanence, mundaneness, busyness, tiredness. Just an ordinary life bringing up, running with, holding up, my two children.
The walls fell down. The floor cracked, the roof gaped open. The door led in cold, frozen air. The windows were fogged with the breathlessness of death. When the carnage was over, and death left our broken little family stranded in the dark, all that remained of my home was the window to the sky. A suspended window that I look out of every day, toward the sky. Toward the new home of my little explorer.
Do Raahi-s, do explorers, do those on a constant, eternal journey, ever have a home? Surely there is a symbolism in her spending her whole life in a hospital, traveling with us after coming to live with us, and dying in a hotel?
We have spent this past month and half looking for a house to buy. Our means are limited, our list is not long either. We don’t need a lot of space. We just need a place to call our own.
And yet, after a day of looking at homes, making and comparing lists, and focusing on little and big things, as I lay in bed one night, I wondered, is there a place I can really call my own? Should there truly be the security, the certainty of a home for Raahi’s family, when they have been through the harshest insecurity and uncertainty of life itself? Our smallest, newest member, true to her name, never claimed anyone, anything as her own, and lived and died in two temporary places, from where people come and go, and never stay for long. She did not have a room assigned to her, nor a dedicated nursery awaiting her big arrival. Depending on her graduate student father’s new employment, however, her parents had rented the biggest home they would ever live in, in a place far away from her birthplace, and the hospital she was born and lived in.
Her mother, rocking Raahi every day on a hospital-provided rocker near her crib in the NICU, with the clock ticking to the time she would have to put her baby down and head home alone, wished for no new furniture, but a rocker, in her new home. She dreamed of placing it next to the big glass door leading to the backyard. There, after her husband and son would leave for work and school, she would sit and hold Raahi, hold her all day long. She would get up to change and feed her, and sit back again. She would sing to Raahi, play with her fingers, look into her big bright eyes, move her fingers gently on her face, her neck and arms, and tell her that she is finally home, never to go anywhere again, never to be away from her family again. Her mother had promised Raahi, putting her back every night into her crib in the hospital, that she would never put her down at home, and hold her so much and so long, that they would both forget they were ever apart. She had dreamed of taking her little baby out on walks, and of placing her on a mat in the backyard. There, she had promised Raahi, they would have their own little picnic. Raahi would play, lying down, the warm sun on her cheeks, the gentle breeze blowing her black hair, and sometimes making her bright eyes blink, as her mom sat next to her. In the evening, after “the boys” would come home, they would gather near the kitchen, and Raahi would play with her brother, in her playpen, as Ma and Baba watched and cooked dinner.
That was my dream for a home. That was my dream home.
Nine days before our rental home became available, Raahi died in the hotel. She never came to this home, and I vowed never to sit on a rocker again. I seldom go near the door to the backyard, and I do not like the warm sun or the gentle breeze on my face or hair anymore. Her few things were placed in a box, her playpen never unpacked from the move, and they were all stowed away in the guestroom closet. There I sometimes sit, closing the door and liking the darkness and the closedness of the closet. I often stop at the driveway, and look at this home, thinking how it can be home if she never came here. I often wonder if I would have been able to live here, if she had died here.
Owning a home is a big step and a lifestyle change. “You don’t need to compromise, you have to be happy in it,” chimes our confident realtor. She often comments on how easygoing and “reasonable” clients we are, liking most things, accommodating others. She knows about Raahi, and is patient with us not knowing how many bedrooms we need in a home. “If I were to have another baby” is a sentence I utter during every showing she arranges for us. Even the uncertainty of a future pregnancy seems to be a stronger determinant of our needs than the reality of a lost child. Raahi is never assigned a room. She has no need that we know of.
Here, in our quest to plant our roots in a new community, I feel uprooted as Raahi’s mother. I, a true gypsy who felt unsettled her whole life, had come home with my daughter. My explorer had settled me. Then she left alone on her voyage. Am I true to her legacy if I settle down? Can there be a home for us when she is on a journey?
Four walls, a roof. A floor, a door. A few windows, one always, always opening to the sky. A place to live and grow old in, and a place to house my broken family. Maybe a refuge from the storm, maybe a hideout from the outside world. But never to fill out the empty space, and always temporary, always by the road, always incomplete.
Never a home.
What thoughts did you harbor about bringing up your family in your home? What does "home" mean to you after the death of your child(ren)?