A Look Back At Day One

February 15, 2020, was my last day in Austin, TX. Last day as a homeowner. First day as a van dweller. 

I have a lot of wonderful stories from this year on the road. So much more amazing than I ever could have imagined. I’ll share more insights and photographs of our joyous adventures, but first, I want to reflect on this time last year, when my journey began. 

Those last two weeks in Austin were rough, to say the least. I was so emotionally tapped out I could barely form sentences. It felt like moving through gauzy dreams. I was in the final throes of clearing possessions, finalizing accounts, cramming in last-minute doctor and vet appointments, and preparing my house for its new owner. I’d made plans to see so many friends one last time before leaving, but none of those happened. 

When COVID forced me, along with the rest of the world, to sit in one place for two months in quarantine earlier this year, I decided to process my last morning in Austin. This is what I wrote: 

The day had arrived. The final day in this house. My house. My home for the past eight years. Walls whitewashed and neutralized. All belongings cleared. It was a strange feeling, leaving some things in place. The living and dining rooms were staged for professional photographs. Yellow dining room chairs tucked under a dark wooden table, ready for the next meal. The large denim blue sectional perfectly fluffed and poised for movie night or conversations with friends. The 1979 Zenith console stereo sat silent, ready to purr music through its warm, crackling speakers. A large part of my childhood, it lived in my bedroom where my small body lay atop it, feeling the vibration of music from records spinning beneath me. I was grateful the new owner wanted to keep it.

In the spare bedroom, clean, crisp bed linens, a fluffy, welcoming pillow, and a cool modern nightstand awaited the next guest. Outside, the patio was dressed to the nines and ready for a barbecue. The yard was trimmed and an emblazoned rich green. The oak trees stood their ground and cast watchful shadows. It was the center tree I’d miss the most. I’d grown a strong fondness for it. Around the corner of the house, in the dormant wildflower garden, I left two cactuses I’d owned since first arriving in Austin. Eighteen-year-old cactuses. They were like family to me, had traveled from house to house to house, and now it was time for us to part ways. 

I’d awakened in a start. Anxiety and exhaustion raced through my veins. He would arrive at 9:30 am. My life would make a hard shift at 9:45 am.

I fed Mabel and made coffee. And cried. I stood in the kitchen, looked at my house for the last time. And cried. I walked through each room, checking for the 962nd time for anything left behind. And cried. I sat on the warm concrete in the backyard and looked out at the rusted and oxidized iron pipe retaining wall. Each pipe overflowed with a cactus or flower. Iron pipes brought from my parents’ house in Oklahoma and repurposed as lawn décor. And cried. I walked to the center oak, placed my forehead against its rough bark, and cried as I thanked it for allowing me to share its space, and said goodbye. Mabel meowed and thrust her body against the concrete in a twisting back scratch maneuver. I sat next to her and cried while explaining she was about to embark on an eight-hour journey in a cramped pet taxi, and that she’d never see this home again. I would never see this home again. Paco would never bark at these squirrels again. I wouldn’t see the flowers or trees bloom in Spring. 

Minutes dragged on for hours. I was anxious to leave and nostalgic to stay. I moved Mabel into the pet taxi and into the van far too early. Neighbors texted to ask if they could come to say goodbye, and did I want coffee. Yes, and yes, I did. I cried the moment my eyes fell on them, embracing both for what I hoped wouldn’t be the last time. I gripped my cup of coffee hard as if doing so would hold myself intact. We stood talking, my tears inspiring tears in their eyes. 

This move was a good thing. A great thing. An exciting thing. Pulling the final strand of my roots from the Austin soil did not feel great. It felt painful and hard. It was hard. I was only fooling myself in believing it would be easy. I had put so much into that house. It held so many memories, both good and bad, but all part of the fabric of my life. All interwoven tightly into my Austin identity that I was now ripping off with a feeling of peeling my flesh from my bones. 

I had parceled out all my belongings. Donated items I’d spent weeks, sometimes months over-analyzing and budgeting for. I handed my life over, box by box, to various Goodwill locations and friends. I left my job. I gave my car away. Cut ties with a life I had so diligently curated and built and guarded for eighteen years. Who would I be on the other side of this? I was eager to find out, but the voyage to that point felt arduous. 

9:30 am approached. I waited inside, repositioning the file folder filled with owner’s manuals, invoices, and all house-related material the new homeowner might need. I opened all the kitchen drawers. I’d left the silverware, knives, and a cabinet filled with more spices than any person could use in a lifetime. I checked the refrigerator, all the rooms, toilets were flushed, lights flipped on and off, the backyard was still intact. I spread my hands across the kitchen countertop and allowed it to support me as I tried to collect my thoughts in hope of speaking in coherent sentences when he arrived. 

The sound of a closing car door cracked my heart open and sent it plummeting into my stomach. He knocked. I opened the door and greeted him with, “Welcome home.” It didn’t flow off my tongue as energetically as I’d imagined, but instead croaked out through choked tears, tripping over the lump in my throat.

We awkwardly traveled through the house in a final walkthrough. I answered his questions with lengthier, more detailed responses than required. Garage door openers were handed over and tested. I removed keys from my keyring. We walked to the mailbox to retrieve an envelope addressed to him. I’d seen it there two days earlier but acted surprised by the discovery. I tried to appear excited for him and his new life as a homeowner.

He was a nice man. I was grateful to have chosen him as the buyer. Everything went smoothly, better than I ever anticipated. Fifteen offers in thirty-six hours. I’d taken the ease of everything as a Universal sign I was making the right decisions. This was the right path for me. It was the right time for me to shed this skin. I still believed it, but change is hard. Anyone who says differently is lying to both themself and you. 

His excitement was palpable, and I strained hard to retain my tears. I wanted to be happy for him. I wanted to be happy for myself. I’ve never been good at goodbyes, even with inanimate objects, and saying goodbye to my home, my belongings, my friends, acquaintances, routines, favorite eateries, ice cream shops, and even the grocery store was painful. I knew I could always return and all, or at least most things would still be there. I also knew when I returned, I would not be the same person I was when I left. 

We got to the point of the interaction where everything had been said, signed, exchanged, and reviewed. It was akin to the awkward moment when you’re about to walk away from someone you like and aren’t sure what what to say next, or if you should even say anything at all. My usual response to such situations is to abruptly say goodbye and bolt, which is what I attempted to do. Whatever dam had been holding my tears was about to give way. I wanted to be in the safety of the van before the floodwaters broke through. 

He followed me out. I don’t remember what words were spoken then. He pulled his phone from his pocket and asked if I would take photos of him. I took the phone. He posed in front of the door, my door that was now his door, and held the keys up in a proud display. A wide smile beamed from his face. He was officially a first-time homeowner. My old home now his new home. I handed the phone back and cracked. All attempts to conceal my emotions were futile. Though I didn’t know him, I hugged him tight while on the verge of a major bawl that I managed to reign in, somehow. 

Through snotty, tearful inhales, I thanked him for the hug, wished him the very best, and that I hoped he would have a long and prosperous life in the house. His eyes filled with tears. I didn’t even care how crazy I may have seemed. My emotions were too raw to retain. I walked to the van, put it in drive, waved goodbye to my home, its new owner, and every comfort I’d cushioned around my life in Austin. 

I drove slowly out of my neighborhood, sobbing silent goodbyes. Retrieved Paco from boarding and cried while saying goodbye to the familiar faces we’d both come to know and love. Merging onto I-35 to head north on a route I knew by heart, I watched Austin grow smaller in my rearview. Sobs obscuring my eyesight like driving through a storm. The notion of pulling over crossed my mind, but I feared reality might catch me too quickly. If I kept pushing myself forward just long enough to get to my destination, then I could stop. Then I would be ready for all these emotions to catch up. Then I would have the strength to process them, or at least so I thought. In reality, exhaustion knocked me out flat for a solid three days, and it would take weeks before my new reality would begin to feel real.

*** 

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