A Place to Call Home

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House Key
03 Apr 2008

When the realtor called right before Shavuot, I had a cheesecake in the oven and a five week old baby on my shoulder. She said she found the house for us and we needed to come out to New Jersey right now to look at it. I couldn’t go look at a house, I couldn’t even see straight. I told her that but she wasn’t listening. “By tomorrow morning this house will be gone. And it’s your house!” She hung up. I was tired of her, tired of this house hunt, tired of everything. I called my husband and told him. So, we set out on the hour long drive from Brooklyn to New Jersey to see yet another house. The baby screamed the whole way. Twice we pulled over and I crawled into the back to see if her tiny head had slipped under the car seat straps, if something was poking her, hurting her. Nope, nothing. She was just miserable.

Finally, we got to the house. It was almost dark by then. I’m sure there must have been some kind of front lawn but I couldn’t see it. We hurried inside with the baby bag, the bottle, my notebook and pen. I looked around. In the entryway, there were two busy, patterned rugs. The air was still and heavy with the cloying scent of potpourri. I took a step forward and bumped into a chair set awkwardly before the fireplace. It was a dark chair, facing a wall. Pictures covered every surface. Pictures of people I didn’t know baring their teeth at me. On mirrored shelves stood a collection of what seemed like a hundred miniature elephants. There was nowhere for the eye to rest. The sights and scents of the family’s life in this house assaulted me. I felt like an unwilling voyeur, an intruder. I knew more than I wanted to know.

We entered the living room, the homeowners were there. I wondered, vaguely, why in a room with green and yellow graphic wallpaper, they had put a dark wood table covered with a burgundy and navy patterned cloth. I didn’t say that though, I said, “You have a lovely home.” That’s what you’re supposed to say.

Afterward, with their eyes following us we trudged up the stairs to the second floor. Dark paneled bedrooms, closed windows, closets full of other people’s clothing. The shelving paper was orange and avocado green. In the master bedroom, dingy curtains forced out the light. I turned away.

Back in the hallway, my husband and the realtor whispered excitedly. When did those two become partners? We went up to the third floor, more bedrooms, more closets, more stuff. I felt dizzy. Later, the realtor cornered us in the basement. “So, what do you think?” A huge freezer hummed. I pulled it open and peeked inside. A thousand silver wrapped packages stared back at me. I couldn’t fathom what kind of people would need that much food. It seemed unnatural. The baby was crying again. Who could blame her?

“I hate this place”, I whispered to my husband. This house made me feel like whispering. But he didn’t whisper. He started talking about things that could be knocked down and other things that could be put up. I knew I’d never had an eye for what could be, could only see what already was. I didn’t want to make this decision now. I just wanted to get home, get in bed, get a couple hours sleep before it was time to nurse the baby again, take the other kids to school. I didn’t care if we bought the house, I just wanted to get back to my little apartment.

On the ride home, the baby finally slept. I rested my head against the seatback. My husband spoke in his quiet voice, seriously, persuasively. He could always make me calm, that was why I married him. He mentioned the big bedrooms, the window seat, a yard for the kids. In his gentle voice, the house sounded spacious, welcoming. I didn’t see it, but maybe he did. “Let’s make that house our home,” he said.

It was clear and bright the day we moved in. The baby cooed and gurgled as we lifted her out of the car seat. The sun was shining down on the cheerful green grass of the lawn, the crisper green of the bushes. We opened the door and I called out “Hello! Hello!” laughingly. “Hello! Hello!” our house called back. We walked inside. The place had been emptied of all the furniture, the mismatched rugs, the gloomy chair. Even the herd of elephants had marched away. The emptiness was clean, cleansing. I breathed deeply and felt the space around me. My baby crawled happily on the smooth wooden floor.

Upstairs, I knew empty bedrooms waited for my children and their toys and books and jokes and whispers. The walls were blank canvases for my own family’s faces. I stood in the center of the room. A shaft of sunlight streamed in through the window and I could see tiny dust motes dancing gracefully in the ray. I twirled around with my arms spread out. My husband caught my hand and smiled. Home Sweet Home.

Yael Zoldan is a Brooklyn girl, who lives in Passaic, New Jersey, with her husband and children. Somewhere between carpool and laundry she finds the time to write.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.