Eight years ago this weekend, Rob and I closed on our home in Seattle and moved in. I was seven months pregnant with our fourth child, a daughter, and we wanted to be settled before she arrived. That house in Seattle was, in L.M. Montgomery’s words, our “house of dreams.” A beautiful home in a lovely neighborhood, it signaled the end of a decade of hard years. A fresh, new, hopeful beginning. I still remember that new home smell and our children’s excitement as they ran from one empty room to the next.
For the next seven years, we built our house of dreams in this home we affectionately nicknamed “Little Red.” We hung a swing on its ample front porch and spent summer evenings watching the kids race up and down the street on their bikes. Rob built a giant clubhouse in the backyard where we’d tried (and failed) to do a little suburban gardening. On weeknights after the dinner dishes were cleared, Rob and I sat together at the end of the spacious upstairs hallway and officiated foot races between our little boys who would run from one end of the house to the other yelling, “The race is on!” On Sunday nights, our living room filled for compline and dinner with friends who became family. It was such a good life.
I look back at pictures taken in that house, and they seem to me not just years but a lifetime away. I look at photographs of myself, before I knew my heart could shatter, and the shock and disbelief returns. Who am I now? How could this really be happening? Is this life really gone forever? And the man who hung the Lord of the Rings poster in the garage? The husband who brought me peanut butter smoothies and pain meds in bed after my surgeries? The father who hoisted his little ones into his arms to reach the basketball hoop in the drive, who called football plays in the backyard? How could he really be gone?
These days, the most painful photographs to look at are not those taken right before Rob died. The ones that cut the deepest are the pictures of our happy past. The albums we were supposed to leaf through together as gray-haired empty nesters and reminisce about. The photographs that would prompt the memories and the stories of the years we shared in that house. I look at them now, and my heart is undone. He will never sit and reminisce about those years with me, all the years our kids are too little to recall. When I remember, I will remember alone. I will be the sole custodian of those happy golden years. How will I ever remember it all without him? How do I live now without him? I look at our smiling faces and I long to go back to those days when we lived in blissful ignorance. When we had no idea what sorrow the future could bring. I want to step into those photographs and hide away. I want to open that red front door and see him standing there.