A Mother and Son's Memory of Leaving Home

My Memory: Our family lived in Royal Oak, Michigan for nine years after my husband accepted a position in the architecture department at Lawrence Tech University. We lived in a rental property for the first year and spent the remaining years in a charming bungalow we renovated on the main drag leading into town. Our boys were five and nine when we left with a large trailer hitched to our over-stuffed car. The majority of our possessions were en route to Raleigh, NC in a big moving van. Royal Oak is where our sons took their first steps, made their first friends, learned to swim, attended their first kindergarten class, rode their first bike, collected coins and Pokemon, listened to Eminem, and understood the meaning of “home.” Ours was a pale shade of pink, hence its nick name, “The Pink House.”

We dug in and made a beautiful life with good friends and solid careers, but always knew in the back of our minds that it was a temporary assignment. The East Coast was where we grew up and knew we belonged. Not so for five and nine-year-old boys. So, the right opportunity came along and the job was accepted. The news was shared with friends; the pink house was painted “eggplant” and sold in one day. There were “going-away" parties and discussions with the boys about larger yards, warmer winters, new pets and friends. I shed my tears gradually and let go. Then came the evening of the move and all hell broke loose when the little guys fell apart (the big one too). Somehow, it had not quite sunken in: they were moving away from the only home they had ever known, that very night!

It wasn’t until years later, that we tuned into the massive knowledge gap that existed between the adult version of leaving and that of the child. Words fall terribly short of conveying such a monumental experience of moving from the only home you have ever known. So, we took our final tour through the home - the boys in tears. Goodbye to the front porch where we watched the raging Midwestern storms pass and our neighbor’s mulch float down the street; goodbye to the living room where we made fires and hosted parties and played with the cats; goodbye to the basement playroom where mischief was made; goodbye to Ian’s room with the bunkbeds and Simon’s room under the eaves with its miniature kitchen set. Goodbye beloved pink house; you served us well.

Simon's Memory: I was born in Royal Oak and all of my earliest memories come from that town, from learning how to ride a bike at the nearby park, to helping my dad build his office out in the backyard (helping as much as a 4-year old could). My whole life centered around this place, my friends, and our house that played such an integral part of my childhood. Our house was colored pink and we always referred to it as the Pink House for obvious reasons. Whenever we went on trips to visit family, I remember inevitably breaking down in tears and crying out that I wanted to go back to the Pink House. That house was filled with memories that I still remember fondly. Since moving down south, every time it snows, I picture jumping off our porch into four feet of snow and nearly disappearing. 

I was not ready to leave that house and the friends that were the only friends that I knew. We began to move out, and somehow in the mix of moving out and the whir of change and activity that comes with it, I missed the memo that we were moving so soon. I found myself playing with my best friend on his swing-set in his backyard, when my parents called me over and told me that we needed to go home and to say goodbye to him. I did and then we headed home and when we arrived my parents then told me to say goodbye to our house. I was taken by complete surprise and abruptly burst into tears. I must have thought that it was happening in the near future and not right in that moment. All my worst fears were realized and then we got in the car and left. 

I’ve haven’t been back to Royal Oak in over a decade but I still hold those first memories close to my heart. I am also eternally grateful to my parents for deciding to move to Raleigh, because I would not have met the friends that I have today and in all likelihood, would be a different person. 

So, our stories align in this next chapter of swapping and sharing old memories. How fortunate we are that our loss is grounded in love.