It's inevitable

I've been doing a lot of painting since we moved into our little condo. I like painting but it's harder than it used to be. Squatting and reaching and bending for hours is hard on my aging body. But I take another ibuprofen and keep painting, because I am driven to make this space ours as quickly as I can. The paint roller moves and the old, washed-out colors—the betraying evidence of another's life—disappear. Instant affirmation; I am here.

Our condo was built in the early 90s and has no doubt had many owners. The most recent before ourselves did some upgrading: new appliances, new sinks, new counters in kitchen and baths. For the most part I like what they did, but the need to make it mine is strong. Hence the painting, new lights, and new gas fireplace.

This need to paper over other's choices can sometimes cause problems. I vividly remember the day the former owner of our very first house decided to drop in unexpectedly. He seemed very ancient to my late-20s eyes. I think now he was probably about 80. He and his wife had lived in the house for many years and he was homesick. So he came home again, to the place that held his happiness.

But that place no longer existed. Appalled by a dining-room wall papered with ducks that flew straight at you, we had torn them off, just as we had the floral paper in the living room. The interior was freshly painted and the kitchen wore new linoleum. The poor man was as appalled as we had been by the duck wallpaper. I tried to talk to him, to explain that it was our first house, that we wanted it to feel like ours, that we loved the house—and all the other things one might say to a distraught, elderly gentleman. It was no use. He left in tears, grateful that his wife had not come along. I felt like crying with him.

It was a good lesson though.

Dwellings are highly personal and unique to their owners in ways that even frequent visitors can't recognize. This is as it should be. But leaving such a home is a wrench. It takes time for an unfamiliar empty shell to capture and absorb one's personal uniqueness, to be a stage for one's personal narrative. Belonging arrives slowly, in fits and starts, but with effort it does arrive.

And so I'll keep painting until I've covered every wall, every corner, every baseboard, determindly putting our stamp on this unfamiliar shell where we reside. And the day will come when I look around and suddenly feel that we are truly home again. It may take awhile, but it's inevitable.