Today was a hard day. I drove from Brooklyn to northeast Pennsylvania to say goodbye to what had been my summer home for 9 years, and to collect my things. This farmhouse and it’s 300 acres of land has been in my ex’s family for generations. His grandfather passed away in 2003 at which point the family (who have all moved away from the area) came to clean the house. I was a part of this. It was a difficult thing for the family, grieving the loss of their father and figuring out what to do with this old and neglected house that no one really wanted to invest time or money into.
My ex and I decided we would adopt it and use it as our place for summer weekends. Please understand just how run down this place is: mold and mildew rises from the basement, the water intake is a spider-filled cement pit on top of a hill that is clogged with mud every spring. I would hold onto my ex’s legs and he hung upside down unclogging the pipes. Every drawer in the kitchen was broken. Every cupboard had something moldy and rotting in it… probably blankets. There was a stair case hallway that could only have been organized by hoarders. As well as the three boarded-up rooms upstairs that had decades of junk stored in them.
Ceiling plaster breaks and falls in this place. It’s had ants, mice, and bats. Every spring something major would break. One year it was the pipe running underground to the water source: water had been left in it over winter which expanded and burst the pipe. Another year the wastewater pipe clogged. The toilet caved in through the floor (did I mention the damp and mold problem?).
At first I was terrified to sleep in this place. It was so creepy. But I did it for my ex. And as time went by we made it our own, and I came to love it.
Over the years I painted the garage, painted the trim, raked the leaves, scrubbed the porch, built framed screens for the basement windows (mold!), painted the pig scalding cauldron the family proudly displays in the yard as a planter, stripped then repainted outdoor metal chairs from the sixties. I cleaned out closets and organized them. I painted old furniture. I tore down a damaged drop ceiling. I painted the kitchen and the bathroom after a furnace blowback coated the walls with grease and soot. I built a fence to hide the compost behind. I helped my ex garden in the hot summer dirt for days, collecting spider bites as we transplanted tiger lilies along the road. I removed dead animals from the yard. I helped a lamb untangle itself from barbed wire.
May was when we opened the farm for the season: wrestling with the plumbing and the fussy pump in the basement. My mother and sister joined us and planted gardens around the property. In June the fireflies came out and we would sit in the yard at night and watch the hills glow. In July we would hang out at the local town’s parade. We’d watch shooting stars laying on the driveway at night. I’d bake cakes from recipes I found in Martha Stewart Living to make my farm seem a bit tasteful. In August we’d hike in a local park full of waterfalls. I’d play guitar by campfire. We’d watch the sunset from a special spot on a hill. We watched hawks. We discovered a beaver dam in the woods. One time we were scared by a hissing mink. We would bring our cats to visit. My childhood cat actually passed away at the farm.
He and I made that place what it is. No family members spent time there before we fixed it up, lived in it, and brought it back to life.
This place is my home. We would rock in rocking chairs that I purchased for our anniversary, hold hands, and dream about the future and all the possibilities for the land and the house.
There’s a cemetery nearby where every generation of my ex’s family is buried. We planned on being buried there together.
Today I drove and collected my belongings. I couldn’t bare the thought of waiting until May, when my ex will be opening up the place with a new boyfriend, supervising me as I pack up, robbing me of dignity.
As if I’m a stranger in that house.
I have no financial stake in the place, but it was mine. Now my ex refers to it as, “his family’s house.”
I said goodbye in an angry way. In the way I needed to. I didn’t even want a lot of the stuff there. I just wanted to collect the part of me that lived there, and save it, and keep it mine.