We fell in love with this house the moment we walked in the front door with the realtor who had it listed. We had all three of the kids with us (there were only three then!) – Henry, J and E – plus Henry’s best friend Max.
The house had only been listed for a day or so, and we were only the first or second people to look at it. It was ridiculously huge, absurdly old, wildly impractical, and needed a TON of work.
But as the kids happily ran up and down the stairs and around the backyard and settled in on the front porch swing, Jon and I looked at each other and grinned. We knew this was our house.
Henry, E and Max on the front porch on the day we first looked at our house.
The upstairs was particularly dilapidated, but the space and windows and light were amazing. Even the kids could see the potential, and as soon as Henry saw the room that would become his that first day, he claimed it.
Henry’s bedroom on the day we all first toured what would become our house.
So the room became Henry’s. He plastered the dingy, still unpainted walls with posters and his own artwork and Indian paisley cloth hangings, and he really loved his space. He and his friends spent many happy evenings playing guitar and hanging out in his room, and he and I had many long talks sitting on his bed in there while I rubbed his feet, which he loved. I often pointed out to him that at night, looking out his bedroom windows, he could see the lights of the hospital maternity floor where he’d been born, located on a tall hill about half a mile away. We both thought that was pretty neat.
With everything the house needed (and it still needs a whole lot; it’s a work in progress) we hadn’t yet gotten around to renovating Henry’s bedroom when at age 17, he left home for what would end up being 9 months of inpatient addiction treatment in 2 different states. Because Henry was a teenage boy and didn’t care so much that his walls were still unpainted, we fixed up J and E’s upstairs bedrooms first, and they turned out great. They’re awesome bedrooms.
But while Henry was gone, in happy anticipation of his return, I completely made over his bedroom in a way I thought he would like. With the help of our good friend Jerry, Jon repaired the dinged up drywall, and I chose a color called “zen blue” for the walls. I bought new curtains and sheets and pillows. I couldn’t wait to show it to him when he got home.
Henry died only a few months after he returned home. He didn’t get much more time to enjoy the bedroom in which he had spent his adolescence.
After he died, his little sister immediately announced that she wanted to move out of her own bedroom – next to Henry’s and for which she’d personally selected cheery pink and orange colors and curtains and bedding only a year or two previously – and into her big brother’s room. This didn’t make much sense, but who was I to judge? I was in a total fog, and frankly, I could barely bring myself to go upstairs at all after Henry died. So J decamped to Henry’s room and has lived there for the past 17 months. Her bright, sunny bedroom that she had decorated herself sat half empty and unused.
Two weeks ago, J just as suddenly announced that she was moving back into her own room – no real reason given. So she and her little brother E spent all Saturday afternoon moving her stuff back into her bedroom. She now says she’s very glad to be in her own cheery, girly space with all her belongings reunited. But I think she did what she needed to do for the time she lived in her brother’s room. I understand.
This week, while J and E were away at their father’s house, I went upstairs and really looked around for the first time in a VERY long time. Henry’s room sat empty once again, except for the clothes he’d left in his closet and that J had not disturbed during her temporary layover in there. I sat in the middle of his floor and cried and cried and cried AND CRIED.
Most of Henry’s things are still upstairs – his shoes and his lacrosse stick and his favorite books and his school backpack… I just haven’t been able to face dealing with them, so they’ve stayed wherever they were last put up there in closets and drawers or leaning in corners of the huge main upstairs room.
This week, after J made her transition back to her own space, I decided to claim Henry’s room as my own. I’d been trying to figure out what to do with
Guest room? Storage? Shrine left untouched forevermore? But this idea of a room of my own came to me suddenly and just felt right.
I’ve never in my entire adult life had a space all my own – an office or a retreat or a writing room or whatever you want to call it. But I decided this is what I wanted and needed to do. And also, I have to stop avoiding the entire second floor of our house, where, since Henry died, I have regularly gone WEEKS at a time without stepping one foot up there, and even when I do, I rush back downstairs as quickly as possible. As a result, E in particular has kind of avoided his own bedroom since May 31,2010 because I think he felt like if his Mom didn’t want to be upstairs with all those memories of his big brother, and with all of Henry’s things left where they lay, he didn’t want to be up there either.
So that’s what I decided – it was time for to go upstairs, turn the lights back on, and for me to face sorting and putting away all of Henry’s clothing and belongings.
And I want to make his room into a room for me not as some kind of unhealthy shrine to my dead child, but definitely as a place where I do feel close to him.
So bit by bit, I’ve been working on this project. I started by cleaning out his closet and packing away his coats and shirts. I sobbed without ceasing as I did this.
Then I began turning Henry’s room into my own room – although I think it will always feel more like our room. I’ve been doing everything all by myself, mostly when everyone else is asleep – including hauling heavy furniture in and out of the room – because this process feels like something important for me to undertake myself.
Continue reading Part Two.