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The door

The front door is where it all began every day. Not to take anything away from my old job, but when I think of home, the day begins when I return from work. In recent years I never quite knew what I was getting into until I got there, stood in front of our door, and opened it.

Sometimes what lay within was drown out by sounds outdoors – the weather, the tree blowing in the wind, children playing across the street, a dog barking for its release from a leash and a good chase, or a car accelerating from a stop at the sign in front of our house. Other times it was clear – Adam and Beth playing a high impact game or waging high impact conflict. But don’t let me fool you. This kind of uncertainty added spice to life, not burden. The door was like a present waiting to be opened. Sometimes it was a pair of socks you’d just as soon exchange for cash. Other times it was a surprise you’d remember for the rest if your life.

It’s simple as doors go: white paint, wood sheathed in steel shaped to look like wood. But now it’s taken on a deeper meaning. It’s a symbol for moving, leaving… closing. It’s a gateway to the Kauffman world as it once existed, but no longer works. It’s a door that never truly opens.

I still have a key, a token which reminds me of a time when it did. But when I unlock it now and pass through I’m someplace else – someplace empty. Memories still live inside the door, but little else.

In the days (or weeks) to come, I hope to take you on a little tour and tell you about some of my memories from the other side of our door.


For Sale

You’ve heard a picture is worth a thousand words, but have you ever considered words can have infinite meaning? It’s the beauty of language; this thing our gray matter dreamed up to communicate. It’s so complex it’s a wonder we can keep it straight, and it explains why so many of us have trouble capturing its intricacies in print.

Just the words “for sale” can mean several things to different people, depending on context, inflection, or tone. They can explain one’s principles or one’s property, their meaning completely different. They can conjure countless stories from your imagination: like the broken dreams of a sign in a small, abandoned shop downtown, or the excitement of a brighter future posted in the yard of a modest home.

To me, they mean giving up. I knew the words were inevitable for months, but my heart didn’t truly accept them until last weekend. We agreed to call a realtor and put our home up for sale.

Funny word, “accept,” or maybe just the wrong one. I feel anything but accepting. I feel resigned. I feel broken.

I feel crushed by responsibility.

Don’t try this at home kids, I’m a professional. I’m of course referring to self-pity.

If I was more ambitious we’d have more income. If I wasn’t sick we wouldn’t have so many expenses. If I was more disciplined we wouldn’t have quite as much crap we really don’t need.

Whatever the reason, we find ourselves in the same boat many others do, maybe even you.

For years our income sat still like a naughty child in time out. Expenses went up. A lot. A few of those expenses were discretionary, like my recent vacation, but many were not. Every year we went through the budget, cutting chunks here and there in order to tread water. Every year it got harder to find big chunks. This year they’ve been scattered, small, and most importantly: not enough.

So this weekend we met with the realtor. We signed some papers and sprinkled them with a few initials.

A sign goes up in the yard next week.

Everywhere I look inside I see other signs, the ones that spawn memories.

I’d sooner clip off a little toe than sell, but it’s the right move – the smart move. We have the plans drawn for the addition that will become our new home, after (if) we get our price.

Now I wonder, emotions torn.

How long?


As the mind wanders…

This is not a sad story.

Saying it up front kind of puts into question though, doesn’t it? Sows a little doubt maybe?

This is a story about home. It could be about your home or a friends home, but only you could write that post, or your friend. This is about scratches in the hardwood floors of a house in eastern Massachusetts, in a mysterious spiral pattern. It’s about a patch of wallpaper* where a younger you practiced writing your name. It’s about the front step and the proper angle of attack on the pile of snow from shoveling the walk. It’s about the tree you climbed high enough to look down on your two story house, before you learned your multiplication tables – and thus calculate the number of bones you could break if the potential energy became another kind of energy.

It’s about a plaster patch in the back of a closet, about the size of child’s foot. Or the industrial grade swingset in the backyard that may out live you. Or the broken cement roof tiles you’d swear would handle the force of a football, kicked from 25 carefully measured yards away.

It’s about projects large and small, like the new floors installed in the living room and all the bedrooms – and the back pain that came with it, free of charge. Or the small work of tinfoil art crafted to deflect the light of a fixture directly in front of a television. Or the pictures you hung in the family room, in places picked by the previous owners – no matter how well it fit your arrangement of stuff. It’s about the odd mirror you hung in an odd corner, the one your mother gave you shortly after you were married, before she lost her mind.

It’s about all the little memories hiding in all the little nooks, corners or cracks.

It’s about the feeling you get when you first think about leaving them all behind, to move to another place where memories are waiting to be made.

– – –

* Ten or fifteen years after we moved, my sisters visited the old neighborhood and asked to have a look around the old house. The current owners (at the time) showed them a room almost completely free of wallpaper, save for a small square hidden by a dresser, where someone had practiced writing their name many years ago.

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No, I should really know better.

When Cheryl and I moved here from Orlando we lived with her parents until we could find a place for ourselves. For almost as long as we’ve had a place of our own, Cheryl has been keeping an eye out for a place we could share with her parents.

Every time she’s proposed a place my answer was very simple.


I’ve never wavered. Every time I’ve lived with someone besides my immediate family, I’ve never quite felt comfortable. Even when I’ve paid a share of the rent, part of me felt like an intruder. Roommates in college was one thing. I knew it would end some day. It was temporary housing.

Multigenerational housing – with the in-laws – is an entirely different proposition. There’s no end. I could feel like a guest in my own home for the foreseeable future. Just the thought depresses me, and there are no immediate plans to do so.

Well, there are now. Nothing’s set in stone, but it’s more than a one way conversation now.

Financial circumstances have slowly deteriorated. (And yet we still talk about buying computers.) There have been no pay raises in five or more years. This year we’re looking at furloughs, a 3 percent pay cut, or both. My department is talking about the possibility of layoffs for the first time in forty years. In the past they’ve been good at reading the tea leaves, holding back on hiring so position cuts could be absorbed by vacancies. Not this year. Ever since JEB! was first elected ten years ago (more or less), we’ve been asked to find 10 percent of our budget to cut every year. This year they’ve asked us to find 15. We haven’t always seen the full extent of those cuts, once the dust has settled after legislative sessions, but it hasn’t been pleasant. It seems they’ve finally caught up. Mind you, even when I have seen a raise (I can’t remember when), it’s been the 1.5 percent variety. There were a couple exceptions: promotions, and that one year I was lucky enough to get one of a handful of performance raises (they’ve offered them twice in my almost fifteen years – to about 2 percent of our agency).

Don’t get me wrong. I know I shouldn’t complain about my job, especially not in this economy, but for other reasons as well. As it happens, I love my job. I knew exactly what I was getting when I took a government job. It has it’s benefits, both financial (health insurance), and social (relatively liberal leave policies). Plus, I work with great people… my second family.

It’s just that in the mean time expenses have exploded – especially the medical variety.

To top it off, Cheryl worries there will be a day I won’t be able to work anymore. I don’t share her worry, but I sympathize with it. We’re better off than many, with money in savings, the beginnings of a retirement account, and money put away for at least one of the kids to go to college (thanks to the Florida Pre-Paid Program). Yet it feels like we’re living life without a net, like we’re one setback from financial catastrophe.

In other words, we’re living the new American dream: stagnant or decreasing wages, ballooning expenses, and the constant threat of job loss always hanging over our heads.

You know what they say about never. This is why I’m starting to think multi-generational housing isn’t such a bad idea, consolidating and reducing our expenses to give my family more financial security – both for my immediate family and my in-laws. But it’s not any less depressing.

I’ve lived in our house, this house, as long as I’ve lived anywhere. It’s been a true home, in every sense of the word. It’s the only home my kids have known. It’s where I learned I could be handy if I really needed to be. It’s where I’ve spent days like today: a cool, quiet, cloudless day on the front porch listening to breezes blow through our giant oak, sipping at a cup of green tea as I write.

Now I wonder if we should give it up… if we have to give it up.

Then there are my dark thoughts, when I wonder if we would be here if I was more ambitious.

When Cheryl and I first started dating in college, there was often wonder in her eyes. There were times I’d help her with homework, even though I’d never taken the class, or a class like it, and she’d look at me as if I’d just made her textbook disappear. Though it was nothing more than an ability to read (her books), she thought I could do anything. It’s hard to describe what it meant to me at the time. It was a lifeline for the kid who thought he was capable of nothing. And yet, it still made me feel a bit uncomfortable, the weight of expectations feeling heavy on my shoulders.

My aim in life has always been simple: to be happy. I eschew the spotlight. I set a course for a relatively simple life a long time ago – a life not without hard work, just one not consumed by it. Now I wonder if this place we find ourselves in, thinking of leaving our home, the tears in my daughter’s eyes when the subject comes up, the image in my head of that last day when the house is empty and we look around as we close the door on a chapter in our lives… if it’s my fault.