Thursday, August 14, 2014


Houses are curious things. We pick a chunk of land, put up a few walls, and make a special bubble where all of our stuff stays safe.

In our houses, we don’t worry. We leave money and valuables lying out. We sleep soundly. We go about our business without worrying that strangers will attack us or rifle through our things. We use bricks and wood, locks and hinges, to select who comes in and who stays out.

We don’t always think about how much our childhood houses determine who we are, but next to our family, it’s probably the biggest thing. Our houses pick our schools, pick our neighbors, pick the friends we’ll make and meet, and form our most basic assumptions about how the world around us operates.

I grew up in a phenomenal house. It had trees and a yard, a big basement, and a gorgeous view of a lake. It had large windows that let in the light, but sat on a slope so you couldn’t see in from the street. I always felt safe there, at peace.

When my parents bought the house, it was still considered ‘out in the woods’ (i.e., it was in the Northwest in the ‘80s). They weren't rich - just lucky: the house came open at the right time, and they worked really hard to make sure my sister and I would have a good place to grow up.

The room I had was really cool. It had a loft you could climb up to through a ladder in the closet, with a window that looked down on the rest of the room. Up in that loft, you were in your own little world: a perfect place to hide out, to play with Legos, to read, or to secretly watch cartoons.

About a year ago, my parents decided to retire. It was very sudden, driven by a bad economy and the rising cost of everything. A few months later, my dad sold his business, and that meant they could no longer afford to keep the house.

It was a heartbreaking time for all of us. For thirty years, my parents lived in that place, and I’d spent my entire life thinking of it as 'home.' There were a thousand memories of holidays, grandparents, birthday parties, summer vacations, and family pets. It was the place that had been so painful to leave when I went away to join the Coast Guard, the one refuge I’d always been grateful to return to when the stress or seriousness of my job overwhelmed me.

I owed that house everything – every opportunity I’d ever had. So when it finally sold, just a few months ago, I had a hard time accepting it. I helped my parents pack up their belongings, and that meant boxing up my old room.

A couple weeks before they moved out, I got to meet the kid who’d be moving in. He and his parents had been living in a tiny apartment, and my old room would be his first real one. When I took him into the room, his eyes lit up. I showed him the loft, and we sat up there for a while playing with some of the toys I was leaving behind for him.

It was like talking to a seven-year-old version of myself.

After that, the move felt easier. Yes, it still stings. Yes, I still hate the idea that I’ll never stand in my old room again, or that I’ll won’t get to see that view of the lake. But somehow, knowing that a kid kind of like me is living there, is playing in my loft, is running around in my neighborhood…That makes me happy.

So here goes.

Dear Kid:

I hope life in your new house is every bit as amazing for you as it was for me. I hope it gives you all the same opportunities I got, and that it lets you make just as many lifelong friends as I did.

However, if you find any Legos I left behind, that was a mistake. You can't have my Legos. Not that I still play with them or anything. That would be silly. But please mail them to me immediately, preferably with overnight shipping.


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