Bittersweet Day

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006, 11:23 pm

There are moments in life when events move beyond your control, when you’re no longer able to affect the outcome. You just have to sit there and get through it and move along. I’m not talking necessarily about huge, life-altering events. Things can happen that might seem perfectly innocuous to other people but mean a great deal to you. A few moments of impotence (not that kind) can alter your perspective on life.

I don’t like heights, and so I was afraid to ride roller coasters when I was little. One day my dad told me we were going to go on the Racers at Kennywood, and I didn’t want to go. I was terrified. And so my dad motivated me the way fathers have goaded sons from time immemorial–he humiliated and embarassed me until I was too mortified NOT to ride the damn thing. And it worked. I rode the Racers…and loved it. We went on three times in a row.

But I still remember sitting there, my hands like talons gripping the safety bar, wanting to jump up and run for the exits. And then the guy running the ride released the brake, and with a hiss the train slowly eased out of the station. And as we moved forward I realized that nothing, NOTHING, could save me now. I was going to ride this coaster no matter what I did. I was petrified, right up to the point where we reached the bottom of the first hill and I realized what I’d been missing.

Another time I felt this sensation oddly came when Three Rivers Stadium was imploded. My friend Rick lived on the North Shore (close to where I used to work) and we slept on his floor and woke before dawn to get a good spot on the Clemente Bridge. The bus I took to work passed Three Rivers and every day I’d seen the home of the Steelers and Pirates reduced to a grey, concrete shell. Well, reduced to an even greyer, concreatier shell. And this was the day the city would say goodbye forever.

It was bitterly cold that day. Thousands of people spread out around the stadium waiting for the detonations that would bring it down. As zero hour approached I felt an increasing feeling of dread. What if something went wrong? What if that great bowl of concrete leaned the wrong way and crashed into the nearly-completed Heinz Field, which was only about 15 yards away? What if the charges went KABLOOIE and hunks of concrete rained down upon us?

There was the sound of a siren, and then without additional preamble the first charge went off. The flash from the explosives was almost subliminal, and then the sharp reports of the detonations reached us. Once that first explosion tore into the concrete there was no going back, and I felt a wriggling sensation in my belly, as though I’d just jumped off the bridge and was in free-fall. But the implosion went perfectly. A few seconds later the stadium was a rapidly-expanding cloud of dust. And we went back to Rick’s place to get warm and watch the coverage on TV.

I don’t know why these two specific events came to my mind today as I stood in my house for the last time. Closing was today, and I finished cleaning this morning and by noontime I was ready to say goodbye to my home for the last time. I tried, and failed, not to wax nostalgic, but of course that was impossible. It was the little things that hit me the hardest–how the floor squeaks just as I start walking down the stairs, how the blinds in the one bathroom require a little jerk of the wrist before they’ll slide into position. My house. My home. Not mine anymore.

Of course I’ve been waiting for the house to sell for months…well, years, to be honest. For a good long while I thought this day would never come. And, of course, in some ways I always hoped this day WOULDN’T come. This was my home. This was the fruit of my labor. My piece of land, my castle. It’s not easy to surrender your castle.

Then again, after busting my hump that last few weeks cleaning it out and moving crap and doing last-second repairs, I’m not entirely saddened that I’m an apartment-dweller now. A few days before closing my agent informed me that the appraiser wanted us to scrape and paint the exterior of the windows. Well, that’s just great. The guy who bought the house came over and we spent a long, hot day painting. Let me tell you, it’s hard to get motivated when you’re renovating someone ELSE’S house. For free. Especially when it’s hot out.

I wanted a little time before I left to remember the good times we had there. And we did have lots of good times. Lots of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Lots of sleepovers with our niece and nephew. Watched the Steelers win a lot of games in the den. Played a lot of poker in the den. Won the Grublog Classic there. The house has a screened-in porch, and in the summer we’d eat dinner out there almost every night.

I was about to leave, and I couldn’t believe that this would be the last time I’d be standing in my kitchen. I wasn’t emotional, per se–I simply couldn’t BELIEVE it. The idea that tomorrow I wouldn’t be walking down the hallway from the bedroom and scrambling myself an egg seemed ludicrous.

I went from room to room, one last look. I went to the master bathroom, looked around, left…and then asked myself, “Did I clean out the drawers in the vanity?” Whoops! Turns out I hadn’t! That snapped me back to reality damn quick. I’d left all my spare contact lenses in there, the Q-Tips were in there, and, heh-heh, my wedding ring was in there. Whoops indeed.

Part of the back yard is flat and fenced-in, but it slopes sharply upwards before levelling off at the top. It’s thoroughly overgrown and in late summer it’s nearly triple-canopy thick. I hiked to the top of the property and looked out over the neighborhood and beyond. It’s a hell of a view, you can see rolling hills and trees and houses for miles. When we first bought the house I walked up there and felt blissfully satisfied. This was MINE. My house, my yard, my view.

When I went up there today I was raked across the knee by a jagger bush, and then I startled three deer who took off through the brush (and who nearly gave me a coronary). The vegetation was so thick I could barely see anything. It wasn’t the sentimental or cathartic experience I was looking for.

But how much catharsis do I really need? Maybe I won’t be living in that house anymore, but all the people I shared those good times with are still part of my life. My ex-wife and I are still friends, we went to dinner after the closing and had a good time. I saw my niece and nephew over the weekend and I plan on seeing more of them. If the ordeal of the last few years has taught me anything it’s that I am ridiculously blessed when it comes to my family and friends. Without them I literally could not have gotten through this.

But I did. I have. The new couple already has plans for the place. They want to paint the walls of the living and dining room alternatly blue and green, a scheme that had me and Jody exchanging knowing glances just like old times. Tomorrow I’ll deposit the proceeds check and pay off a few bills. Instead of shuttling back and forth between house and apartment I’ll stay here in my new home and try to make sense of the piles of clothes and stacks of boxes littering the place. I may go for a walk through North Park, or maybe I’ll take a dip in the pool. Or maybe I’ll do some more writing on my brand-spanking new laptop, which I purchased yesterday and love like a bosom child. Now all I have to do is, like, get a job. And figure out what the hell I’m gonna do with the rest of my life. I think I’ll table that question until the morning.

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4 Responses to “Bittersweet Day”

  1. ScurvyDog Says:

    Very similar thoughts rolling around my head last night, painting our current house before moving this weekend to the new digs.

    It’s a very weird thing, as there are all sorts of logical reasons to not wax nostalgic, yet there you are, suddenly waxing nostalgic all over the place.

    In the end I like to think that I’d rather suffer the inexplicable nostalgia than, you know, NOT suffer it. It definitely would be nice in some ways to coast through life blissfully oblivious, living from Springer episode to Springer episode, but that’d be a pretty damn shitty way to live. I’ll take occasional bouts of nostalgia pretty much any day over that.

  2. Gydyon Says:

    I live in Ross/West View. Did not know you were a North Hills guy. Nice.

    All the best as your page turns. You’ll get another castle some day, no worries. Enjoy the family and friends (and that someone else is mowing the lawn 😉 ).

  3. PB Says:

    I had a very similar experience when we sold our house last year and moved out to Arizona. We lived in our house 10 years and it just so hard to believe that we sold it, emptied it, packed our stuff, and moved across the country. Your column today reminded me of that event.

    GL to you.

  4. Proto Says:

    Very well written, almost feel like I’m going to miss it too.

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