I Walked Out of my Childhood Home for the Last Time
This past week, I closed down my father’s apartment, the same place where I grew up. When I shut his front door for very last time, the lock clicked with a painful finality. I will never walk in again.
He’s been gone for almost two months now, and I’ve been spending all of my spare time going through his belongings and clearing out his apartment.
I powered down his Verizon Internet modem and cancelled his phone number that was in place for almost six decades. It originally began with an ‘R’ and an ‘E’ (reflecting the word, ‘Regency’) instead of the corresponding numbers ‘7’ and ‘3.’ I can still remember how he used to proudly repeat the classic version of the numerical sequence, “My number is Regency 7…”
Last week, the movers came, and his furniture vanished. And then I finally walked into the moment I had been dreading for weeks. His place was entirely empty.
And then I had to shut the door.
Yes, it’s been a punishing few weeks.
My father’s apartment was his castle. He filled it with objects and things that he loved. It was his own little museum.
My father seemingly drew energy from his home. I was influenced by that growing up. How could I not be?
In some ways, I approached clearing out his apartment like a type of evacuation. I searched urgently to uncover the most meaningful objects and photos to save.
But I think I wasn’t rescuing his belongings as much as trying to save my own memories.
It feels complicated.
A Child of the Building
Plus, I can’t help but accept the reality that I’ve also been struggling with the emotional loss of this Upper East Side Manhattan apartment that I grew up in and returned to across my entire life.
The 21-story apartment building and I were effectively born at the same time. My parents and baby Barrett were among the first to move in. And my dad was the last original resident.
I feel a type of cosmic connection to this place. I’m not talking only about the 15th floor apartment. I mean the entire building.
We grew up together. As a child on Halloween, I roamed its hallways each year with a small band of kids. I was there when the building was dark for 25 hours during the New York City blackout of 1977.
I have walked through its lobby with my father across the decades and two redesigns.
I am a forever child of the building.
And now, I am cast out.
I’m just beginning to deal with the loss of my father. Saying goodbye to his apartment is another blow.
I moved out decades ago, but I never really left.
My Mom’s Kitchen Pot
During the apartment clean out, I also ran across a number of my mother’s belongings, not to mention everything of hers still in the kitchen, which was her domain for over 40 years.
She’s been gone since 2006, and much of the kitchen froze in time from that point forward.
Recently, back home in Norwalk, my wife was cooking chickpeas and accidentally burned them, and the pot was ruined.
The next day, I found myself standing in my mom’s kitchen, and the perfect replacement pot appeared right in front of me.
It looked almost new, and it was, of course, spotless. Even with a light coating of dust, my mother’s pot still sparkled. And it called it me. So I stashed it away in the black transport bag I had.
After all of these years, my mom was seemingly still looking out for me. Still anticipating my every need. (Yes, she was always an over-protective Jewish mother.)
But I really appreciated this imagined effort…that somehow she was able to reach out across space and time with this loving gesture.
And as today is my birthday, I think I’ll extend out my psychological projection a little further.
Thank you, Mom for your birthday present. It’s perfect.
Yes, both my parents are now gone. And I’ve walked out of their apartment and the original center of my universe for the last time.
I’ve saved some meaningful items, a few pieces of furniture that my family and I will repurpose and lots of photos that need to be digitized.
If there’s any kind of silver lining to this grueling experience, it’s this: Perhaps I don’t have to entirely say goodbye to my childhood home. The memories of my life there continue to live inside of me.
And the photos I’ve retrieved will hopefully help to maintain the memories for generations to come.
Time to Move Forward
So now what? I’ve done a lot of doing. My back is sore, and I’m tired.
All of the physical work is finally done. I’ve returned home. I am present again.
It’s time to start some emotional healing.
I think that’s the best birthday gift I can give myself.