Wednesday, July 1, 2009

House keys

Before the movers left with their second and final load, Jimmy (that's Gee-mee to you), the younger son and the foreman, asked me to faire le tour of the house and make sure they hadn't forgotten anything. I did, and they had: a drawer in one of the armoires in our room was still full. My work shoes--heels and flats in various shades of black--which I hope to need. So Jean, the papa, took some newsprint, a box, and scotch (tape, that is) upstairs and came down a few minutes later with a box that he had carefully labeled Shoes, Study.

Jimmy and crew labeled all the boxes in English, although they spoke none. English, Jimmy explained to me when I asked, is the International Language of Moving. No matter where their clients are going, his crew labels all the boxes in English. Which would have worked out fine had our équipe figured out which room in our house was which. As it was, everything that was in the guest room in this house--C's desk and files; our winter coats; wrapping paper; my sewing boxes--went out of the house under the name of MBR which means, for those of you who don't compulsively read real estate listings, Master Bedroom. Because there was also a double bed in the room. And everything that was in our bedroom--my desk, my files, our bed, our dressers, our clothes and shoes and bedding--went out in boxes marked Study.

Which may make unpacking take a little longer.

As I was saying, though, le papa went upstairs and came down with a box of shoes that the movers on the other end will no doubt put in the study, and, shortly after that, the movers left. The girls and I ate our lunch in a daze, and then took turns vacuuming--do you remember how dirty a house gets during a move?--and, what with one thing and another, it was late afternoon before I went upstairs to our room.

I was feeling more than usually tuckered out. We all are: it's not just the physical displacing of objects, it's the displacing of ourselves, our souls and bodies. We've been saying goodbye to our life here for what feels like weeks, and we've still got two weeks to go. We have the same conversation over and over again, in both languages: Oui, il faut qu'on's because of the economy, more than anything else...on a esperé de, we kept our house in America...We could recite it in our sleep. And it's more than saying goodbye. We talked about this move to France for years, working it out in our heads long before we ever worked it out on the ground. Now we've done it, and it's time to go back. We think of all the things we'll miss about our life here, and all the things we haven't missed about our life there, and it slows a person down.

So I was thinking these sorts of flat and tired thoughts as I put our room (futon, two lamps, small rag rug: G said it looks like a yoga studio) in order, when I noticed something on top of the half-wall that divides our bedroom from the salle de bains. It was a set of keys. I picked them up and turned them over, looking for a clue as to what they would open.

They were the spare keys to a friend's house in Washington.

I held the keys and savored, for a moment or two, the feeling of belonging they gave me. And better than belonging: the feeling of going home, of going back to people to whom we are connected by so much of our past and present and, if we're lucky, future. Then I went downstairs, where I was promptly distracted and forgot about them. I found the keys again, today, sitting on the table that is the only furniture in what was the guest room (MBR to the movers).

I've been finding keys throughout our déménagement--keys to our Washington house, to our parents' houses, the houses of neighbors and friends--and I've put them all in a little cloth bag with the things that will travel in my suitcases. Each set I find makes me think of being in that house, the concrete memories of meals shared and conversations and the ordinary splendor of everyday life. They take me beyond the traffic and the Wal-Marts and the Mark Sanfords to the supper table, the music recital, and the afternoon walk. The house keys remind me that we are not just going back; we're going home. And home is the place where, when you go there, you can let yourself in the back door.


  1. Shoes! They were going to leave your shoes?

    Hmm, you might have slipped up there, you would have had to have a shoe buying spree if they'd been left behind.


  2. You are so right. What a missed opportunity.

  3. Bon voyage, Mme Marron!

    I hope to see you in DC un beau jour!


  4. You have me sad. Though also happy you'll be closer.