I have been camping in my house for a week.

This sounds strange when I say it to people. They ask, to clarify, if I’ve moved back into my house. Like every question this year, the answer is complicated, full of footnotes and asides and more questions—“did I tell you…?” “Did you know that…?” “Well, then, before that happened…” I tell them that yes, I moved into my house on November 11th, exactly four months after abandoning Tucson. But we, my husband and my cats and myself and all of our belongings, are not in the house. Not yet. The family doesn’t reunite until the week before Thanksgiving, when I fly back to Arizona on a one-way ticket, and we load up every last thing we own into a 26-foot U-Haul and take two days to shuttle it back up through California to our waiting home, as if we were only on an extended sabbatical from the lives we were leading up until March 2013.

“Oh. Then, you’re in your house without furniture? What are you sleeping on?”

An air mattress, lent to me by a friend. I’ve also got a bonus comfy chair and end table from our friends across town, all people whose generosity leaves me speechless, makes me want—know—I have to be better. I have my clothes, my shoes, my hat and purse collections, a box full of books. Anything my husband Matt could shove into my wagon-style Prius and ferry up to Oregon. I bought a cheap cheese grater (because, cheese) and the cheapest, most clearanced pot and pan Target offered. I skipped a can opener and corkscrew, with my Cadillac versions packed up in Tucson—thank god for dry bulk beans and screw-top wine.

Life this week has been simple. Gracefully simple. I have no internet or TV at my house, and as our home stretches the boundaries of “suburb” to “almost nowhere” my phone doesn’t connect to data. There is a remote signal from a tower in distant Wilsonville or Tualatin that sends a weak ping my way. I can dispatch the occasional Tweet, upload a photo after retrying five times. I’ve reached into my BOOK box and read. I’ve written. Last night I sat on the chair and watched as a homemade soup churns from tufts of steam to a popping, sputtering boil. These are the parts of myself that I have missed the most since moving back to Portland. I could not create in the chaos. I didn’t feel like myself, and it was a puzzle I couldn’t understand. I hadn’t felt like myself when I was in Tucson—I joked that it was hell, that it was killing me. I kid, I swear, I kid. Then again, the place made me desperate enough to dive. To plot an escape. To light my life on fire.

What I didn’t realize until being here, in the first walls I’ve owned, is that home is a gigantic, layered thing. I had a fraction of home in Arizona at the house my family lived in. We tried. We held onto love despite the unmooring. When I got back here, there was extended home again—my family a relatively short drive away in Seattle, my friends scattered throughout Multnomah County and beyond. The spectacular wine-culling hills of Newberg and Dundee, my first Oregon love affair in a Columbia Gorge vista. Fifty ways to eat my feelings, from Salt and Straw to Pine State Biscuits and back. I ran all over the city to fill my swaths of spare time. We did not know, until my birthday last month, when Matt would be able to join me. How. I kept myself busy with long errands to tread the uncertainty. I was home in a sense, but not in most.

When I moved back here last week, I felt HOME in the strongest sense since leaving the structure behind. My furniture was gone and every room echoed, but my heart felt the grooves that a place that is truly yours keeps safe. As funny as the image is, me in my big empty house sitting here on a single chair in a corner, there is peace in knowing what little you need to be here. To rediscover the person you’ve missed so. Fucking. Hard.

By this time in the conversation it is remarked that this must be difficult. It is, I suppose. Not as hard as the uncertainty of when I would be with my family again, or when my heart would come back, or whether I’d ever get myself back. I’ll take sleeping on the floor ten thousand times over that purgatory. A week from this moment I will be in my real bed with my spouse. The cable guy will be on his way over. Matt will string the Christmas lights across our front porch as I hang a shared life’s worth of ornaments on our tree. We’re down to a matter of days now. Hours.

We made it.

Without cracking.

Without a corkscrew.

5 thoughts on “Camping

  1. “Fifty ways to eat my feelings, from Salt and Straw to Pine State Biscuits and back.” Ha! Yes, and lucky you. Stress and filling time makes me do the opposite—I run on fumes and adrenaline and stop eating instead. There have also been times when I wanted to “light my life on fire” if only to find or at least temporarily reinvent the idea of HOME all over again. How wonderful amidst empty space where you can get some serious downtime in, you still have that deep resonance of belonging to a place (state, region, climate, community), all that sense includes . . . what a gift!

    Welcome (truly) HOME, Tabitha!


  2. I read this with a mixture of chuckling and sniffling. Being uprooted is so difficult, particularly without your partner, and it’s not easy to articulate as precisely as you’ve done just how and why these transitions hurt. Thanks for sharing your story.


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