I Wanted to Stay With You — When Leaving a House Feels Like Heartbreak
Sentimentality can become a curse if you let it.
We live in an age where social media encourages us to re-share photos from just one or more years ago, baking in our excessive nostalgia for times that may not have been half as great as the picture wants us to believe.
I’m always wary of the past’s insidious footsteps gaining traction on me, but right now — mere days away from moving to a new home — I am an emotional wreck.
I came to this apartment four years ago with a housemate. The moment we walked through the door, we both proclaimed: “We want it.”
And we got it almost immediately. Instinctively, I knew this was where I was meant to live.
Like most homes, this one wasn’t perfect: the air conditioner was a timid mouse whose breath barely fluttered centimetres before retreating back to where it came. In winter, I crawled into my bed by early afternoon because the cold made everywhere else seem icily off-limits.
But with these minor criticisms aside, it felt like home, and in 14 years of moving around the city frequently, that was a lot.
Over the past few months, though, my housemate became more vocal in their dissatisfaction. There were better places, they reasoned, that we could live; and probably cheaper too.
At first, I buried my head in the sand. Along with many other people, change is something that frightens me at times, and I wasn’t ready to uproot myself.
But when it became clearer that my housemate was raring to leave, and would leave soon, I knew that I had to go — this time, alone.
In an odd twist of fate, I found a new home almost straight away while my housemate floundered. Within two weeks, I had keys waiting for me.
Perhaps because of Covid-19, which necessitated most people work from home, I felt the bond I shared with each inch of the carpet, walls and cupboards here had intimately intensified.
I could almost hear the door sigh: don’t leave me, when I opened it, knowing that soon it would be closed to me forever.
I hated taking all my books of the shelves, realising some would be going to second-hand stores, packing away the dusty trinkets that lined my desk and re-assessing which clothes were no longer needed.
With each scrap of the home that was becoming boxed up, a part of me seemed to fade, too; I was now in a limbo between old and new and this brought on some major anxiety attacks. As someone perennially single, I wondered if this is how it might feel to be on the receiving end of a break-up: forced into something you don’t want.
Honestly, the thought of living alone excites me; it’s just that I would have liked to have stayed here, not somewhere else.
It’s not common to feel so attached to every house: there are some places I lived that, should I ever have to pass them again, I clench my eyes shut tightly for a good 30 seconds to avoid catching so much as a mere glimpse of those surrounds.
These places are so much more than walls and letterboxes to me: there is the apartment where I collapsed on the bed after hearing a family member had died, the home where I began a job in an entirely new industry, the damp, dark flat where my housemate faded into a ghost. Each of these spaces I have inhabited has shaped me, though not always in the way I would like.
In her memoir, Life In Ten Houses, Australian author Sonya Hartnett considered that, in her quest to find the last house — the place she could be forever content — transience may be intrinsic to her.
But after moving seven times as an adult, I am worn out: packing and looking for somewhere better deflates, rather than excites, me.
This morning, as I went walking through the neighbourhood, I noticed the shrieking of jackhammers and construction, eating away or devouring as much open space as it could.
The noise was a reminder that the future is always here: none of us can escape change.
So as I collect the last of my things, I tell myself that a new start can bring me so much I am yet to experience; and I thank my current one for the time we have shared. If this is a break-up, I’d like to think that we are parting as friends.