Since before my wife’s death this past April, I began to live in the house that I had moved out of four years earlier when I began my life as an out gay man. I had never planned to live in our house again. But that all changed as my wife’s health declined from terminal cancer.
I began to think about how I would manage our house after my wife’s passing. I would continue, I told myself, to live in my apartment, primarily, but stay at my house occasionally, as I worked through the process of closing her estate and getting the house ready to sell. A sale, I decided, that should not take place until my son graduated college – over a full year away.
After my wife’s death, however, another reality became clear. Moving between two houses 20 minutes apart was more of a logistical pain in the neck than I was willing to do every week. It meant buying food for one place and then moving it to the other. It meant preparing daily medications in advance so that I never ran out of my diabetes or thyroid meds no matter which home I was in. It also quickly became clear to me that in order to shut down the house I needed to live in the house.
Then there was my wife’s garden. My brother-in-law pushed my father-in-law to give up his garden plot in the retirement community in which he lives in order to plant his daughter’s garden one last time. My brother-in-law, big man on campus that he is, said he would bring his father over regularly to work in the garden. My father-in-law also had visions of coming daily to water and tend his garden.
I was sure before any plants were planted that none of this would ever come to pass, and it did not. My father-in-law did plant the garden but has only come to water the garden a few times when I was traveling. My brother-in-law has not lifted a finger to help with the garden, ever. The care and watering of the garden immediately fell to me.
Following my wife’s death in April I began to live only in my house and visit my apartment only to pick up things that I needed in the house.
This brings me to the heart of this story. I have felt so at home in my apartment. It was the space I created after leaving my marriage. My apartment was the launching pad for my new gay life. When I was apartment hunting, I wanted a place where I could feel completely at home. I wanted a home to entertain friends and host dinner parties. I wanted a place to bring a man where we could have sex. I loved my apartment. It was 100% my creation and I was very happy in that home.
When I have returned to my apartment, it causes me a great deal of sadness. This sadness usually has lasted for hours or days after leaving the apartment. But why? While I miss my apartment, it is easier to be in the house, with the mail, garden, garbage and recycling days, my wife’s estate to close and a large house to care for. There is a constant stream of work to do in the house and I need to be there to do it. But I mourn the loss of my apartment. I miss the joy I felt in those early days of my gay independence.
Returning to my house, while very comfortable, is the home my wife and I shared for seventeen years. It is a house filled with pictures of our families and friends. It does not fully represent me and my new life anymore. I am the caretaker of a museum that my son and my wife’s family recognizes and feels at ease in. Other than removing my wife’s clothing, I have changed very little. But that is about to change.
Over the course of the next forty-five days, I will be shutting down my apartment and moving the contents of the apartment to my house. I will give away furniture that was my wife’s condo when we first met to make room for the newly acquired furniture in my apartment.
It is all bittersweet. I no longer want to pay for an apartment that I no longer stay in, even while the idea of closing the apartment brings me sadness. I will miss the apartment. It was home as I emerged as a gay man in the world.