Just over a year ago I was sitting on the floor by myself, in the corner of an empty room on an empty floor, in an empty house. Well, not entirely empty – yet.
In fact, I can remember every single item left inside. There was a half full bottle of Stone Ruination IPA on the tile floor just to my left. It was cold, bitter and flowery. Perfect for the moment. Across the room propped-up next to the door was my guitar case, holding my Paul Reed Smith SE Soapbar II.
And next to that was my backpack. The backpack that had been given to me as a gift.
The same backpack I had hauled across countless miles ofrocky trail in Red Rock, and Zion; up and back down the craggy, winding face of Mt. Charleston;beside the towering, shifting sand dunes of Death Valley; through desert canyons which lead to banks of the Colorado River; along the perfectly blue crystalline waters of Lake Tahoe.
You get the point.
That backpack had been some places. It had seen some shit. It was torn up, dusty, and sweat-soaked. It had carried climbing gear, books, sunscreen, sweatshirts, water bottles, notebooks, pens, beef jerky, apples, oranges, and pounds of trail mix chalk full of raisins. At times, it had been impossible to close, stuffed full with guidebooks, muddy shoes, headphones, asthma inhalers, flashlights and more.
Now it was almost sadly empty. One bottle of water. My wallet. My dog-eared copy of Don Delilo’s Underworld.
When I picked it up off the floor, that would be it. The house would be empty. Truly empty. Empty of people;empty of things; and empty of memories.
And that, is where most people begin getting sentimental. They will get all mushy, teary-eyed and emotional. They will say, “No, you are wrong. It’s FULL of memories.”
But here is the thing – it isn’t.It just isn’t.
The house I was about to leave was empty of memories. There were no memories baked into the walls by the warmth of the people who had laughed, cried, celebrated, doubted, worried and feared inside. The thick shag carpet upstairs, (which was inexplicably a previously undiscovered shade of…turquoise?) would have no recollection of the bare feet that walked, ran, and played across it. The oven wouldn’t remember the smell of thousands of chocolate chip cookies. The light which hung too low in the dining room wouldn’t remember the heads that banged into it, time and time again. It wouldn’t remember the family dinners eaten below. Or the card games and board games it had illuminated late into the night.Or the binders full of notes and PowerPoint slides and the hours and hours and exhausted hours of studying. The living room wouldn’t remember the couches we sat on, the shows we watched, or the games we cheered for. There were no eyes in the walls. No ears listening anywhere.
The bedrooms wouldn’t remember the people who slept inside.
When I picked my backpack up off the floor, and left, that would be it. With the air conditioning and lights off, the house would be empty, warm, and dark.
It would sit vacant and quiet.
Waiting for someone new to walk through the front door.
Suddenly, that house would no longer be my home.
Months later, when I would drive past, it would look foreign and strange in the night. The rainbow windmill which had sat in the front yard would be missing. The shadows cast by the streetlights would fall in patterns I didn’t remember.
And yet, it would feel familiar. So familiar. Familiar in a way that was immediate and overwhelming. Like the smell of fresh baked cookies. Or the sound of a laugh.
The house I was about to leave was empty of memories, and that didn’t matter. Because I remember every moment. The good ones and the bad. The house could be torn down; the furniture lost, donated, broken, or sold; the pictures deleted; the people who lived inside could move to the corners of the world. And it wouldn’t matter.
Because the memories were not attached to this place or the things that had been inside it. They lived inside me. They were alive in my every thought and breath. Alive in who I was and who I would become. They were undeniable. The memories of that home were like a twisted knot of gold, lodged in my head and in my heart.
The house wouldn’t remember a god damn thing, but I always would.
I stood up in that empty room and finished the beer beside me.
I picked up my backpack and that was it.
I said goodbye.