Our house on Martha’s Vineyard has sold; we’re cleaning out cabinets and deciding what to keep. The blue whale mugs given as a hostess gift that girls’ weekend six years ago. The chipped white pitcher, always full of lavender or hydrangeas from the island. The ridiculous giant wooden whale that’s jaw was broken by careless renters, then reglued by my brother during his stay.
The new owners can have the trashy paperbacks and threadbare beach towels left behind by years of happy summer renters. Do we keep spikeball, bottle bash, and cornhole, or leave them for the new owners to make their own memories in the side yard? Do they even play yard games, or are they more likely to build a patio once we’re gone? I don’t want to know.
The official closing is now two weeks away. The final countdown. We’re leaving the wicker furniture but taking the rocking chair. There’s no place for the festive porch lights back home, so here they’ll stay.
The blue house was more than a house. It was our connection to the island, the ocean, to a world away from the absurd busyness of our lives. It was where we came together as a family — if not always happily. There was certainly more than one argument about fishing, missing the ferry, or who forgot trash day (usually me). The blue house holds the usual secrets, triumphs, and longings of a family. Ours.
I’m walking through the rooms, now vacant of children, dogs, friends, music, laughter, toys, books, and sand. Lots of that in the house over the years, carried by many feet. Do houses have souls? You wonder what memories they keep that you’ve forgotten. Ugly moments. Joyful hours. Transcendent summer Saturdays. We hand all of that over with the key, still attached to the faded fishing lure, retrieved one last time from its secret perch above the porch door.
We didn’t want to sell the house. But it’s time, for a variety of reasons. We don’t talk about it, this bittersweet surrender, but it’s on our faces and in our footfalls as we haul away what’s left to keep.
It’s been 21 years. We have neighbors we love and will miss. We know every shell in the outdoor shower, every crack in the ceiling, every spiderweb in the basement. The porch where the kids rode their mini trikes and threw their sippy cups and treasured their arcade prizes and read Harry Potter and learned to tie knots and played ring toss and ordered pizza and snuck a beer and kissed a girl — it’s sagging a bit more these days. The battered couch where I finished writing my first novel, before marriage and kids. The unique yawn and creak of the screen door, and the inevitable bang of its close. We never got around to replacing the spring, and now that sound, once a daily irritant, breaks my heart.
It’s that after season — that silence and crushing loneliness after Labor Day in a seaside town, as the days get shorter and the breeze off the water crisper. Dead leaves crackling on the pavement instead of the hum of bicycle wheels carrying exuberant tourists. This year the sadness has a different melody. I’m alone on the porch today, and there’s a steady rain. I don’t mind. Rainy days in an island cottage have their own splendor. It’s mine to savor for now.
I worry about next summer. I tell myself we can finally vacation somewhere else, travel to new places, be free of the burdens of caring for a rental property three hours away. But I know the truth. It’s the end of an era, and we don’t like changes or ends. It’s the weighty reminder that time is indeed marching on relentlessly and we don’t know what’s next. When you’re young that’s exciting, but these days it’s just another flavor of existential dread.
During my final weeks in the blue house, I’ve wanted to go to places and do things on the island I’d never done. Go to beaches where I’d never swum, trespass on forbidden properties, shop at stores I’d passed a million times, eat at restaurants I’d snubbed for a decade. I did some of that. But where I’ve always been happiest is where I am right now, on the porch, listening to the rain and marinating in the fading images of summer, and our lives, and wondering about next summer. And the one after that.
Goodbye, blue house. Thank you.
Tracy McArdle is a humor writer, screenwriter, and essayist from Carlisle.