Bidding Farewell to My Childhood Home
After selling their home of over three decades, my parents are moving on.
This week, my parents sold my childhood home in Boston. My mom called to tell me about the deal in a rush of excitement and optimism, her mind already floating far beyond her house of the past 30 years and onto ideas for her new one. Somewhere while listening to her seemingly endless stream of consciousness, the obvious occurred to me: I would never see the inside of my childhood home again.
That big gray house has marked me emotionally and physically. I still bear the slight snaggle and discoloration in my front teeth from smacking my face on our front steps when I was a child. Upon impact, my front four teeth crashed into my gums, damaging the nerves there permanently. I was running to see my grandmother, who’d just arrived for Sunday dinner. I spent the day in the emergency room instead.
My childhood bedroom was my oasis as I tried to figure out the inner workings of my self and my sexuality. This manifested mostly as a habit of blasting Britney Spears’ and Christina Aguilera’s albums at full blast, lip syncing for my life (before it was cool) to “Dirrty” and “Overprotected.” Eventually, the music was replaced with slightly more adolescent explorations like MySpace and porn pirated from Napster. I had to discard multiple PCs from all the viruses they inherited — my sacrificial lambs on the way to coming out of the closet.
It was my parent’s bedroom where I first told anyone out loud that I was gay. My mom responded with operatic wails, prompting my father to wake up and declare, “What just happened?” “I’m coming out of the closet, Dad,” I said, indignant that he was clearly derailing this pivotal moment of the made-for-television adaptation of my life. “Yes, but what does that mean?” he asked. “It means I’m GAY, GOD!” I yelled. I stomped back to my bedroom in tears and, like a true teenager, slammed the door.
The kitchen was the focal point of our home — it was where everything happened. During holidays and family parties, everyone would hover around the space like it had some kind of magnetic force. Every single night, without fail, my mother cooked a three-course meal for seven people. I thought it was what every mother did until I invited a school friend over and he asked for seconds, then thirds. “My mom doesn’t cook like this ever,” he said, shoveling Sunday gravy onto his plate. My dad found that hysterical.
Dad always insisted that dinner was our dedicated time together. Every night, the whole family had to sit down to eat — no screens, no video games, no books, no homework, no television. Around the table, everyone would talk to each other. I always knew how my siblings were feeling by scanning their faces as they arrived at the table. My mom would survey everyone from the stovetop, then decide who she’d like to sit next to based on their disposition. My dad always sat at the head of the table, and always cleared his plate first. When he finished, that’s when we’d be allowed to go, too.
That’s where the rose-colored glasses start to lose their tint. We were so blessed to live in a beautiful home with a home-cooked meal on our table every night, and parents who insisted we show up for each other without excuses or distractions. But our home was tainted by the kind of foreboding iron throne of a man who was relentless in demanding things go exactly as he liked them. There was little room for emotion, dissent, or straying from a set path in my father’s house. As I got older, I came to understand that I was not the only person who recoiled at the expectations of this home. Too many evenings, after I’d left the table and long since moved on to homework and re-runs of The OC, I’d venture downstairs to find my mother alone on the couch with a glass of red wine. I’m sure that many nights, she was grateful for some peace and quiet. But there was always a tinge of loneliness to her ritual that made me sad. I never knew how to penetrate the feeling, but at least one of her kids did — my younger brother would sometimes spot her and cozy up next to her before mocking whatever she was watching on the television. He was the most outrageous and defiant of all five of us Picardi kids, but he also has the biggest heart.
Living in that home taught me about the value of privacy (I had none), and how to coexist peacefully with many kinds of personalities. It also taught me the danger of holding your tongue for too long, and how far a scream can travel when it comes from the mouth of someone who’s gone unheard. From my parents’ often lopsided marriage, I was able to identify the things I’d eventually want in a partnership of my own. Watching them constantly choose each other despite all the friction that five kids and decades of marriage can cause, I learned that love is only magical if you commit to it over and over again.
While talking to my mom about the sale, I started to feel a little indignant about my lack of closure — my inability to walk through the house one more time, or wake up in the bedroom where I slept for 18 years. It felt like yet another crucial life moment that COVID had taken from us. I’d never get to have that Hannah Montana series finale moment, where she closes the back door and presses her hand to the glass solemnly, knowingly, while cheesy music plays softly in the background. (And wasn’t that the real tragedy here?)
Of course, my sorrow over the house went deeper than the made-for-TV montage. Even with my complicated relationship to family, there was something psychically comforting about knowing that my parents would always be exactly where I’d last left them; that if anything ever went south, or if I ever needed to say “fuck it” and escape, I could always return to the first place I ever called home. I could walk through the front door, fall asleep, and wake up to the same windows and birdsong I knew for 18 years. For a while there, I had my cake and ate it, too: I got to find my new home and a new definition of family as an adult, knowing that my first home would always be there for me, waiting.
What didn’t occur to me was that my parents, after decades of marriage and raising five children together, might want to make a new home, too. That they might not want to live in an increasingly empty house, walking through memories of the lives their children have long since left behind.
I suppose “losing” one’s childhood home is just part of growing up — like the adult version of relinquishing your security blanket. More importantly, though, I realized that, while I could honor as many feelings as I had about the situation, my parents’ move wasn’t about me at all. Listening to my mom nervously pack boxes and make summer plans, I heard a kind of excitement I hadn’t felt from her in ages. Just like she raised her children to make homes and worlds of their own, it’s now her turn to do the same. And luckily for my dad, she’s taking him along for the ride, too.