On Leaving Home

Written by Erica de Belen
Art by Kelly Moon

By the time these words pour out into the world, I will be at a home somewhere else. Childhood will only be a three hour drive away, but I won’t be able to cross the threshold of our doorway and say, I live here. Lately, I have been so preoccupied with the thought of moving away from my too-familiar, well-beloved home, that writing has been a struggle. It is currently the weekend, and I have been starting at my blank Google Doc for an eternity. I ask my little brother, sitting across from me on our dilapidated couch, what to write about. He says, write about time. And what about it?—I ask. How it goes on too fast. 

He’s right. Time has been rushing faster than ever lately. For a moment, I had felt like I was the only person in the world who had felt its continual, unbreakable, flow. I have seen it in the way my little brother, the bunso of the family, had suddenly grown so tall—that the other day in the bookstore, he had to grab the book on the highest shelf for me. He laughed at how I couldn’t retrieve George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, but I still recall the time when I had to reach for the things he couldn’t even see. I have seen this in the way my Kuya has become familiar with Manila’s busy streets; how he can come and go as he pleases now—how he takes on the world with an unwavering tenacity. I have seen this in the way my parents’ eyes glossed over, when I told them I had been accepted into college. Their eyes betrayed how they felt for a fleeting moment. How strange it was to me, to know that they also experience moments like these—you know, those moments when you are face-to-face with the fact that things really are becoming too different. And undoubtedly, there will be more occasions like this. I will see more of this in empty rooms, in cardboard boxes, in saying goodbye to home.

A friend once told me that I am too sentimental. I did not realize its truth up until this point. I have always been the type to hold on to things—albeit, for a bit too long. I keep things close to my chest. If you’re going to take something away from me, you’d have to pry it off my cold hands. So, while my family has already processed the fact that we will be leaving our home of eight years, here I am, not knowing what the first step is to letting go. How do I move on, and allow this to be woven into my past? 

To be fair, I will not deny that there is a curiosity that comes with this change. But these sentiments are  accompanied by a feeling I do not know how to describe other than an overwhelming grief. Grief for what will be left behind. Oh, my house—my house is more than its walls; more than its physical comforts. This house is a holder of memories. These walls have been a witness to my growing up. To leave now would feel like I am leaving a small girl behind, one who is too young to understand why. 

To cope with the change, I have slowly been re-reading my favorite short story, White Nights by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. There is a line that stands out to me that hasn’t in the past, for how it encapsulates the sorrow of a season now gone. The narrator describes how spring in his hometown, Petersburg, happens for only a brief moment in time:

                   . . . .And you grieve that the momentary beauty has faded so soon never to return, that it flashed upon you so treacherously, so vainly, grieve because you had not even time to love her. . . .

I have always thought that I would leave this house whenever I felt ready. I imagined that growing up would take forever, but before I knew it, the end of it all rushed in, oh so quickly. A momentary beauty. A fading image. A point in time I can never return to. How does one know when they are ready to move on from this season to the next? 

Here’s the simple, scary truth: No one ever does. And no one said you had to be. 

When childhood becomes a three hour drive away, I will open all the curtains—let the soft sunlight in, as I always do—then, when these words begin to live on without me, I hope remembering will be enough. I cannot return to the days gone by. But what matters is that I have lived them once. And they were beautiful.

So, goodbye. I am not ready, but it’s time to go.