Stories from Seattle: Coming Home Has Never Felt So Good

"Our remodeled house is everything we hoped it would be; I just never imagined that our first weeks back would be spent here 24/7"

By Virginia Smyth


April 13, 2020

On March 21—a day that seems like a lifetime ago—my husband and I packed a few last boxes, closed the door on a sweet little rental house near Alki Point, and headed over the West Seattle Bridge to our house in Wallingford.

Due to a major house remodel, we had spent the last eight months living a vagabond life (four locations for me; three for my husband). We were finally moving back, amazingly about 10 days before the project’s original scheduled completion date (how often does that happen?). As we traveled over the West Seattle Bridge, we didn’t know we would be one of the last cars on it before it closed for an indefinite period. But that’s another story.

Our remodeled house is everything we hoped it would be. I just never imagined that our first weeks back would be spent here 24/7. I know there are people who say this pandemic was just a matter of time—not an if, but a when—but I wasn’t one of them. It’s still hard to believe that I can’t go to the office, let alone to a shopping center, or a restaurant, or to visit my granddaughter or see friends. Most weekends BC—i.e. before coronavirus—had me away from home more hours than not.

I know I’m one of the privileged ones. My job isn’t threatened. I have this beautiful house that now has a gorgeous home office where I’m spending a good chunk of every day. My kids are close by, even if I can’t see them at the moment. No one in my immediate family is sick (knock wood).

But still—we always want more. Each day, I try not to think about what I would be doing if not for this thing. Like outfitting my new space. I’ve been imagining how I would do this for the last eight months. Somehow, decorating seems frivolous right now.

Then there are the family dinners I was planning. I finally have plenty of room to host such things again. Instead, a laptop has become my favorite tabletop accessory as we adapt to the virtual dinner party.

And what about the time I planned to spend here with my granddaughter, Hazel? I’ve pulled the toys and books her mother played with from attic storage. They’re waiting for Hazel to pluck from the shelves where I’ve optimistically put them. Instead, I’m waving to her from afar, or talking with her on FaceTime. I hope she’ll recognize me when I’m not behind a screen or at a distance.

I’ve also cancelled plans for an extended family vacation/birthday celebration. Maybe we’ll rebook for some time later this year. But probably not. I’m not sure when it will feel safe to travel again.

And, of course, there’s no enjoying in-restaurant dining, local theater productions, bookstore browsing and so many other things that put us in close proximity to one another; the experiences that add color to everyday life and bring us joy. I hope these places survive but it’s looking very grim for small businesses and arts organizations.

Instead, I’m watching a lot of old TV shows and movies I enjoyed BC, and rereading books that are my literary versions of comfort food. In these days of uncertainty, I am looking for something I’m certain I will like.

My husband and I are cooking a lot and we’ve taken to making a ritual of dinner. Cocktails first—outside on the deck anytime the weather cooperates, otherwise in the living room. Then dinner with candles lit and music playing. In these times when the days seem to blend from one to another, dinner is still a moment of gathering – a reliable pause in the day.

Along with many other couples and families, we’re also taking daily strolls around our neighborhood. But as the days go by, I notice we’re stepping aside further when we pass others on the sidewalk. Sometimes we move into the street to give a really wide berth. It feels weird to do this. More so because a lot of times there’s no “hello” or other greeting. And often no eye contact. The question that hangs in the air: Are you infected? Do you have the virus? Have you been exposed?

We’re all wondering when life will return to normal. I don’t want to take a guess about when that will be. But I do feel fairly certain that “normal” won’t look like it did a short few short weeks ago. My house, though, will be here. And that’s no small thing.

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