How my house became my home

This week, it’s been a decade since my mother moved into her house. A ten-year anniversary. A big deal, I suppose. But why should this mean anything to me?

This house is not my childhood home. We moved in when I was 18 ­– two days after I started matric exams, actually (this nerd was pretty grumpy about it). My sister and I disliked our new abode intensely.

At the time, we blamed the aesthetics. Our previous home had been big and beautiful. In comparison, this house was minute and mediocre. The truth, though, is that this house wasn’t our home and if it were up to us, we definitely wouldn’t have moved.

But a lot happens in ten years.

This house was where I received my matric exam results and experienced the conflicting feelings of pride and disillusionment – proud because I’d achieved five distinctions and a B for higher-grade maths; disillusioned because I’d realised by then that this achievement didn’t matter that much in the big, real world.

This was where I loved – truly loved – my first pooch. I’d always been a cat person but the arrival of the dachshund at the end of 2003 changed my mind about dogs forever.

This was where a friend picked me up for a night out. When he dropped me off in the early hours of the morning, he stopped his car in the middle of the street and kissed me. A few weeks later, we were in love. A few years later, I began leaving the house alone and tried to remember how to be single.

This was where, during a birthday party, I stealthily procured liquor for the tent at the bottom of the garden, where my sister and her teenage friends got drunk for the first time.

This was where I was awoken by strangers with guns. They drugged the German shepherd and beat up my father. They asked me how old I was and when I replied with a lie, they declared that I was too young to be raped. They drank all the wine in the bar. They hauled off their loot in my grandmother’s Ford. My sister came home and found us tied up and bloody in my parents’ room. She was hysterical, but I remember that moment as the most grateful moment of my life. We were going to be okay.

This was where a friend arrived to help me move out. I was excited and heartbroken to be leaving.

This was where I tried to explain to my confused father that he had a cancerous brain tumour. By that stage, he didn’t even know how to put on his seat belt or operate the microwave. During the following four months, I watched my father die in this house. For the last three nights, my sister and I camped out in my parents’ bedroom, waking up every few hours to screaming or to a soiled adult nappy. Shortly after 2 pm that Wednesday, I felt a sense of horror and relief as my dad’s death rattle diminished into silence.

This was where I met my uncle from Cape Town. My grandmother was dying of colon cancer and he’d come up to say goodbye. I was 26 and I’d never met my uncle before.

This was where I watched my mother reclaim her life. I saw her set up her own business. I cheered when she sold the couches that my father had loved but which everyone else had always despised. I helped her set up her online dating profile, and I shook my head and laughed with her when she called me with stories about sex maniacs and mad men. This house was where I met the man who is now her partner.

This was where I arrived with my then fiancé (now husband) one evening and announced our engagement to my family. My sister had already guessed why we were there and was beaming and bouncing in the passage when we arrived. A year later, she curled my hair in my grandmother’s old room and dressed me in a shirt that read ‘Marrying a rock star’ before we headed out for my hen night.

A lot happens in ten years.

Not all my memories of this house are good memories. Many memories are not even worth mentioning. But there are memories. This house is where my wedding dress hangs in a cupboard, where family photographs line the walls, where books I’ve read sit on shelves, where pets I love lie in the sun. I may not have lived there the whole time but at some point in the last decade, this house became a home.

Read Kelly's blog here.

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