It’s snowing here in St. Paul this morning. I don’t remember the last time it snowed. It had been a lovely spring, after a mild winter. We left sub zero temperatures behind in January, and by March the world was already greener and warmer, the days seemingly longer than in previous Marches, though of course that’s not possible.
When I can’t remember the last time I experienced something, it always hurts a little. I don’t remember the last time I washed the sheets and towels before I left my old life. I don’t remember the last cricket match I watched, or followed online. I don’t remember the last time I saw Alistair Cook bat, or Dale Steyn bowl. I don’t remember the last time I just felt okay.
I remember some though.
Last week I closed on my old house. It was the house where I had lived with my ex-wife for 13 years, before I left in the spring, almost two years ago now. I had moved around a lot as a kid. Between the ages of 9 and 13 we moved four times, to four different states, before I ended up here in Minnesota, where I have since stayed. Then I lived in my mother’s house here until I was 18, and then it was college and a series of studio apartments and a house with roommates and then I moved in with my ex-wife and we bought a house in 2003, then sold that one and bought another in 2005, the one we closed on last week.
My wife had lived there alone for the last two years. Living in and around and among all those old ghosts of our collapsed marriage. I always felt bad that she had to walk alone in those rooms with all those old wounds every single day. I had not been to the house for over a year when I went up there in February to sign the papers that put it on the market. It was as hard as I had thought that it was going to be. Ghosts. Memories. Difficult times. Good times. Laughter, tears, shouting. Long afternoons on the patio looking back into that field of endless green, a cold beer, a book, the Twins game on the AM radio.
I went back up there again last week, on the day the house closed. My ex-wife had already moved out. The house was empty. Full of echoes and silence. I cleaned. I swept and washed the floors and cleaned the kitchen. I pulled our dog’s old tie out out of the yard. I took a small rock from the driveway. I found an old receipt from a trip to Target in 2016 and kept that too. I walked from room to room. It was a cloudy day, but the sun kept peeking out here and there. I kept going outside when it did, but I kept missing it. I went to the basement and swam among the memories, to the garage. Every square foot a sadness. I had lived there for 13 years. Longer than I had ever lived anywhere, longer by a country mile. It had been my home. I knew every nook, every cranny, I could walk the house blindfolded. And then I locked the front door. Put the key under the brick on the back porch. Got on my bike. And rode away. For the last time.
Sometimes you remember last times. Sometimes they are truly are the last time. The last time you lock that front door, the last time you leave someone or something behind, knowing no matter what happens, you will never get to go back, never again get to smell your home in the morning on a summer Saturday, when the windows are open, and the sound of lawnmowers is filling the faraway empty spaces of sound, along with bird song and the shouts of children, the odor of freshly cut grass and coffee and home. No more will you be in that place where you once felt safe.
We all have these. Moments when the wave breaks, and rolls back, never to return. Old college apartments, old jobs, old dogs. Dead brothers. Dead dads. Dead friends. Sometimes a thing or a person has a last breath, a last moment in your life, and you remember it forever, and you lie awake at night and feel that gross feeling of the knowledge that what you had is gone.
I remember other lasts, from the not too recent past, before the world caught fire. I remember the last concert I saw: Wilco at the Palace in St. Paul. I remember the last movie. That last match I watched at Lord’s, at Headingley, the last time I watched cricket with my jaw on the floor.
And while sometimes, in the darkest moments, it can feel like all those moments were truly endings, the last of something you once held so close, something you believed would never leave you, we all need to remember, especially in those dark moments, that we have not experienced the last of so much. There were will be concerts again, movies in theaters again, and there will be cricket again. There are times when doors have closed and closed for good, sealed shut. But the doors of the world we used to know have not done that yet. They are still ajar, and one day they will open again, and while we have all experienced lasts, and some that we frustratingly cannot even remember, the world we knew is not one of those.
It will look different, but those doors will open again.
And when they do, we will get the opposite of last times: first times. Our first time in the sun with our family again, our first cricket match again, our first concert again. We will get these, and these we will not forget, nor take for granted. And there cannot help but be hope in that knowledge.
We have all left. And been left. Watched our world collapse, rebuild itself, and collapse again. We have all had doors close, lock, and disappear. We have all laid awake at night and tried to remember the smell of beds long gone, or the last time we laughed, felt okay, or the last time we walked the dog before he quietly passed on in our arms. Those are the finalities we face as humans. It’s the pact we make for all the joy we find. For all those first times when the world opens up in front of us, and life is one, long, endless horizon. And this world we live in now, is not the former, it’s the latter, it’s a door left ajar, waiting to open. And when it’s safe, it will.
Life is a series of endings.
This is not one of them.
I will never bike up the street of my old house, turn into the drive, unlock the garage, peer into the kitchen window at the undeniable space of home. Never again. That is a concrete ending that fills me with an endless well of sadness. But, one day, maybe even soon, that sadness will be filled with the opposite, which makes all those last times worth it: first times. And in a few months, maybe a little longer, maybe not quite as long as that, our world will be a sea of first times, finally allowing us to move on from all of those last times, whether they were personal, or global, or just quiet moments of silent tragedy that broke our hearts.
We might not remember the last time we watched cricket, but that’s okay, because we will watch it again for the first time together soon.