Late afternoon May sun shines brightly through the large and small south-facing casement windows in my home office, where I'm seated at my desk, between them, staring at my laptop. Five people have just entered and are arranging themselves around the room.
"Do you know how to use these?" the 20-something home inspector asks my prospective buyers, a young, as-yet-unmarried couple living nearby, in Center City. "You depress the latch here, to get them tightly closed," he explains, as he lifts and depresses the long white metal lever. "You lift the latch and turn the crank to open and close the window."
Seriously, is he telling them how to open the windows?
He moves over to the large casement window to my left that tilts out and also can be raised; when he tries to raise it, he finds that it lacks springs, and won't stay up. "This one goes on the repair list," he states flatly.
I turn to look at them and stammer, "We usually go directly from heat to air conditioning."
He throws me a bone. "Many people in the city don't ever open their windows," he declares with authority.
I had thought it would be a good idea to remain at home during the nearly three-hour inspection of my townhouse, attended by the young purchasing couple, one of their mothers, the home inspector and the realtor. I had thought they might need me to answer questions, but the home inspector has made it clear that they would prefer to move freely throughout the house, without me.
In spite of their hushed tones, I can overhear their conversation, without trying. Mostly, they're talking about the renovations the couple plans to make, which I take as a good sign: They are imagining how to make my house their home.
After the window demonstration, they exit my office, except for the mom, who is about my age. She leans over and whispers confidentially, "They're thinking of taking out this closet to install a washer and dryer, but I think they'll need this bedroom for the second grandchild!" I nod my enthusiastic agreement.
Buying a home is like offering up prayers; each member of the family pictures their perfect future, replete with furnishings, people—both born and unborn—living in these rooms, with visitors coming and going, all bound together in love. No one ever imagines silent sorrows that might lurk in corners, or grief that might seep into crevices.
These walls have contained so much joy, and dreams of home, fulfilled. I lived in this house for nearly eight years with the lover who became my husband, and with my youngest son, who went off to college, and then, one summer, met up with his older brother in Minnesota, and drove the car that crashed, hurling them both into a ditch on a Wisconsin highway.
This house has been a house of mourning, a place where I sat shiva for four nights on a low folding chair in a sunken living room with a marble fireplace, tears streaming down my cheeks, as I recounted stories about my spirited 29-year old son, left in a coma, who died three months after the crash.
It seemed that every inch of the 1,800 square feet was crammed with people reaching out to comfort me, and to share their memories of him. The crowd spilled out into my small paved, and tastefully landscaped yard, where they leaned, listening, against the living room windows, which were open, to let in the gentle breezes of early October, and to carry our remembrances high into the night air.
On one of the four nights, it was so hot that we all drifted outside, as in a dream, forming a giant circle in the common courtyard, holding hands, as neighbors watched from their windows, and opened them wide, to listen to our singing.