What We Leave Behind

Patti Davis learns that she's becoming the person she wants to be

by Patti Davis
flowers green path image
Photograph: Illustration: Brian Stauffer

I’m living in a house that will soon not be mine. Two handymen come daily and change things, repaint rooms a dull neutral color. I stopped using the master bathroom because the landlords decided to knock down walls, reposition the toilet and retile the floor.

When I leased this Victorian two years ago, I imagined someday buying it. But after getting to know the place intimately, I decided it would not be a good marriage. The floor plan is choppy, not meant for socializing. The kitchen is far from the dining room, and each of the two “parlors” can accommodate one person and a cat as long as neither is overweight.

As soon as my lease was up, the landlords informed me they were going to sell. I couldn’t afford to move right then, so I made a deal. They could revamp the house while I was still in it; I’d stay and even put up with showings when it went on the market. Since I’ve decorated the place nicely, they would enjoy the benefit of “staging” without having to pay for it. And I could delay the inevitable move. This is how I came to experience the strange emotional detachment of residing in a house that no longer feels like home.

The other day I was weeding the garden, and one of the handymen asked me why I bothered. I told him, “I don’t want to leave it choked with weeds.”

We both went back to work, and I thought about what happens when we move on. It’s so easy to think, I won’t be living here anymore, so who cares how I leave the place? But what remains after we settle elsewhere reveals much about us. It shows how caring we are or how careless. Those who leave weeds and rubble in their wake probably do the same in relationships.

Long ago, in another house I moved into, I unlocked the door to find mouse droppings in the kitchen, a bathroom that had apparently not been cleaned for months and windows so dirty, I could barely see out. I was casually acquainted with the couple who had preceded me, and from then on, whenever I ran into them, all I could think of was the dirt they had left for me to clean up. I began to notice their behavior with each other, certain that I saw messiness and neglect beneath the absence of affection between them.

As Rickie Lee Jones sang, “You never know when you’re making a memory.”
Maybe that’s why I prune the bushes and plant blue lobelia in a garden that soon won’t be mine. Lobelia can sprout unexpectedly. After a season or two, it just appears, like a gift. What we plant takes root, produces seeds, and blooms not just for us but also for whoever comes after us.

Ideally, that’s how we should live our lives—as if each moment has roots and will grow long after we have moved on.

I sit in this garden at end of day, after the handymen have gone and quiet descends. I listen to birds perched high in trees that someone else planted. I spent months transforming this garden, thinking I’d stay forever. I put in lavender, daylilies and jasmine. It’s May and all are blooming.

A few friends have told me I made a bad deal with my landlords. And in a way they’re right. But I’m learning a precious lesson in these inconvenient months. I’m learning how, at age 60, to become the person I want to leave behind on this earth.

Patti Davis’s new novel, on Kindle, is Till Human Voices Wake Us.

Want MORE from Patti Davis? Read "Ronald Reagan: My Disappearing Dad."

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First Published Fri, 2013-02-01 09:57

Find this story at:

http://www.more.com/relationships/attitudes/what-we-leave-behind