The morning of my 41st birthday, I pulled up to a small, mid-century home and turned the key for the first time.
Taking a heavy inhale, I walked through and set the first boxes on the kitchen counter. White walls and cabinetry… Like the rest of the house, it was open and blank. Gazing out the window that overlooked our new backyard, I ran my fingers over a tiny, painted Dala horse that sat on the windowsill—the only spot of color in the room.
A week earlier I’d signed the lease—just a 6-month arrangement, since the owners wanted to sell that summer. It was a strategic window of time, I thought. I’ll get the kids through the rest of the school year and by then have a clearer idea of where to settle once the divorce was final.
When I’d first explored the house, I was half-disoriented with overwhelm. The landlady’s sympathetic smile was nearly all I recalled from that visit.
Except, oddly, for the garage… Two decades collapsed the moment I stepped inside its dank, leathery smell—exactly that of my late grandparents’ garage, the place I had watched my grandfather at his work bench, the place I’d run to for mitts, balls, and Frisbees or to study the travel maps and old license plates lining the cinderblock walls. Their home, those memories, had been a childhood oasis for me. Now, for the first time in many months, ease trickled through me as I stood alone in the darkness.
That little house was the first option I’d visited, and it would unexpectedly be the last. Appointments with a dozen apartments and townhomes fell away one by one—even within minutes of my arrival. By chance or serendipity, this was to be our new home—the home I would collapse into with my two young girls following the breakdown of my 13-year marriage.
“What does it look like?” my girls asked with cautious faces. I knew their question bore all the apprehension of what this new life would mean for them. Seemingly mundane details would build ground under this bleak, fearful prospect in their 3- and 6-year-old minds.
I told them about the pink bathroom, the laundry chute, the large kitchen. I mentioned the red-carpeted room downstairs that could house their Lego collection. And the outside? It had an enormous picture window we all could look out of together—maybe to watch the first snowfall soon.
“But what color is it?” my older daughter prodded. “Tannish,” I responded. “The color of a Band-Aid,” I added for the younger one, who those days adorned herself with boxes of them. In that moment, our new home casually became known as “the Band-Aid house.”
We moved there in mid-November, for what would become Minnesota’s coldest winter in nearly four decades. The heating bills were astronomical. The kitchen pipes froze. I stuffed or taped every crevice and gap I could find, every unlined cabinet in an effort to preserve the warmth. The confluence of inner experience and outer conditions took my breath away some days.
Still, our insular life those frigid months bestowed an extraordinary gift—a needed span of sheltered time. Friday nights in the living room, wrapped in quilts and surrounded by stuffed animals, the girls and I watched the fireplace together. On New Year’s Day we made an enormous photo collage of our favorite memories the three of us had shared that past year. I hung Christmas lights throughout the house while the girls set up elaborate fairy villages and hideouts. Art nights at the kitchen table, spa nights painting nails in the bathroom, ballet performances in the living room…these were the happy, close times—beautiful moments amid other despairing hours, tearful embraces, and recurrent goodbyes.
As I shepherded my daughters through those early months of the separation, I was stumbling through my own grief with what felt like bottomless exhaustion. When the house was quiet, I could finally tend my own frozen insides.
I spent late night hours in the bathtub staring at its carnation-tiled walls, letting the heat permeate my emotional numbness. During midday, while the girls were at school, I would soak in every warming ray that poured through that enormous picture window as I worked. In the calming light of a fire and the swathe of an old Amish wool shawl, I read and journaled each evening. Heat became my primary means to feel again.
Over time, however, I braved the cold in a desperate exchange for space. On weekend nights alone, I’d lie bundled in our snowy backyard where the view was unusually sweeping for a city’s edge. Those evenings I’d lose myself, mesmerized by the clouds’ swift passage across the dark sky, exhilarated by the sharp chill. I basked in those moments of rare lightness when all would dissolve into awe and expanse.
The first week of spring, I received an unexpected call from our landlady asking if we’d be interested in renting for another year. The house that was to be a wayside rest had become definitive home for the three of us. We all celebrated that night with lemon cake, an affirmation of the brighter season to come.
Over the next months, as we relaxed into welcome stability, the girls and I lived into an enlivened sense of home. We put up our own art. We painted the kitchen table every color imaginable. I finished a bookcase and relished having all my treasures accessible again. We found or were gifted used furniture to fill each room.
As winter retreated, neighbors emerged with children the girls’ ages. A new energy and community came into our lives—as did a rescue dog named Annie, whose name, we learned, means grace.
As for me, that first summer following the divorce, I thawed from the perch of our backyard deck, watching the kids and dog play, appreciating our life’s steady expansion. I, too, was slowly getting my bearings, mending and meeting myself again on new terms.
Three years later we’re still happily living in the Band-Aid house. We moved here at the onset of a brutal winter, but our home has now seen us through many seasons. It’s held the vulnerability and witnessed the story of these years. Within its intimate walls, we’ve learned to inhabit a new life together.
The experience of the last few years here has shifted the way I contemplate the process of transformation. It would’ve been easy to wholly situate this radical change in catalyzing events themselves. However, the real impact has come through the work of the aftermath. Healing has been a long, cyclical convalescence. Rebuilding life remains a day-to-day labor very much grounded in the particulars of place.
I can freshly recall the ache of grief—but not without the image of the pink bathroom tile. I can remember those first flickers of joy—but they dance in the winter skies. The mix of anxiety and resignation, relief and curiosity I experienced when first stepping into this single life? It lives in the Dala horse—just as optimism grows in the flower bed, and self-discovery rests on the fireplace mantel.
The poet David Whyte wrote, “To feel abandoned is to deny the intimacy of your surroundings.” This has been true for me. The hours I could not or was not ready to share with another person—the house somehow held them securely, sheltering me through those restorative phases.
When I embarked on that path of inevitable change, when I took my first trepidatious steps toward what was next, I was mercifully led to this house—and have been continually met ever since. We were met by the family who brought us banana bread the first evening we settled in. We were met by the thoughtfulness of a neighbor who, not even knowing I’d just had surgery, cleared our driveway and sidewalks after the biggest snowstorm that first winter. Today, we continue to be met by the owners’ hospitality, our neighbors’ generosity, our family’s love, friends’ support, and even total strangers’ thoughtfulness.
It’s been an ironic gift of loss—faith in an abundance of comfort, help, and kindness. These experiences have allowed me to define my story of the last few years not by what was gone but by what arrived.
When we moved to this house, all expectations for the future had dissolved. I was undeniably stepping off a major psychic precipice. The slow work of this time has been a complicated but liberating path. I’ve found myself divinely free to claim an alternative vision from that irrevocable change—a vision that enlivens me more than I ever imagined I’d feel again, a vision that keeps unfolding in breathtaking ways. That November morning years ago, this house extended a threshold to new life; today it continues to offer the deep sanctuary necessary to cultivate it.