The packing was done, the moving truck gone and the cleaning finished. I walked down the stairs, sliding my hand down the rail, looking at bare walls where our children’s faces used to smile, framed in family photos and vacation snapshots.
I stepped into the hall where the rug used to be. That irritating rug never would lie flat. I nearly tripped over it a hundred times, but I wished for a hundred more. In the kitchen, curtainless windows made the room look unusually bright — bright, clean and empty.
A couple of weeks and a few thousand miles later, we walked into the new house. The kids ran upstairs, eager to see the bedrooms and divvy them up. A new house in a new neighborhood. Shiny clean floors and white walls — white, clean and empty.
A new beginning. Another house to fill. How can something so empty be so heavy? I felt the weight of all I would need to do make this empty place into our home.
A few months later, I sat on the stairs in my neighbor’s house talking to her and holding her new baby girl. We sat on the stairs because there was no other place to sit. The furniture was long gone, and the house was empty.
Everything was perfect for the housing inspection that day, but way too clean for real life. No cheerios on the floor or crayon on the walls. All traces of the family who lived here were gone. Soon the family would be gone, too.
I’m beginning to hate clean, empty houses. I have seen too many of them. A few assignments ago, it was easier to start all over. Each move adds names to our Christmas list and pictures to the scrapbook, but it leaves an empty feeling that grows harder to fill each time.
I erase an entry in my address book, write a new one, erase again and again. Eventually the paper is worn out, and I can’t put another name there. Some spaces just have to stay empty.
But the emptiness reminds me of what used to be there: The imprint of so many names that I can’t list them all. They have left their mark. I could work frantically to fill in every blank, trying to get rid of the empty feeling, but some empty spaces need to stay that way. It leaves room for what I can remember, but can’t carry with me.
However, I wouldn’t leave my whole house empty in memory of what used to be. I could carry on like a low-budget Solomon, moaning about the futility of unpacking only to repack in a year or two; but what would life be like if I left everything empty and lived out of cardboard boxes?
Some spaces must be filled, or life would be futile.
This morning when I was out walking through the neighborhood, I saw more empty houses. Today, they don’t make me as sad as they used to.
At one empty house, a full minivan stood in the driveway. A mom unloaded it while her children played in the garage.
Their moving truck will come soon. They’ll empty their boxes and fill the house. Maybe a little empty space will remain, a little sadness for what’s left behind, but maybe that’s the way it should be.
Some spaces wait to be filled and some emptiness remains: a reminder of the fullness of other places and other days.
Terri Barnes is a military wife and mother of three. She lives and writes in Germany. Write to her at email@example.com and see the Spouse Calls blog at