37: The Empty Room

37: The Empty Room

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

The Empty Room

Even on the weakest days I get a little bit stronger.

~Sara Evans

I peeked through the front window, saw his familiar face and wondered when he’d become a stranger. He continued up the walk, past the river birch trees, and knocked on the door.

“I’m here for the furniture,” he said, with defeat in his soft brown eyes. I glanced toward the pickup truck in the driveway. His buddy Richard gave an awkward half wave.

“Yeah. Uh… hi.” I stroked my half-combed hair and pushed it behind my ear. I wondered if he missed me.

He stepped inside our former dream house — a refuge we’d designed and built shortly after the birth of our youngest, now in kindergarten.

“I’d like to take this stuff… this room of stuff.” He motioned straight ahead toward the living room. “I think it’ll fit into my new place.”

“Yeah… Okay.” I looked around slowly. “All of it?”

“Well, I need something to sit on. I need stuff. I have to live too, you know.”

“Yeah, of course. That’s fine.”

As always with him, it happened fast. Out went the leather couch, the two chairs and the unusual coffee table shaped like a painter’s palette that I had picked out a few years ago. He took the lamps, the books, the plants and the art off the wall. The last piece to go was a small Shona sculpture with a family of figures carved out of serpentine. It had been a Mother’s Day gift.

After a few trips, the room was bare, except for a large area rug that stretched from one end to the other.

“I guess that’s it for now,” he said, wiping sweat from his forehead. “We can figure out the rest later.”

I nodded and shut the door behind him. The unexpected echo sounded like ten doors closing.

With the kids at Grandma’s, the house was strangely quiet. I stared at the empty room for a long while, thinking I should vacuum and maybe move a few things from other rooms in there. I thought about the decorating magazines lined up neatly in rows at the store. It was only two o’clock. I could pick up a magazine and maybe stop at a furniture outlet on the way home. Instead, I walked upstairs and slipped into my bed, pulling the covers over my head.

The next morning, the sun streamed through the window and woke me. I still wore my yellow sweatshirt and ragged jeans with the hole in the knee.

I went downstairs and looked into the belly of my house. It was empty.

I needed to escape the emptiness for a while, so I started searching for distractions. First came the older guy, with the boyish grin, looking for a wife. At least that’s what he implied on the way to the restaurant. By dessert, I learned his youngest would be heading to college soon, leaving an empty nest behind. Then came the busy investor, who dated to fill the space between days with his kids. And then the young divorcé, who still parked on the far left of his garage as if she’d be home soon.

I learned fairly quickly that dating wasn’t going to do the trick. My focus shifted to other things, like my fledgling communications business.

One Saturday, I stumbled into the self-help aisle at Barnes & Noble; I would be a frequent visitor for the next six months. I dug out my old running shoes and took myself to the gym a few times a week. I started to hit tennis balls against my garage, began writing again and signed up for sailing lessons. Eventually, I learned how to go solo to the neighbors’ cookouts.

One Sunday, my kids and I volunteered to serve dinner to the homeless across town. Later that spring, we planted a garden in front of a women’s shelter.

During all this time, the empty room remained untouched.

One summer evening when my kids were with their dad, I turned on some music, thinking I would hear it in the kitchen. Instead, the song called to me from the empty room’s built-in speakers.

I tiptoed in and sat on the edge of the rug. Soon, I drifted toward the middle of the room. I lay down, closed my eyes and spread my arms open. I surrendered to the song, “The Prayer” by Andrea Bocelli. He sang, When we lose our way, Lead us to a place, Guide us with your grace, To a place where we’ll be safe.

The next day, I put my dinner on a wicker tray and met Bocelli in the empty room for a picnic.

The rug was surprisingly comfortable. I settled in and looked around. With everything stripped away, I was able to see the simple lines of the room, the high ceiling and tall windows. I glanced westward and noticed something in the far distance. I blinked and shook my head.

Is that a view of the lake? How did I miss that?

I couldn’t help but giggle.

The sun inched toward the horizon, painting bright orange and pink streaks across the sky that seemed to dance across the top of the water. I felt myself drawn toward the sun like the day lilies in my garden.

There on the floor in the empty room, I ate and watched the stunning show of color. It was a brilliant celebration. Soon, the last speck of orange gave way to nightfall.

As the moon gently lit the room, I realized that sometimes emptiness is just a wide, open space. Space to breathe. And maybe a little space is exactly what I needed… to find myself.

About a year later, we moved from that house. I never did furnish the empty room. I had grown to appreciate it exactly as it was.

~Mindi Susman Ellis

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