The Sign

The sign is actually quite simple, just the realtor’s name, his company, and contact information. It stands to the right of the stairs that lead up to the front porch. Because it's a windy day, the sign sways, but the post that anchors it, remains steady.

The sign must’ve been planted when I was elsewhere in the house because this is my first sighting. From my window view, I see that the message is printed on both sides. Good idea, I think, that way passersby coming from either direction, can learn that our house is up for sale.

I say "our” house because I can't yet bring myself to omit my husband from its ownership. And perhaps that's one reason I hesitated in allowing the sign to be erected in the first place.

"Can we put it on the market without a sign?" I had asked my realtor.

"If that's what you want, that's fine," he said.

"I'm just not ready."

"No problem."

I'm not sure why I balked. After all, my neighbors have followed my life and Tommy's illness with steady concern and support, and are all aware of my decision. "We hate to see you go," they had said, "but we understand."

Nearly 13 years ago, when we first bought the house, these neighbors came to our door bearing a flowering plant and a plate of cookies. "Welcome," they said, and then handed me a flyer for a block party that was scheduled later that month.

One by one, I met nearly everyone on our street. I’ve been witness to pregnant bellies and adoptions that brought forth children whom I’ve watched sprout taller every year. And, I’ve seen puppies grow from wild frolickers to snoozers on front lawns.

The block parties continue as annual events, and each year spread further up and down the closed-off street as new young families discover us. "We've blossomed into a small-town square, straight out of Norman Rockwell," is how I described our last party.

Perhaps Tommy’s and my entry into the neighborhood all those years ago was made easier because of our own Golden Retriever, for this is a dog-addicted neighborhood. There’s a park at the end of our block that attracts early risers who meet daily to release their pets to delirious chasing of tennis balls, and one another.

After our dog died in June at the age of 14, I'd still return to the park at the morning light and imagine Buddy in the mix. He was just 1-1/2 years old when we chose him from a shelter. For a few weeks after he was gone, I'd return to the park with my jacket pockets still filled with treats, a tennis ball, and a plastic bag. I'd sit on a bench and chat with friends while watching the dogs play. Eventually, though, I deposited a half dozen balls on one neighbor's porch, and boxes of treats on another's.

As I think of it, perhaps I didn't want to put up the for-sale sign because I thought it would break Tommy's heart, even if he might be too remote to notice. "Feet first," he'd say whenever anyone would ask if we'd ever leave.

Lately though, I believe my husband would approve of my decision to sell and move to a rental apartment. He knows I'm useless with a hammer, am terrified of a power mower, and need more than a stepladder to change a lightbulb. These were his tasks, and I’m certain he’d rather I keep my hands off them.

Because of the way he cared for me during our 16 years together (2 as sweethearts, and 14 as wedded), I don't think Tommy's keen on me living here alone, despite the safety of our neighborhood. In fact, as I do the nightly security check: lock windows and doors, turn on outside lights, and draw the drapes, I can sense him in my shadow, double-checking my work.

I realize that in the morning, when I do the reverse of the nighttime check, when I open the drapes, turn off the porch lights, and unlock the front door to retrieve the newspapers, the first thing I'll spot is the sign. Perhaps I should brace myself for the expected pang.

But it could be, that after a night’s sleep, I’ll see it in a different light -- not as a prompt of old memories, but as guidepost to my new chapter.