Empty house
Our last day in the United States: A retrospective

Shortly after we moved, I started writing a few things for myself about our final days in the United States, a private reminder of all of the insanity involved in making this jump to a nomadic lifestyle.  We sold all of our stuff (minus the eight suitcases we took with us) in preparation for our move.  We worked at our regular jobs up until two days before we left.  We remodeled and sold our house — we closed on our house on a Friday morning and flew out of the country that night.  To say that it was a stressful time is an understatement.  It’s been a couple of months now, so all of that stress and craziness has become kind of a distant memory.  So, re-reading what I wrote in those first days after our move was a bit of a humorous reminder of everything that went on, and something that I think many people who make any kind of a move or life change can appreciate.  

So, for your entertainment, here is how it all went down.

Timeline of our final day in the United States:

6:00 a.m. – Wake up in the basement of my husband’s sister’s house.  Try to unglue my eyelids that refuse to stay open after a short five hours of uncomfortable sleep that was interrupted every hour by the dog who has been glued to my side and insists on sharing the couch with me but refuses to move and give me any leg room.  Realize that today is The Day.  My husband and I fist-bump each other in excitement about the pending awesomeness.

6:05 a.m. – Start planning what we still need to do today.  Panic.

6:15 a.m. – Head upstairs and chat with the family for a few minutes.  Load up the stuff we’ve brought with us into the car, and head back to our house for the final round of moving.

6:30 a.m. – Enter the house.  Realize that when my husband was mentally planning what we needed to do and how much time it would take that he forgot one of the rooms which had at least two carloads of stuff in it.  Panic quietly to myself as he verbally berates himself for forgetting. Begin the final clearing out.

8:00 a.m. – I leave to go to the closing while my husband is still feverishly working at the house.  It has started snowing, despite the fact that it is April 30th.  Because it’s Colorado, and that’s what it does.  I’m worried that the snow will snarl up traffic, and the office I need to go to is already 30-40 minutes when it’s good traffic, good weather, and not rush hour.  I worry that I may be late to the 9 a.m. closing.

8:35 a.m. – I arrive at the office of the title company, having made spectacular time.  The title agent says that I can start signing my part of the paperwork even though the buyer hasn’t arrived yet.  I agree, and we fly through the paperwork.  There is much less paperwork to sign when you’re selling a house than there is when you’re buying one.  By a factor of a thousand, by my rough estimate.

8:55 a.m. – The buyer arrives at the closing.  I met him the previous day when he and his realtor came to do the final walk-through of the property.  He is very nice, and I liked him immediately.  He settles in to sign his mountain of paperwork.

9:00 a.m. – Because there is plenty of time to wait at this point, I leave to drop off the load of stuff at my in-laws’ house that my husband put in my car before I left.  It is only about ten minutes from the office.

9:10 a.m. – Arrive at my in-laws’ house and start unloading stuff into their garage.  Begin cursing my husband when I realize that this load of stuff contains 13 boxes of ceramic floor tile which each weigh about a thousand pounds, by my rough estimate. (My rough estimates might be a little off.)

9:30 a.m. – Arrive back at the title company’s office, where the buyer is still signing his part of the paperwork.  I wonder to myself how many trees it takes to make the paper needed for a single real estate sale.

10:00 a.m. – The paperwork is all done, and everyone is happy.  My real estate agent (who is a good friend of ours) and I are chatting with the buyer while we wait for our final copies of everything from the title company.  I hand over the keys to the buyer, and we congratulate each other.  I have forewarned the buyer that Brian is still in the house moving the last carload of things out of the house and that I am headed back to what is now his house to help.  He has already met Brian previously and feels totally comfortable with the fact that we are not destroying his newly-purchased house, and I express my gratitude for that fact.

10:01 a.m. – The title agent hands me a check for the proceeds of the sale.  The number is almost incomprehensible to me.  One little piece of paper worth what roughly equates to seven years of work at my first job out of college.  I don’t know why that equation springs to mind, but it puts it in perspective.  Granted, that job paid like shit, but nonetheless, the gravity of it strikes me.

10:05 a.m. – We say our goodbyes, congratulate each other again, and I head back to the house.  I’m really hoping that everything is pretty much done when I get there.

10:35 a.m. – Pick up my son from his house to come and help with the last of things and hang out with us for the day before we go.  We head for the house.  I’m really hoping that everything is pretty much done when we get there.

11:00 a.m. – Arrive back at the house.  Everything is not almost done.

11:01 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. – My memory gets a little fuzzy here.  What I’m pretty sure went on is that both my husband and I each took at least two carloads to different places, much of which went to his parents’ house, which is, of course, about 45 minutes each way.  Pretty sure that I made two round trips there.  It is snowing harder now.  In my head, it’s just a glossy mess of loading, unloading, windshield wipers, and wondering if I’m driving too fast on snowy roads.  I am anxious, hungry, and tired.  I remind myself that I am hours away from tropical weather to keep it together.  During one of my loading stops back at the house, the new homeowner stops by to drop off a couple of things that have been taking up precious space in his already crowded apartment living room.  I apologize for still being there, and he assures us that it’s no problem and reiterates that he’s excited for us and our big upcoming adventure.  I once again tell him how much I appreciate him.  I’m happy he bought our house.

2:30 p.m. – I arrive back at the house after having dropped off my final load of stuff.  My niece has come over to the house to help at some point while I was gone.  She and my son have been cleaning.  Everything is done and as clean as it’s going to get.  The carpet on the stairs still has dog hair all over it, but any sort of vacuum we once owned is long gone, and I mentally apologize to the kind new homeowners.  The entryway could really use a final round of sweeping, too, but the broom is apparently long gone, too.  My son has done the best he has with what he’s got.  We load up the last of the stuff, including the dogs and the kennels into our respective cars.  The dogs don’t know what to make of any of this and have been alternating between following us on our heels and staring at us mournfully from their makeshift blanket dog beds in the middle of the living room.  We agree to meet at my in-laws’ house, where we will spend the rest of our hours before we leave.  My husband drives off with the dogs in his car.  They are thrilled to be with him, even if they have no idea what’s going on.  He is their favorite person.  (I don’t blame them, he’s my favorite, too.)

2:55 p.m. – My son, niece, and I do one final walk-through of the house to make sure that we haven’t missed anything.  The only discovery is the long-lost broom, and I am happy that I can sweep up the entryway, hoping it’s a little bit of good karma to offset leaving the dog hair on the carpet.

3:00 p.m. – I stand in the living room and look around.  Houses look so different when they’re empty.  The wood floors make our voices echo.  I take a few final pictures of the empty living room, a memento to remember the craziness of this, our final day in what we thought would be our home for decades and the start of the adventure of our lifetime.  I feel some pangs of sadness for what we have “lost” and feel nostalgic, but I also heave a huge sigh of relief that this part of it is finally, finally done.

Empty house
“Peace out!” My son and my niece adding gravitas to our final moments in our house. They are pretty awesome.

3:05 p.m. – I leave the last house keys on the counters for the new owners, and I walk out the front door, sweeping the entryway behind me as I go.  (Because karma.)  I turn the lock on the door handle and close the door behind me.  It’s final.  I don’t live here anymore.  I get in my car and drive away for the last time.

3:06 p.m. – I realize that I am now officially homeless.  And I’m okay with that.

3:15 p.m. – I go to the bank to deposit my incomprehensible check.  I feel compelled to tell the teller that I just sold my house this morning and that this is from the sale, because I feel really weird and nervous about the amount of money I’m depositing.  Like it’s illicit drug money or something and security might be watching me.  (Because all drug money comes in the form of certified checks from title companies.)  The teller looks unimpressed and mumbles something like “Oh, congratulations,” and then stamps my deposit receipt and hands it to me.  He obviously does not appreciate the magnitude of this life-changing event.  Alas.  “Have a nice day.”  “Thank you.  You, too.”  And it’s done.

4:00 p.m. – Arrive at my husband’s parents’ house.  Empty the final bits and pieces of our about-to-be-previous life.  Begin poring over paperwork, sorting out the birth certificates, immunization records, and spare credit cards that will go into the safe-keeping of my in-laws’ safe deposit box.  Fill out bills of sale and sign titles for the cars that we are selling to my nephew and my in-laws, respectively.  Sign wills and powers of attorney for situations we hope don’t come to pass.  My eyes are glazing over, and I’m feeling overwhelmed as the time to finish everything quickly approaches.

5:00 p.m. – Head to the bathroom to take a wildly overdue shower.  Revel in hot water, cleanliness, and peace and quiet for a few minutes.  Realize that at this point, there is pretty much nothing to do but wait.

5:30 p.m. – My husband’s sister, her husband, and their two kids arrive at the house.  A cheerful whirlwind of chaos ensues, but I am too glossed over at this point to properly appreciate it.  Our dogs are obviously confused and somewhat distressed.  They are at our heels at every turn.  The family orders Chinese take-out for dinner.  I get moo shu vegetables, which I lovingly refer to as Chinese burritos, and they are delicious.  I compulsively keep looking at the clock and do mental math of when we need to leave for the airport, and struggle to comprehend that, yes, this is really happening.

7:30 p.m. – We start to say our goodbyes and get everything together.  There are lots of hugs and well wishes, with an underlying tone of sadness as everyone realizes that these will be the last hugs for some time.  I get a little choked up as I’m hugging my 20-year-old son and saying goodbye to him, but I manage to keep it together and stay positive.  I’m hoping he will come to visit and stay with us for a bit within a few months.  We hug tighter and longer than usual.  This is the one thing that I will truly miss.

7:45 p.m. – Pack it all up and head out.  We load our stuff into what was my car until a few hours ago but is now my mother-in-law’s car. We put our dogs and their kennels in what will momentarily be my nephew’s SUV.  My husband and I drive the SUV to my niece and nephew’s house, with my husband’s parents following us in the other car.  On the way, I remember that we need to have some sort of proof of future departure from Costa Rica in order for Costa Rican customs to let us into the country, which will be pre-checked by airline personnel when we check in for our flight in an hour.  Our default tourist visa is good for three months, so we have to show proof that we are leaving the country before that time is up.  I hastily jump on my phone and buy a one-way airline ticket for both of us from San Jose to Panama City within the proper time frame so that we have proof of departure.  (I cancel the ticket within the 24-hour grace period the next day after we are into Costa Rica so that we’re not charged for the tickets.)

8:15 p.m. – We drop off the dogs, kennels, and the car with my nephew and niece.  They have graciously (delightedly) agreed to watch our dogs for a few days until we get settled in San Jose and get a car worked out down there, and then the dogs will fly down and join us.  We are not thrilled about the flight for the dogs, but there’s really no way around it, other than giving up our dogs, which is not an option.  I think my husband is almost as stressed out about this prospect as the dogs will be on the flight, but it has to be done.  We hug my niece and nephew goodbye, and the dogs look at us mournfully.  I am sad and guilty, but I know they are in good hands and will be properly spoiled while we are gone, and we will see them again in five days.  My husband and I pile into my parents-in-laws’ car, and we all head for the airport.

9:00 p.m. – Arrive at the airport.  We hug my husband’s parents and say our goodbyes as the late-spring snow falls upon us.  I’m impressed that no one cries (at least while we’re still saying our farewells).  The two of us wrangle our eight bags through the airport doors and toward check-in, giving one final wave as we go.  Our check-in process is uneventful (and my Travelocity tickets to Panama are given the thumbs up as proof of departure), and half of our luggage heads down the conveyor belt as checked baggage.  We each keep one rolling carry-on and one smaller backpack as a personal item.  It is late, so there isn’t much of a line at security, and we sail through.

Me at the airport
Me at the airport, waiting for our flight to Costa Rica, still in shock that it’s all actually happening.

9:30 p.m. – We have an hour to kill before our flight starts boarding, so we go to Elway’s, the only thing on the concourse that is still open and serving drinks at that hour.  We order drinks and a salad (because it’s pretty much the only vegetarian option on the menu and it costs under fifteen bucks, unlike most of the rest of the menu).  I order a Long Island iced tea, because I’m making the most of my one drink.  We take the requisite “we’re at the airport and we’re leaving!” pictures and post them to Facebook.  Then we look at each other and realize that it is all really happening.  Months and years of planning and work, of excitement and doubt, of wondering if this was all either awesome or crazy, here we were.  We know where we are staying in San Jose for our first few days.  We know that we need to find and buy a car once we get there, because we want to travel around, but traveling with two dogs limits our mode of transportation.  And we have rented a house in the jungle in a beach town called Ojochal for two and a half months to get us started.  We’ve never lived near a beach or in a jungle, and we wonder if we are going to regret that decision, but we decide we can do anything for a couple of months.  The beauty of our situation is that we can travel wherever we want to whenever we want to.  We’ll decide what we want to do after we get there.

10:30 p.m. – We board the plane and settle in. We talk for a few minutes, giddy with excitement, but completely exhausted from the days of craziness that are now behind us.  We fall asleep quickly, knowing that when we wake up, we will be in our new country.  Our new life has begun.