It’s a typical Monday, and I’m standing in my apartment elevator, scrolling through a handful of late afternoon work emails on my phone as a small brown and white Dachshund stares up at me. The other end of the pup’s limp leash finds another disconnected human staring into his own glowing screen. So here the three of us are, riding up four levels in an uncomfortable silence.
As I wait for the cold, fingerprint-smudged silver door to slide open and deliver me to an echoey hallway leading to my apartment, the quiet surrounding us provides the perfect backdrop for my mind to wander.
This wasn’t how I pictured all of this working out. I once had visions of an idyllic home, with overstuffed couches and a handful of kids underfoot. A bright, happy home with a stainless kitchen sink shining proudly beneath a window that overlooked a sprawling backyard. A comfortable, well-loved home with character to spare and plenty of space to hold the million memories my family surely would make within its walls.
In those dreams, an awkward elevator ride was not part of the plan.
After my divorce, when my daughter, Zoey, and I first moved into our apartment, the two of us often commented that it felt like we were living in a hotel since we had the chance to ride in an elevator every day. It felt so fancy getting to push a button and watch the floor numbers count off and hear the ding ding when we arrived at our final destination. But this novelty quickly wore off, as I constantly found myself irritated that I just couldn’t carry the groceries into a house with just a few steps, or that when we were running late, waiting for the elevator (or even running down several flights of stairs) to take us to our basement parking garage often made us even later.
Two and a half years later, my daily rides in this steel rectangular box no longer feel luxurious. Instead, they simply contribute to this nagging feeling that the place where we spend our days doesn’t really feel like a home. It feels more like a temporary layover—a place that doesn’t fit, a place that simply compartmentalizes us into this season of our lives.
The elevator dings its arrival, snapping me back to reality. Moments later, I walk into a dark and lonely living space, and as hard as I try not to let it happen, I feel my heart grow heavy. Sadly, I fall into this routine whenever Zoey is gone: her absence allows ample time to contemplate my reality and dream misalignment.
I do this, day after day, for a handful of days, until Zoey finally comes back.
It’s Wednesday, and my elevator ride is different today. It’s just Zoey and me now—no dogs or strangers—and instead of quiet, the space is filled with hugs and ‘How are you’s?’ and happiness. I can’t help but be swept up by her eagerness and enthusiasm.
She stands beside me, bouncing from foot to foot, her hands tightly clasped in front of her chest.
“What’s going on, peanut?” I ask her, curious as to what is fueling her excitement.
Zoey stops bouncing momentarily and grins just as the elevator beeps our arrival. She quickly grabs my keys, steps out as the door slides open, and skips down the hall. Although I do my best to keep up, my high heels are no match for her little tennis shoes.
By the time I’ve reached our door, it’s already unlocked, and she’s stepped inside. I extend my arm before the door shuts behind her, and as I do, I see the delicate flash of Zoey in our entry: her plaid skirt kicked up by her movement, her tiny ponytail swishing side to side, her sneakers squeaking against the floor. I watch her gently fall to her knees, bowing her head, almost as if in prayer, so she can touch her tiny lips to the warm wood beneath her. And then, as I make my way inside, I hear the words that must have been so desperate to escape those lips from the minute I picked Zoey up from school:
“I’m so happy to be home.”
I feel my breath catch in my chest, and suddenly—all at once—time seems to stop, because there it is, the reminder I’ve needed, the truth I’ve somehow managed to overlook all week: Just because our apartment isn’t the house that once existed in my dreams doesn’t mean it isn’t a home.
I shake my head, wondering how my days without her often find me missing this truth. I don’t have to go looking any further than my own front door for happiness. My longing for someplace different does nothing but extract the joy that can be found by looking around at everything I have, because our home is happy and well-loved and, dare I say, (especially in this moment) idyllic.
Zoey’s sweet reverence makes it abundantly clear that just because everything isn’t what I once dreamt it would be, my life—and this home—really is a dream come true.
I kneel on the floor next to Zoey, gently placing my hand on the crown of her head as I bow my own. I offer up a prayer of thanks for this somewhat imperfect yet exceedingly beautiful place we are blessed to walk in to, day after day. The one that welcomes us and keeps us safe, the one that right now is offering up the perfect canvas for us to create those million memories that once danced in my dreams.
And then I throw in another prayer of thanks for that silly elevator because even with all of our daily rides inside its cold, steel walls, it always brings us back to this place we get to call our own.
To the place we get to call our home.
Visit Corey’s heartfelt series Everyday Nostalgia for more beautiful reflections on her life.
Corey Wheeland is a writer, graphic designer, and, most importantly, mom to her amazing daughter, Zoey. Wanting to find her way back to herself after her divorce last year, she decided to pursue her lifelong passion for writing. This pursuit manifested itself in the creation of a blog called The Nostalgia Diaries, where her goal is to simplify, enhance, and engage people’s lives by helping them focus on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. Since the creation of her blog, Corey’s writing has been featured on Motherly, Perfection Pending, SheKnows, Red Tricycle, Yellowbrick, Mamapedia, Parent.co, and Chief Gratitude Officer. She’s determined to spend the rest of her days living creatively and colorfully, all the while drinking cinnamon green tea, listening to good music, and soaking up as much sunshine as she can.