my mother told me today, about two hours before i left the house for the last time, that cleaning it out was ‘like an embalming process.’ amidst tears, she scrubbed the shower in our basement, explaining that to leave the house in disarray would be a dishonor to it. it is like a fifth member of the family. sixth, if you include our long-departed bassett.
We all dealt with saying goodbye in different ways. My father reminisced, and told stories of trying to sand-blast the fireplace and sheet-rock the living room ceiling. Mom scrubbed, and later allowed herself to be distracted by my brother’s stories.
Mike spoke about new beginnings and being grateful for the time we’ve spent here as a family. And I stalked the grounds for details to photograph, worrying I wasn’t doing our home justice with my mediocre skills; unable to process what life will be like when for us when this home is gone.
I found myself drawn to spaces in our home that I did not frequent as a child. It may be because those usual places are already deeply written in my memory. Or, perhaps it could be that the places I found frightening then are now part its charm. Practicing the piano, in which I took lessons through sixth grade, I used to imagine a ghost would take a step across the living room with each mistake I made. It was a game I played: don’t make mistakes, and no ghost will ‘get’ me. (But problems arose whenever I learned a new song, such that the ghost had to start taking baby steps to ensure my safety.)
Similarly, every time late at night that I would start up our winding stairs, by the time I reached the top I was running up two-by-two. I didn’t believe that a ghost was chasing me up the stairs per se… but just in case one was, I was covered.
i don’t remember when these games i played stopped. and, i don’t remember when i transitioned from thinking about this house as just being the place where i lived to actually seeing it as a beautiful home, with gorgeous woodwork and details that only children notice, creaky and solid and full of space and grandeur and family.
The basement used to frighten me. Daddy-long-legs and shadows inhabited corners, and the floor was cold. But today, even the basement–perhaps especially the basement–reminded me that I was in my home.
In a period of suspension, words fail. Ending this post (oh melodrama of melodramas) is another way of saying goodbye, like my hesitation before I walked down the steps of the front sidewalk the last time. Each moment that passes expands the time between our family home and our family. Everything points to death. The increasing darkness of each fall day seems to be pulling me into death, although not into depression. Simply: the dawn of my life is over. A generation has passed since I was born. And time will not stop. For the first time, I begin to feel the chipping of time into my life. Not everything is ahead of me anymore. And we are all leading to an end.
It is not such an awful thing, I suppose, my own death. What really frightens, of course, are the deaths of those around me. I know I am not the only person for whom death and time are twins, chipping away on our shoulders, exacting the moment in which their two paths will meet. The best we can hope for is noting, and loving, the details in the spaces between.
these sunny november days have been filled with longing.
my parents have lived in the same home for 33 years. they bought it from its original owners, restored it, refurbished it, renewed it. i imagine there is not one square inch of that house their fingerprints have not etched:
they tell the story of refinishing the pantry, which was painted a bright pink when mom and dad moved in. today, it is stained a honey glaze they chose together some 30 years ago, and bits of the pink paint can still be glimpsed in between cracks in the wood where their tools and their stamina couldn’t reach.
they also nailed shut the door to the laundry chute, which by some architectural genius is in the floor of the bedroom hallway. mom and dad were afraid my brother and i might toddle past and fall the two flights to the basement below, where the chute abruptly ends.
a piece of me feels that my mother will never leave the back sleeping porch where my brother and i and she slept on hot summer nights. my father will always remain up on the third floor, laughing and watching david letterman with the dog, creaking down the stairs, taking care to be quiet. my brother will always skip down the block to the sports collection, and i will continue sneakily reading by the hallway light outside my room, well past my bedtime.
tomorrow night i will sleep for the last time in my girlhood bedroom, in my sweet four-poster bed. the wallpaper is gone, as are the old curtains. but i will look out the window thursday morning to a view i remember well, into a chilled, pale morning sun. a stop sign, a childhood bus stop, a stately house, naked branches, a neighbor’s front porch.
when is it that looking into the future started to feel more and more like looking into the face of death?
at 27, my life is still so un-lived, so much to do and to be and to discover, but the absence of this house will cement my childhood into a memory only. so many of us have acted out this step, and with far less grandeur than the play i am giving it now. but this house! this house is my parents’ healthy young bodies, it is my brother’s blonde curls, it is my aging bassett hound, it is my teenage dreams, it is my 1987 jeep cherokee, it is my home, it is our family.
someday soon i will learn that my family resides in my parents and my brother and even in my self, and not on lincoln avenue. until then, i am going to richly mourn this beautiful old house.
halloween recognizes the fear, dread, the grotesque nature of horror and of death. kate moos, on the speaking of faith blog, speaks about the deliciousness of getting to ‘become a monster’ for only one night a year, and i think she’s right: there is certainly something in how humanity repeatedly seeks to wallow in the depths of death for (at least) one night a year. on hallow’s eve, we make light of it. halloween has become a day of raunch, of candy-guzzling, cheap thrills, and funny costumes. but it is also something richer, more nauseatingly terrifying: a staring into the cold heart of death that is essential to human experience. in the end, though, the night ends, and we are greeted with… candy, sensation, laughter. reminders of our very alive lives.
i love michael jackson’s thriller video. it encapsulates what halloween was to me as a kid: very eighties of course, lots of rotting skin, but playful, ending with a laugh. it tempts us into fear more than once, but never quite to seriousness — because who can really be that afraid of dancing zombies? michael had it under control.
then we come to the next day, far less grotesque but perhaps more graceful, and certainly more frightening: all saint’s day.
this time, the chill of a cold october night has given way to the penetrating absence of those lost to death.
this time, we encounter death not as fantasy, but in how it has touched our lives. the rotting flesh is not upon the faces of zombies, but instead is in our minds, in the reality of what we knows happens to bodies when their souls depart.
we light candles not to be spooky or funny or to light up the night with an orange playful glow. now we light them to remember, whispering names too often unspoken. alice. leo. george. lindsay. we think of the day we know will come when our loved ones will die. or, when we die.
both candles serve purposes. we need to mock and intimidate death as much as we fear it, else we are overcome with terror. and yet, and yet. and yet we remember, bringing to life again that which was lost, speaking into being the memory of days passed, serving the purpose of loving each other in life, despite the inevitability of death.