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.