Several years ago I sold the house I’d grown up in.
It turned out to be much more difficult an ordeal than I originally thought.
I wrote a piece in an attempt to journal my emotional state at the time.
I put it on the blog in the hopes that someone somewhere down the road may find that they went through the same labyrinth that I did and yes, life does go on.
The piece is a bit lengthy, sorry about that.
Should you connect with anything in the story, I’ll be a happy camper.
The Goodbye House
The house I’d spent the better part of my life in was sold. The feeling that coursed through me was that of guilt because I was the one who decided it needed to be sold and I didn’t know if that was right or wrong. An intrinsic part of my childhood history was on the auctioning block destined to go to the highest bidder and I never had a chance to rescind that decision.
Time had come to clean the rooms and closets that had once held the bittersweet secrets of my life. Memories descended on me like white-capped waves washing the shores of some distant but familiar beach.
There was more of me here than I cared to admit, but the job ahead needed to be done and finally put to bed.
Mom and Dad fell victim to the affliction we call Alzheimer’s Disease, the memories of their lives turning opaque and as lifeless as their soon to be empty house.
In time, they were both moved from a place they could no longer remember, leaving me with a house I couldn’t forget.
Safe within the foreign walls of their new homes, I was handed the unenviable role of caretaker and property manager, a title that to this day still scares the hell out of me.
In one word, the house had been a ‘haven’ for my twin sister and myself. The world outside was safer to view from inside the four walls of the 15’X15’ living room than anywhere else on the face of the earth.
That feeling of shelter was a concept never taught: we just knew it to be truth.
The skies could be raining boulders but as long as we were inside, life was good. I looked at the scattered bits and pieces of my life, our life, resting placidly, albeit sadly, on the unseen shelves that ubiquitously lined each room.
During my walks from room to room, I laughed at myself for the constant carrying of a box of Kleenex wondering what memory would push up the next batch of ‘eye dew’.
The echoing voices of last days of school and first days of summer softly careened off walls barren as the Sahara desert during a dust storm, back into my heart where I prayed they would somehow always live and knew they would always belong.
Finding myself in the den, Mom’s piano called longingly to me. I felt the dusty keys as if waiting for some divine inspiration to strike but it never came.
I looked inside the rickety piano bench through sheet after disintegrating sheet of music and found “The Burning of Rome”, a two-step written decades before I was born, a piece of music that my mother loved playing. Oh, how she could play!
The piano brought her so much happiness and peace.
Who would take care of this sad and abandoned instrument now, I wondered.
She loved to play Christmas songs around the holidays and always made my sister and me sing for our guests. Now, most of her music books sat untouched, collecting more particles of dust than stars in the heavens and I wondered if anyone would ever love this piano the way she did.
I didn’t feel I had the heart to sit down and play but I did anyway, for old times’ sake. It was a very short and old-fashioned song she used to play:
Toorah Loorah Loorah, hush now don’t you cry…
But I did cry.
Oddly enough, the piano reminded me of a child’s music box, out of tune but pretty in its sweet own Irish way. Closing the fallboard, it occurred to me that I wrote my first song on this piano. I couldn’t remember the words or the music but I remember the feeling of writing it; of creating art out of thin air; of running to my mother ecstatic I had done it and Mom trying not to be too excited saying, that’s my boy.
Being left alone with all these emotions has a way of changing you and my insides were changing from room to room. Stripping away all the furniture and belongings that had accumulated over some 50 years was no easy task.
It was murder, plain and simple.
A part of me was dying and I had no choice but to let the spirits of the past fly out of the open windows and into that black void where all shadows go.
The second floor was the toughest emotionally.
My bedroom was the first door on the right when you reached the top of the stairs.
The walls were a soft knotty pine (good for hanging up posters- and yes, I did have the Farah Fawcett one) and covered most of the room except for a foot of bare wall that bordered the room before reaching the ceiling.
Once upon a time, there had been an orangey rust colored shag carpet covering the floor, but that had been ripped up years earlier exposing what would now be considered ‘art deco mocha’ floor tile.
It was spattered with what looked to me like black and white drops of paint.
I sat at my desk and rummaged absentmindedly through the drawers.
I pulled out a crinkled pack of firecrackers as my mind shot me thirty-five years back in time. Mom and Dad used to play cards in the dining room with neighbors and friends because Saturday night was the time for Gin Rummy.
The particular Saturday night that came to mind was different.
I had been given some Black Jack firecrackers from one of the ‘bad apples’ in the neighborhood and I decided to try and see if I could light one and get the fuse to go out before the firecracker exploded.
I guess I did it because that’s what curious (and dim-witted) boys did.
Hearing the enormous bang, Dad came bounding up the stairs two at a time assuming I had just committed suicide. He shoved open the door only to see me sitting at my little desk with that ‘deer caught in the headlights’ look on my face.
He surveyed the room wondering why it looked like a winter Nor’easter had just blown through with firecracker paper everywhere.
I had lived to re-live the tale sitting at the desk.
That night was coming back to me in living color, the pungent sulphur odor from the exploded firecracker singeing the hairs in my nose and filling my mouth with acidic smoke. But as bad as that night was—was as good as the memory made me feel.
From the window in my room, I looked out over the neighborhood I once ruled as Daniel Boone; a neighborhood I knew like the back of my hand in the dead of night.
I suddenly wanted to tell the kids moving into the house where the best salamanders were and how sliding in the winter will never get better than the Collins’ backyard and how ‘ya gotta watch the sand that covers the road on the cul-de-sac turn when you’re on your bike ‘cause if you don’t you’ll wipeout.
The seasons of my life stretched out over the neighborhood as I said out loud: I can’t say goodbye to this house when there’s still so much of me in it!
My voice echoed off the tile floor of my bedroom wanting a reply.
It would be months after the closing of the house and that final locking of the door before I would see some closure enter my life.
Business often took me near the house but I chose to stay on the highway, not wanting to admit to myself that someone else was living there; looking out windows I once looked out of; playing the piano I once played; watching the sunset from the deck in the backyard, the sky painted with deep royal purples and cotton candy pinks as stars twinkled on, one by one—that was my sunset.
But one late August afternoon, after flying into Providence after a business trip, I had the chance and the time to drive by and sneak a glimpse of the old gal.
I was happy to see that her lawn had been freshly mowed and that there was a canoe resting against the shed out back.
I couldn’t put my finger on it but the house had lost its blues.
She didn’t need me any longer.
She was once again filled with life and light. I drove down around the cul-de-sac (that once had claimed all the skin on my left forearm) and came back up the quiet street for one final look before heading back into my own life.
I glanced up at my old bedroom window, saw that a light was on and imagined some young boy staring at the ceiling, wondering what life had in store for him. I managed one last smile for my old friend as I turned on my headlights and headed for new haven.
© michaelm 2005