Goodbye House

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.

best,
~m

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

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12 thoughts on “Goodbye House

  1. GREAT…just GREAT….Don't know what else to say now except that I have lovely pics in my head now of your old friend creating a whole new generation of memories for the young and innocent who will, hopefully, one day come to understand the importance of those memories….and of their old friend.

    Kelly-

    Thanks for reading this story.
    It never seems to get enough attention but it's one of my favorites.

    ~m 

    Like

  2. Man, that moved me to tears. For weird reasons, too. Never-wases for me and hope-to-be’s for my children. I dunno how you managed closure with the ghost of your childhood when you writing seems so near it.

    OK I just read it again. Terrific entry. I wish I had better words to praise it.

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  3. Hi, Michael–

    This story really touched my heart . As you may remember, we lost Dad (who had Alzheimers) on July 4, 2006. Our parents had moved from their house due to a hip fracture which no longer allowed my mom to climb stairs. Mom has been living at American House for about 2 years now so the house remains vacant. We have been trying to get it ready to sell. We have been driving to Warren every Saturday since February to work on the house. To begin with, there were NINE 4-drawer file cabinets to sort through and mostly shred. We divided the basement into 5 sections and spent almost a month in the first section of the basement. And so on it went. Now we see light at the end of the tunnel. No, we never did find $11,000.00 stored under a mattress like my father did when he cleaned out his mother’s house. But we found some treasures along the way–like a letter my Dad wrote my mom on Christmas morning in 1947, apologizing for not being able to afford to buy her the gift she so deserved but promising her that if she would stick around a lifetime, he would make it up to her. Which he did, several times over.

    One of the hardest parts of dismantling their home came this past Sunday night. My father, like your mom, was a wonderful pianist, even to the day he died (despite his Alzheimers!). We met the movers from PianoPro at Mom and Dad’s home to send my dad’s Steinway piano off to Durham, North Carolina where our daughter lives. I felt as though they were carrying my father’s spirit out of the house as we stood by helplessly. I wondered how many times these men who had been moving pianos their whole lives had experienced this flood of emotion. As a few tears developed into a river, I explained that when they reached North Carolina the piano would be enthusiastically greeted by a 25 year old redhead, ready and waiting. A first grade teacher with a month left before school starts, our daughter would immediately sit down and begin to play and sing with all her heart…her grandfather’s soul would sing along with her, from the heavens, as they once did together here on earth. The piano has found its way to the perfect new home.

    Thanks for finding ways for us all to connect with one another from our hearts. Times like these are made easier by expressing ourselves and knowing that we aren’t in it alone. Sincerely, Laurie Stirling

    Oh, Laurie . . . I’m speechless and so very moved.
    I understand this scenario completely.
    Connection is a funny thing, isn’t it?
    So nice to see a comment from you. I’ve missed them terribly.
    Take care of yourself, your family and that Steinway 😆
    Please don’t be a stranger. I still think you should start your own blog.
    Call it “Dad’s Piano” . . .
    Be safe, be well,
    ~m

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  4. Beautiful story Michael! I found myself walking through the house with you…I could even “smell” the sulphur from the firecrackers! You have an amazing way of bringing your reader with you!

    So glad you followed me.
    There’s more to tell down the road . . .
    ~m

    Like

  5. I’ve read this more times than I can count and have never commented. Not sure why….maybe because it’s one of those that no words can really say what I wanted to say. As you know, I sometimes struggle.
    This post is one that reaches inside though, and I know you understand that remark.
    You’re right. It doesn’t get nearly the amount of traffic it deserves.
    This is just so you, and that’s a good thing…..

    This comment is SO you, and that’s a good thing too.
    Love ya, kiddo.
    ~m

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  6. Beautifully written, Michael. Truly from your heart. I can picture your home and your family like it was yesterday. Your written memories here bring back feelings of kindness and love that I know were felt by all who knew your family. You are special people who touched many lives…their legend lives on in you.
    Wishing you continued inspiration
    d

    Such a wonderful comment, Denise.
    Thank you so much for reading and commenting.
    I find it fulfilling in a way that people I know are reading this story.
    It was a very important one for me to write.
    Will be seeing you on Facebook!
    Take care and thank again . . .
    ~m

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  7. saying goodbye to my childhood home was one of the saddest events in my life….you express it beautifully. Thank you.

    interestingly, that house is on the market, it is fascinating to see it after 30 years!


    So very nice to hear from you!
    The Facebook site has put me in touch with some people I haven’t talked to in years.
    I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.
    People are busy these days and I am blessed to have people that care enough to offer a few words.
    Take care of yourself . . .
    ~m

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  8. Michael, this is such a beautiful piece. It’s especially poignant to me as I watch my cousins await the sale of their childhood home. They (5 of them!) lost both their parents within 18 months of each other. They, like you, had a very close knit and loving childhood. It pains me to watch them go through this process but I know there is no choice. I hope they can drive by someday and see it lovingly cared for and happily lived in, too.
    Denise

    It’s really nice to be connecting with some people that actually know me and my family.
    I have many fond memories of the town of Oxford and it made sense to write about
    the place I loved best: home.
    Thanks so much for stopping by and reading.
    ~m

    Like

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