Monthly Archives: November 2011

House and Home

“Once upon a time there was a beautiful young duck named Ping. Ping lived with his mother and his father and two sisters and three brothers and eleven aunts and seven uncles and forty-two cousins.

Their home was a boat with two wise eyes on the Yangtze River.

Each morning as the sun rose from the east, Ping and his mother and his father and two sisters and three brothers and eleven aunts and seven uncles and forty-two cousins all marched one by one, down a little bridge to the shore of the Yangtze River.”

“The Story About Ping,” By Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wiese

Our house didn’t have wise eyes. I checked—lots of times. No, our house had sad, tired eyes and a droopy mustache. Our house was like an old, tired-out momma cat with a great big huge litter of brand new kittens. It was very fond of us, to be sure, and certainly did its best to take care of us. But it was tired, so very, very tired.

When we first started looking at this new house—this house that isn’t really new at all (it was built in the 1800’s) but has only had 3 owners before us–it was sleeping gently and comfortably. But as the doors began to open and close more and more often, and feet tramped up and down its stairs and rattled through its halls and voiced called from room to room–it began to wake up. Slowly. One eye cracking open at a time. Like a old Ent, it made creaks and groans and took stock of its new residents. It was happy to be occupied. It had been waiting. It was comfortable to be lived in again.

The first night we stayed over here, I listened to the strange new-house sounds, knowing that soon they would either be worked out of the joints or simply become so familiar as to be unheard or perhaps comforting. But I felt a little bad for the old house. Not that I missed it, but just that it seemed it must be so lonely, without people crammed into it, filling it to bursting. I slept a little uneasily, even though the creaking hall seemed welcoming.

Two weeks passed, filled with hustle and bustle and long days. I needed to go back to the old house, and get what remained of my belongings.

Driving back, my stomach started to knot. What would I feel? Would I be homesick? Nostalgic? Would I cry? The roads were all familiar, so familiar, but it seemed almost a dream. When would I start feeling something, and what would I feel? I pulled into the driveway and got out of the car, looking across the road to the field and hill beyond—still the same and yet strange. I looked over the property, the same as when we’d left it, craning my head to see the chickens that ought to be in the fence. Everything was the same. Nothing had changed.

I walked up the stairs to the porch of irony, the porch that had been rebuilt a scant year before we’d left. I opened the same door I’d always opened, and stepped into the kitchen I’d been stepping into for more than 20 years, and then I just stood there, in a little shock.

The house had died. It smelled like a house where nothing every stirs or moves, and hasn’t for years upon years. I had to stop and count the days. How long had it really been? Hadn’t we just left? How could this have happened? The rubble of our lives–literally, the things we shouldn’t have even had and therefore hadn’t taking with us–was strewn haphazardly all over the floors. Almost everything of worth had already been stripped. It was eery, in an almost post-apocalyptical way. What had happen here? What had driven people to leave in such haste, and where were they now?

The abandonment of the furniture and useful things served only to highlight the destitute state of what remained. Dust and cobwebs that ought to have been cleaned long ago. Broken and rusting cabinets. Floors worn well beyond quaintness. Peeling wall-paper and peeling paint. Mildew, where the un-insulated walls had fostered condensation. It seemed sad, almost horrifying.

Going upstairs did not help. The atmosphere of abandonment was palpable, almost choking. The rooms seemed smaller, of course, emptied of most of their belongings, but detritus was still strewn everywhere. I did what I had to do, what I’d come to do, sorting through the rest of my things and cramming them indiscriminately into black garbage bags. But it felt so. . .un-sacred. Disrespectful. Slimy and underhanded. It felt like I was robbing a grave, even though everything was rightfully mine. But the house was so tomb-like. The house had died.

It had held on for us; it knew we needed it. But as soon as we were safely settled somewhere else, it died. The poor, tired, fragile thing let go, and slipped into that rest from which one cannot return.

I know everyone must struggle with seeing their home become nothing more than a house. But I stood in that deathly silent kitchen, and tired as hard as I could to imagine someone else coming to live in it, to breath life back into it. I tried and I tried and I tried. I couldn’t find anything, any reason, anything strong enough to make it spark back. I knew how its sickness and disease had spread through to the very core of its every bone, knew how it had been hobbled and coaxed along over the years. . .knew how it had trembled with slamming doors and pounding feet.

When you looked out the window, now, it would feel surreal; but everything was okay. Everything was alive. Everything was the same, everything was as it should be. But when you stood inside, you knew there was no going back, because there was nothing to go back to. What little scraps of life that had been there before had slipped away. There was no solace there anymore, nothing to miss that could ever be revisited. The tired eyes have closed.