looking at dead houses, visiting with ghosts

I have been on a journey for months, one that has taken me to several different ideas of what Home is going to look like for my family. Today, I went further back than I’ve gone thus far, and while I’m not sure yet of whether or not this is a curse or a blessing, I have seen these different variations of Home with a fresh set of eyes – naked ones. Brave ones, ones that have taken the bold steps up the stairs to look in the windows, to rattle the doorknobs. To see if I will be allowed back in.

Home is where your heart is, and one should always follow their heart…

I started my tour down Memory Lane in front of a big yellow house on South Monroe. I took small steps, unsure of where I wanted my feet to take me as I ventured down the cement driveway. I took it all in: the giant, looming house, the scent of the lilacs growing wild in the alley behind, the broken windows that I knew had not been caused by my brothers, but I remembered the time spent in the backyard and I imagined for a moment that a stray ball had made its way into one of the bedrooms. Then I looked down and my heart fell all over the cement.2015-05-16 11.22.10

My daddy’s hand, and his wife’s. All of our names proudly scratched in the cement, a celebration of the garage he had built with those same hands. All nine of us, his, hers and theirs, while we were still a family. At the very bottom, a little granddaughter’s baby footprint, belonging to my first daughter. He knew all too well our shortcomings and our flaws were painfully obvious, but him being as radically skewed as he is himself, I can say with complete and total honesty that my daddy loves with a love that is more than love. He understands how badly one human can be hurt by another because he’s done his share of the hurting. So when I say he loved us anyway, that big, GIANT word full of acceptance and forgiveness, I mean that he wore us proudly, each burden that we were.

I climbed the porch, recalling the hours of conversations we had there. When I have a home, I hope, more than I hope for a nice kitchen even, that it has a big front porch. A big Bay City porch with wide pillars and room for a swing and a set of chairs. I want to be able to have an entire party on my porch, the way we used to when we weren’t afraid to let our kids play in the front yard. When I sat on the steps, I remembered the day their wedding rings came. That summer changed me. It gave me something to belong to, a family patched together in a pattern that finally made sense to me. None of them were mine, but I was theirs.

The house was achingly empty. There was no trace of my father in the whole place. How big he seemed then; how small he would look now. I stood in his bedroom and I saw a dizzying blur of him in different states. He was angry, he was ashamed, he was drunk. He was sorry. He was honest. He was open, he was laughing. He was swaying. He was holding our baby pictures, sobbing. He was tired, and he was asleep. He was so alive… and yet, in this house, he is dead.

In that moment, I knew I could never buy that house. It doesn’t matter that it fits. It doesn’t matter that it ticks every box we need. It doesn’t matter how many bedrooms, how big a kitchen, how many toilets, how beautiful that big purple tree is. It doesn’t matter that the porch is big, or that it has a full basement. It doesn’t matter that I could afford it. I could never live in that house and fully own it. It will always be my daddy’s house – but it will never be home again.

So I tried again. I went down a few blocks over and across, and stopped in front of a tall brown house that reeked of defeat. The windows were boarded up, the porch was so much smaller and narrower than I remembered. I got out of the car and walked right up onto it, completely disregarding the group of people gathered on the sidewalk across the street. I’m sure nobody has gone through the front door of this house for quite a length of time, so they must have been surprised to see a young woman with a little family there. It’s not a house for a family anymore. The families have left this neighborhood, abandoned it years ago when the giant fire came through and seemingly leveled the block. Oh, but there was no fire, just the sad march of working class families who saw themselves forced out when the economy crashed.

I gazed down the street, repainting in my mind the facades of each of those homes. I hadn’t remembered so many broken windows, so many holes in the roofs. I hadn’t remembered those stairs being so crooked, or so… missing. I remembered a lot more house, and a lot less lawn.

I peered in the window and my insides felt like its insides: filled with garbage. What I saw instead of walls and floors was a wanton disregard for the lives these walls had sheltered. I saw straight through where walls used to be, right out the window I slept in when that room used to be mine. I said that a few times today, “used to be mine.”

It used to be my town. It used to be my street. It used to be my house. It used to be my school. It used to be my favorite. It used to be my _________  insert a precious memory about someone I love here.

For me, it is two places, and I am two people. I am five, and it is a magical place of good memories and innocent ignorance. It is a beautiful place where I can still see the twinkle in my father’s eye, the smile on my great-grandma’s face. It is a place where my uncle still holds my hand and the “rolly slide” is still installed at the park. It is a place where my Grama is young and she’s never going to leave me. It is a place where I still think my father loves me.

It is a broken place, left behind by people who have lost belief. In what, I’m not sure, but they’ve given up. It is a place of disappointment and defeat. Slumped shoulders are carrying my heart. I have a somewhat possibly irrational attachment to places and this place is wrapped around each finger as I scrape furiously in its soil to find my roots. I am not disappointed in my city. I am disappointed in those I left behind to love it near as I loved it far. Don’t they know this is my home? Don’t they care? I wanted to find these people who bruised my city and shake them. I wanted to be like the people I saw scraping and painting and pruning, picking up litter they never dropped, fixing houses they’d never harmed. I thanked the woman whose home I saw today, and told her how much I appreciated the way she kept up the home. I stood in awe of the grandiosity of that house, in the *cue swoon here* ballroom, something that had seemed commonplace when the house was built over a century ago.

Over a century. How many lifetimes have walked these streets? How many people who came together to create the village that is my family, people I will never meet in this lifetime, walked past the same sights I will pass myself? Half of my history is hidden in the cracks of those houses. Maybe to figure out who I am, I can try to figure out who I used to be.

We have six weeks. We can do it. It will have taken me twenty years to get there, but I’m going home.



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