Our Haunted Houses
I sit on the cusp of autumn preoccupied with thoughts of my father and the life of my family before he died. I think about the space I hold for things that are gone and poke at the gnawing suspicion my memories may not be my own. That all my recollections are a twisted compilation of my mother's narrative and my own child's perspective. Wondering if the man I remember is anything more than a caricature of himself. Wondering who I am, who I could have been - feeling the powerful nexus of his death and the emanating ripples. I fight the ghostly feeling that my life ended there too. Battling the whispered voice that tells me there is no free will, that my life is nothing more than a consequence of that moment. That everything since has been an inevitable happening, foretold in psychology books and doctors' offices as they quietly whisper of childhood trauma. No one wants to be a stereotype or a cliché - we all want to believe we are the arbiter of our destiny.
I dreamt of our house last night — the place I spent so much of my childhood. I was a visitor to that place now, an adult seeing it for the first time with adult eyes. It was older and smaller, showing the effects of time, but so dense with memories. Everywhere I looked, everywhere I turned. I sank to my knees in the backyard, seeing the faint outline of garden beds.
"I died here too." I sob as the implications of the statement wash through me.
"My life ended here too."
My fingers grasp at the dying grass and scrape the earth of what was once my mother's garden. Flashes of sensory memory, sights, smells, sounds - the seasons, the harvests, the sunshine. The bunnies under the porch. Children in sandboxes. The lemonade stands, the kid circus. The flowers and the green grass. My mother canning and baking. Sending my father off to work with a packed lunch and a passionate kiss. Our simple suburban life. We were so happy.
I wake up with wet cheeks, stunned at the vividness of the dream. I marvel at my role as a visitor to that haunted place. I was no longer the resident child in an endless loop of tragedy, reliving the same events over and over. We all reach a point where the home of our childhood ceases to feel like home. Something in us shifts; we lose our status as a resident and become a visitor. We make our own home elsewhere.
Ten months ago, I took a monumental step and moved over three-thousand miles away from everyone and everything I knew. I made a conscious and terrifying decision to make my own home. I started out staying in an Airbnb, then moved into a month-to-month rental once I secured employment. Recently, I took possession of my permanent apartment after signing a long-term lease. I've spent the last couple of weeks unpacking, looking through the sparse mementos I brought with me. I'm making my home - a home that's a place of laughter and love, a sanctuary and space for healing.
It seems right that the seasons outside are changing now, as the seasons of my life are shifting. I'm grateful for my memories of Dad and our family, regardless of their providence. I feel them slide through me, and I smile as the autumn leaves crunch under my feet, and the garden gate closes behind me. Saying goodbye is always painful, but it's necessary for growth. As autumn descends, and I notice without irony that Halloween is close, I'm leaving my haunted house forever.