Two months ago I went to Maine to clear out 50 years worth of accumulation from my mother’s house in order to prepare it for sale.
Amidst the piles of things that were jettisoned, I retained boxes of books, photographs, and memorabilia and put them into Mom’s bedroom to be removed at a later date. I retained books, as I can rarely justify ‘getting rid of them’ without at least trying to sell them or perhaps donating them. That date was today. Today also marks the date when an offer was made and accepted on the house. The buyer is anxious to get their hands on the house and do whatever it is they are going to do with it.
My husband, after reading my text about the house being sold, asked me how I feel about it. I told him it was like a dark cloud being lifted from over a graveyard of a house. I am relieved it’s been sold so quickly. I hope to never step foot into the place again.
I wrote a post two months ago about how it felt to clean the place out, how ’emotional’ an experience it was for me. As I removed the final boxes from the house today, I took a last walk through the empty building wondering if the lack of any ‘things’ there dredging up memories from the past would feel any differently. My therapist had asked me back in March if I felt as though the house being emptied would make it any ‘different’ to me. I can’t say that it did. For me there’s too many memories tied to the floors, the walls, the very nails that hold the house together.
Out this window is the back yard. Once upon a time there stood a camper fifty or fifty one weeks out of the year except for the campground trips we took in it. When the camper, a Starcraft pop up, was not raised up, it was a favorite hiding place of mine. I was, for many years, small enough to open the access door and crawl inside and shut out the world. It was dark and smelled of musty canvas in there, but the dark never frightened me. It still doesn’t. Often times I get up at night and wander through the house without turning on a light.
In the entryway to the garage the back side of the living room fireplace brick is exposed. On the bricks still remain faint traces of white chalk where my brother and I drew targets for kicking balls against the wall when the bricks were inside the original garage and we’d play there on rainy days. Forty years have worn away much of the white circles and point values for each mark hit on the wall.
The far corner in this picture was one of my other ‘hiding places’ in the house. I’d take a book and sit there, behind a chair, pretending no one could find me…pretending I was the Snufallupagus from Sesame Street…the being that no one could see. I grew to love books in places like that, because when I had a book open no one bothered with me or expected me to participate in anything…just happy to see me reading and indulging me in it.
This small upstairs storage room was left unfinished for nearly fifty years, but was intended to be a second bathroom ‘someday’ for the family. It was eventually used to stuff unused bedspreads and pillows and 1970’s catalogues and bookkeeping records from my father’s failed attempt at owning a business. It was also where I was dared to climb into a metal trunk that had belonged to my dad and locked in the trunk for two hours. Fortunately it wasn’t airtight. My mother was outside when this happened, the camper top raised, sitting in a lawn chair, listening to a baseball game on the radio. I laid there, curled up and locked in, scared of being left there and never found. I wasn’t afraid of the darkness, no matter how all-encompasing it was. The darkness didn’t hold ‘monsters’ for me…they were all roaming out in the light.
The front door of the house has a long crack in the wood where light seeps through from the outside. The crack was formed by my head. I was coerced into believing that riding down the stairs in a cardboard box would be ‘fun’, but not informed that the box might just stop short at the bottom and pitch me head-long into the wooden entry door.
Of course this wasn’t my first head injury. A few years before I’d had a log tossed on my head, splitting it open, and requiring a trip to the hospital and many stitches. My mother was in the hospital that weekend as well, having an operation so that she ‘wouldn’t have any more babies’ as she put it. Dad faced Mom’s wrath at not paying enough attention to us while she was away for a couple of days, resulting in my injury.
At the top of these stairs I sat one night, listening to my parents and their guests laughing and enjoying themselves below. I’d been put to bed already, the first to have to go (being the youngest). When I’d had my fill of listening to the enjoyment of the others, I called down to my parents that the only reason they made me go to bed was because I was NOT adopted. It had begun to be drilled into my head that my parents never wanted me and only wanted adopted children, and I was a mistake they would probably correct one day by sending me away. I was six.
The house and school (in the distance) in this picture didn’t exist when I was a child. This was a wide open field where children and families went sledding in the winter and where in the summer I carefully crossed the street and disappeared into the tall grass, wishing I could keep going on forever, but stopping eventually just over the rise of the hill next to a small body of water I called The Wishing Pond….where I always wished for many, many things to be different.
My therapist had asked me if it would seem different for me without the belongings in the house to be there, and I must admit that removing the ‘things’ didn’t remove all the experiences I carry from my time there. I still find memories that linger in every shadow thrown by the waning daylight; ghosts in the rays of sunlight and dust that stretch their tendrils down from the windows to the floors.
Receiving the phone call today where I, after speaking with my brother, accepted the offer to purchase the house, was a weight lifted off my shoulders for numerous reasons. To get to the house it’s a minimum of a two hour drive…five hours round trip, typically. I’ve spent many, many days at the house cleaning it out and getting ready to put it on the market. I’ve spent several years watching it decay around my mother, knowing one day she wouldn’t be able to live there on her own any more. I’ve spent my whole adult life trying to put behind me a childhood filled with bad memories of the place. Memories that I’ve addressed and shared and worked through, and yet they are never far from my mind. You can build a fire in the woods to keep the animals at bay…they still circle, just outside the ring of light….watching….waiting for the chance to attack their prey.
The closing should be in two weeks. I’d schedule it sooner if possible. I’ve been on the purchasing side of homeownership, but not the selling side. I imagine it will be much the same as our purchase. A mountain of paperwork, endless signatures, a check or two given over, keys surrendered, and then fare thee well.
One of my favorite novels opens with the immortal line, ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again’. The book is, amongst other things, about being haunted by the past. In two weeks I’ll be done with this process, and perhaps I’ll feel some sort of palpable relief in the finality of it all. I will, since I surmise that the incumbent owners wish to rehab and flip the house, drive by once…just once…to see what the house ‘becomes’…and carry a final image of it that is hopefully quite different from what it ‘was’.
And then I’ll never go back to my Manderley again.