The Gray House

I grew up in a 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath, 2-story house.  The siding was gray with a black roof, and black shutters.  It had an interesting exterior in that there were two front doors.  Solicitors always thought that it was a duplex and would start at one front door and then would go on to the next, always surprised to see the same person answer.  The house had no central air conditioning, no dishwasher, no dining room, and no garage.  Our gray house was situated on a large corner lot with a U-shaped gravel driveway that connected our house to both of the streets that intersected in front of it. There were large trees in the yard including a really beautiful lilac bush that my dad had to take down when it got sick.  I remember being so sad on that day.

Each season in that home comes with its own special memories.  I remember hot summers that never seemed to end.  The sounds of cicadas calling out to one another would fill the air.  We would play catch in front of the house, go on bike rides, walk to the Mill Pond to swim, or go out to Jacobson’s farm and fish off the dock.  Our neighborhood was active with lots of kids so sometimes we all got to go to the neighbor’s house to swim.  I remember not making it on time to go to the bathroom in the house when I was probably 4 and, not wanting to miss out on swimming, I went back to the pool and jumped in.  Unfortunately, I didn’t just have to go #1.  The pool had to be cleared out and cleaned out.  We would all run around on the grass in the evening and chase fireflies.  The days seemed long and I remember laying in my bed in my hot, stuffy room, and looking out the window as the sun was just beginning to set

Fall was always a special time of the year because it meant school was starting and my birthday was approaching.  Our house sat conveniently in between 3 bus stops: one block to the east, one block to the west, or one block to the south.  So if we were ever late for the first one, we could always make it to the last one!  Apple Fest would come each fall and we would drive out to Jacobson’s farm and get caramel apples, pick out pumpkins, and walk through the apple orchard.  The streets in our neighborhood would become decorated with red and gold crispy autumn leaves.  We would rake our leaves into giant piles and jump into them for as long as our parents and the neighbors would let us.  After a while they would light the leaves on fire.  The smell of burning leaves in the fall is still a homey and comforting smell.  By the time Halloween rolled around it could either feel like summer or winter.  I recall dressing up and walking around in rain and wind, or in a nice warm afternoon.  Each year was something different.  Our neighborhood was a safe, family neighborhood with lots of little ghosts, kittens, angels, and super heroes running around looking for candy.

Winter has some of my best memories.  It was always cold and snowy so we would dress in our warmest snowsuits, jackets, ski gloves, boots, and hats and go out to brave the freezing temperatures.  Our bus stop would be covered in piles of snow so we would turn them into slides.  Ever child from 5 to 12 hopped on top of the ice and would go zooming down.  It felt like it was 100 feet high as a child.  The sidewalks were slippery and cold.  We would put little Christmas decorations up in the house.  We had little stuffed doorknob holders and a sign that said “Beary Christmas.”  Our ornaments were all kinds of various Keepsakes and filled the tree beautifully.  My dad was always the one to put the lights on the tree because he was the best at it.  I don’t know if he chose or who did, but I remember having blue lights on the tree.   On Christmas morning we would wake up and open gifts around the tree and then head off to grandma and grandpa’s for the rest of the day.  I remember coming home after a long and fulfilling day and looking up at the street light as I watched the snow float down from the sky.  The most magical day of the year would have come to an end and I would wish it would start all over.

In the Spring I remember Easter.  My brother and I enjoyed looking for Easter eggs and our Easter baskets.  We have a video of our hunt one year in the house.  I had found my brother’s green Easter basket and he had found my pink one.  I was pretty small so he showed me how the pink one had grass in it.  I was mesmerized and gladly gave up the green basket even though it too had grass.  We would go out to my grandparents’ farm and hunt for more eggs, eat ham and potatoes, wear ourselves out with our cousins, and come back home.  The days were breezy and cool and I remember driving up to the school yard to try to fly a kite.  I think I spent most of my time playing on the playground and less time with the kite since I didn’t really get to hold it anyway.  Spring also brought in some incredible storms.  There were days when the sky would be as black as night and tornado sirens would go off.  Sometimes it felt like it would rain for days on end and I would sit and stare out our living room window and wonder when summer would come back.

How appropriate that the house is gray.  It has some really beautiful and wonderful memories for me, and some really awful ones too.  I have felt such an attachment to that house and I could not seem to pinpoint why…until today.  This home is the place where everything began, and where everything fell apart.  This is the home of the wonderful memories you’ve already read.  And it is also the home of the separation of my parents.  It is the only home where I have memories, pictures, and videos of them together.  It is the home where my mom and dad worked in tandem and planned to raise my brother and me.  It is the home they selected together when they had a plan.  It is the home where they placed their hard earned money!  Their very first single-family home.  And then, when I was 6, it wasn’t theirs anymore.

My mom got remarried and we had a new family move in with us.  I had two step-brothers and a step-sister with whom I have 8 years worth of memories.  Memories of playing Super Mario Bros. in the living room while listening to Styx and Garth Brooks, playing catch with a football in the front yard, catching toads and getting muddy.  Memories just like the ones above, but more.  More presents, more kids, more winters more summers.  It is the home where I learned to play the French Horn and the flute.  It is the home of a surprise 13th birthday party, sleepovers, and playing in mom’s makeup.  Lots of laughs and probably even more tears.  It is the home where I was first exposed to horror films that destroyed my sleep until I was 25-years old.  It is the home where I lived when I locked myself in my room writing poem after poem when my best friend died.  It’s the home of fights that I won’t even bother detailing and hurts that are not worth speaking of.  It’s the home where I stood in the kitchen with a knife wanting to end everything, but chose to go on anyway.  It holds in it a time filled with anger, depression, and fear.

I remember when I found out that we would no longer be living in that house anymore.  I knew the marriage had to end.  I was not against it ending for so many reasons that I won’t go into.  But I didn’t understand why we didn’t get to keep this house.  This was my mom’s house…my dad’s house…mine and my brother’s house.  And as quickly as we found out is when we left.  Suddenly we were gone and I was never going to go back again.  The only home I had ever remembered had slipped from my fingers as we drove away.

Each year I feel like I go through a new season where God allows an area of injury to surface so I can open it up, clean it out, and begin the process of healing.  Never would I have anticipated that out of all the times I’ve gone through this cycle that I would shed tears over a house.  I remember dating a guy who was adamant that he wanted to buy his parents’ house someday and I could never figure out why.  The house, to me, wasn’t anything special or significant.  But to him it was significant because it had all of his memories.  Now I know that my house represents so much more.  It is the only tie I have to two distinct areas of my life that I will never have again.

Recently Emery asked me about my parents and why I have a step-dad, step-mom, and why my parents aren’t together.  I figured these questions would come someday, but I think I was just hoping that they wouldn’t wonder since it’s the only thing they’ve ever known.  When I tell my kids stories about growing up and playing with my siblings, they will have no clue what I’m talking about because they only know uncle Ryan.  There is a large chunk of my life that will be completely missing from the story.  But those 14 years in that house and 8 years with another family greatly shaped who I am.  And I will never be able to truly share it with them.

So now I begin this healing process.  Over the last few days I’ve imagined myself walking through the house and remembering each window, door, step…even the wicker hamper at the top of the steps.  I have imagined the lighting and the air.  I’ve walked into the kitchen and even grabbed the candy TUMS that were always kept in the cupboard up and to the left of the sink.  I’ve walked through the basement and around the yard and have tried to say “goodbye” to all of the emotions tied to the memories, good and bad, so they become simply memories instead of feelings of sadness and anger.  But a wonderful woman once told me that it’s a long distance from your head to your heart.

 

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