Tuesday, March 01, 2011

duct tape and a toy gun

Did I tell you I grew up around here? Five minutes away. I pass my childhood home sometimes on my way to Borders, Bed Bath & Beyond, the local cobbler. I've wanted to ring the bell since I moved here in 2008.

I've been doing a lot of walking lately. Traded my sticky mat for Pilates-based physical therapy. One of my doctors told me that jogging is out due to the arthritis. I was jogging for a while too. So I've downloaded Lady Gaga and Cee-lo Green and some muh-fucking song called Traktor...and I've been hoofing it all over the sleepy nabe in hopes of snagging some kind of endorphin rush, a feeling of exercise accomplished. I'm not easy to fool though. My arms, my yoga arms...I grieve. But they'll be back someday.

The other morning on my walk I approached my old house and thought, now's as good a time as any. I plucked the earbuds out and stepped into the driveway. The concrete steps were eroding. That should have been my first clue. Well okay moss is growing on the side of the house. And the renovations—whoever replaced the windows used those thin white plastic panes, splayed them all over the place in grandiose semi-circles. Someone put in a new front door that's supposed to look like bling—a jigsaw puzzle of beveled glass shards. This is an old stone house. It's been raped.

All the trees I used to climb had been cut down or stood dead in the yard choked with ivy. I rang the bell.

The woman who answered looked hungover. Yellow strings of hair. Beady blue eyes. Boozy eyes. Too many wrinkles. Saggy and plump. I saw bottles in my mind. Empty bottles. Dozens of them. Littering a dirty counter. It was one of those Malcolm Gladwell Blink moments.

I smiled brightly and hoped I didn't look like a lunatic or a burglar. I said my schpiel—Hi my name is. I lived here as a little girl, I'd love to see the house, you know, if it's a good time. I sensed it was not a good time.

And it wasn't. I was barred entry. "I feel funny about letting strangers in," she said. I'd told her my name. Didn't that make us friends? We live in a neighborhood with dogs and trees and outdoor furniture that is not chained to the ground. Joggers and jogging strollers abound. The elderly roam in peace. It's a friendly place.

My old house was not a friendly place. Maybe the rotting Mustang on cinder blocks in the driveway should have alerted me. I decided the old haunt had bad feng shui and I hoped the current tenant was as miserable as she looked. "I feel funny about letting strangers see my kids' rooms," she said. I pointed to the top of the house, the pair of windows each with their own little rooftop. "That was my room," I said. "It's my daughter's room," she said, unmoved.

I told her thank you and left. She had every right to keep me from my childhood memories. But I felt enraged by her refusal to indulge my curiosity. It's not my house anymore. I guess that hadn't dawned on me. I could see over her shoulder that they'd knocked the dining room wall down, that I wouldn't recognize the place if I'd been invited in. What was I looking to find anyway?

As I continued my walk I fantasized about returning, about getting her to let me in, about all the ways I could accomplish such a thing. About all the secrets I would share with her as I forced her on my childhood tour, and her shameful lifestyle I'd discover—the bottles, the filth, the severed limbs.

And I thought, I'll never do it.

But I could write about it.


kristi said...

re: the arms, can you do modified push-ups to keep them toned? that doesn't seem like it would be hard on your back. just a thought.

i have wanted to visit mainly one childhood home, on a farm in the middle of nowhere in arkansas. someone was murdered there before we moved in. we didn't even live there very long. maybe 2 years? but i think mostly it would be interesting to see if my memories match up with how it really is.

this reminds me of recently when we drove by a house rick's parents (who are 86 and 81) lived in in daytona beach like 50 years ago. on the way to the house, his mom had been talking dreamily about how cute it was, now nice it was, telling me all about the inside of it. i was imagining something straight out of mad men. we pull up, and it's a complete dump. it was really sad. like something was lost inside her. just a tiny piece, but still.

i sense that with this post too. there's something about keeping our memories alive, intact, just the way we want them to be. it makes us feel content somehow, or safe, or something.

Elise Abrams Miller said...

Hey kristi,
thanks for the comment.
re: the arms, yes you're right, it's just so much more boring, but it would take less time. I have resigned to do just that since I can't stand the loss of tone.
the dump you found after your MIL's description is so poignant. sometimes I think I want to find that I was completely mistaken, about everything.

kristi said...

i think also we hold onto things because maybe there are not so great memories, so we make the HOUSE be the thing that is beautiful about our past. and then when we find out the house wasn't so great, then it's just another loss. maybe i already said that. just got me thinking--the way we as humans try to cover up, recover from our pasts.


soff22don said...

Elise, when I was 9 almost 10 my parents moved from my childhood home from northeat Phila to Lafayette Hill. The man who bought our house told me I could come back anytime I wanted to see it. I took him up on that offer when i was about 11. It was a funny feeling walking around that house. I still remember the phone number, the layout, and the house seeming a lot smaller. A funny thing a few years ago my oldest son became friends with a boy in his Hebrew school and after I meet his parents we got around to where we grew up, well a very long story short. His dad bought my childhood housee from my parents and that is where he grew up. A very small world. It was nice talking to someone about the house, but a little strange that someone else grew up in it and slept in MY room. Thanks for the post.


Elise Abrams Miller said...

ooh kristi i like that theory and will subscribe to your newsletter.

Donny, thanks for reading and commenting. good to know this is a resonant topic for others too. we are territorial about spaces that are no longer ours. it's an interesting discovery. and yes, it's a small world. shrinking every day.

Amelia Plum said...

oh elise, can you please make a short story collection memoir about your early years and intersperse it with moments like this. please? i'm on break 4/15 through 5/1 come out for a long weekend and you can to the assisted pull up & monkey hang with me. then we can go to umi my treat. xox

Elise Abrams Miller said...

Ap I'm licking the screen i love your comment so much. we are on the same page. every day on my brisk walks i try to allow my mind to unfurl and receive the story/memoir. i will come. i will let the old ball and chain know the dates and get my ass out there. many hearts and hugs and love...