Because of an ugly incident at the cottage, we have been swept into a new version of life that might look like an old version, if you didn’t know better.
The room that would have been Thundergirl’s, had we not moved in a rush after I got pregnant, is now her room. The sink in it still works, which makes taking care of the aquarium a breeze. The bathroom plumbing needs less attention to function, but no one likes to shower when such a lovely bath is just at the foot of the stairs.
Before this house was my home a decade ago, I chose it from among a handful of “nicer” rentals. I didn’t plan to live here, but I was helping my new boyfriend find a place to bring his kids. He wanted fireplaces and kitchens with breakfast bars and hardwood floors and open floor plans and landscaping. Kids don’t care about landscaping unless they’ve done the planting. He toured this patchwork house, its Korean landlady pointing out its many lovely features–built-in china cabinet! bay window in dining room! enormous master bedroom! sun porch!–and led us quickly past the cracked plaster and the most tilted parts of the probably-once-gleaming hardwood floors. I saw a house that could handle two small people with grace and confidence. One more chip in the paint wouldn’t lose any deposits.
I remember saying afterward, “I like this one the best. It’s the cheapest and biggest, and closest to their new school. They could have a tire swing.”
I don’t know why he signed the lease, so deep was his dislike for this house, but he could afford the rent here and the two mortgage payments on his other houses. His estranged wife lived in one in Texas. The other held non-paying renters also in Texas. A third that I didn’t know about went into foreclosure in Louisiana. Back then, I did not ask questions. Later, I figured things out on my own and still did not ask questions, but some questions never found answers anyway, like why he signed the lease here. Or why I moved in. He never asked me to stay, but as months passed and his babysitter became unreliable, I started to keep a toothbrush here. One day, we brought my cats and my clothes and my chair. That was all I owned then, and an easel, and my books and bears.
I had not wanted to move from this house a decade ago, but another lease was signed for a house that looked like the kind of house the father of my baby had wanted in the first place. So, I packed, because what else was there to do? The new rental was big and fancy, but as hard as I looked, I couldn’t find that house’s sense of place. Living there gave me a real room to decorate as a nursery, which I’d never dreamed of doing. When I wanted to feel at home in that house, I sat in the green velvet rocking chair from Goodwill and imagined rocking my Thundergirl-to-be, and felt satisfied with the paint job I’d done, and the crib I’d assembled, and the curtains I’d hung, and waited.
How I came back to this place after a baby, four moves, a marriage and a failure is not complicated. I happened to fall in love with a man who liked this house well enough after his own divorce to sign the lease. I don’t know why this was the house he chose, but I could ask. If he remembers, he will tell me. I know why we are here together now. He loves us so very much.
That’s important. He tells me.
Some places, some houses, have character enough to make cracked plaster charming. That big house had no voice. This house, now home again, has begun to whisper its memories.
Who drew the cross on the basement wall? Why does one room stay so warm and another so cool? How has this lovely glass light fixture gone unbroken through so many college-town tenants?
The thing about this house that feels right and good isn’t just it’s lovely, odd bones and its comfortably creaky doors and stubborn windows. It is a capable place, big enough for growing people and not so big that anyone can hide away. This house wants to be a home, to throw its occupants together at regular intervals and still offer them little retreats with interesting views.
Here. I am here now, one daughter’s whole lifetime in progress later. This is still a fine house, two other renters and a few upgrades and a few new cracks and a new owner into the future. The splintery floors are carpeted and the three different wallpapers in the kitchen got a coat of glossy paint. No one has bothered to paint the cupboard that I didn’t get to before moving out, but I recommend Kilz gloss enamel with great confidence. Not a chip since I painted it over the old brown mismatched cabinets. Maybe that last one will finally get its turn at white matchiness.
The life I lived here before seems like it was lived in another place, but I must have been here. Polishing the mantel–in the bedroom, not the living room–felt familiar last week. Dusting under the tub, the big beautiful pond of a tub, certainly felt familiar. The steep climb up the stairs, and the necessary genuine grip on the handrail, came back to me instantly: muscle memory, duck on that step. Yes, I’ve been here.
I’d never expected to live here when I first saw it, and certainly never expected to live here again. We may have been chased from our cottage, but we’ve found home where we began. This place I’ve pointed out to my small person her entire life, the house with the ruby-diamond window. She has always known it, always wanted to see inside, see her unseen past, her origin story.
Now I can explain that history does not exist, but memories are as real as today. The past hugs us close and we are its caretakers. If we listen closely enough, even a house will whisper stories of what we were then.
We know without a doubt what we are now. We are loved.