Thursday, April 10, 2008

This old House

Paige sent me this little exercise from her Creative Block.

Describe - without going there - your favourite room in the house. Imagine you haven't been there for 20 years

This got away with me a bit. i started out with the intention of writing about one room, but as you'll soon see, it spread into the whole house. The return to the old house is completely fiction, but the memories are all real.

The door screen door slammed shut behind me, echoing through the empty house. I couldn't believe after 20 years, the bungalow my family lived in was still standing. I hadn't been back here since dad moved the family away. I recalled being so angry with my dad for taking me out of school and moving me halfway across the country. I knew there was no hope of ever seeing my friends again. My best friend Jenny and I clung to each other, tears streaming down our faces, promising we'd write and call every day, vowing to be together! I think we both knew it was the end, and the letters and calls pedered out after only a few months.

I laid the realtor's keys on the counter, leaned against the sink and looked around the kitchen of my childhood. The dark wood of the cupboards, the avacado green fridge, the same curtains hung over the kitchen window that my mother had sewn when I was 10. It was all still there. I stared at the same brown and orange linoleum, peeling up under the pantry door, and the old familiar geometric patterns lifted out of the lino and burned into my retinas. I recalled many a 'late night chat' with my father in that kitchen - staring off into space, picking out different patterns in the floor - anything to avoid having a real 'heart to heart'.

We left that house in B.C. so my dad could go to the University two provinces over. The last 2 years in that house, Dad became a therapist instead of a father. Every time I would cross the line, he would sit me down to talk about why I acted out, or what I felt was going on. I still remember thinking: "Just smack me, already, and get it over with." The 'talks' were the worst.

I wandered into the living room and ran my hands along the stone fireplace. Sitting on the bench-like ledge, I could almost hear my older brother screaming at me while I practiced and sobbed into my Clarinet. Funny, the memories that pop up. The carpet has changed. I remembered when we moved in - how we ripped up the old carpet and how soft and squishy the new carpet was. I felt like "this must be how the rich people live".

The living room had two picture windows that looked out into the garden, the garden was no longer there. Someone had laid down some concrete and put up a basketball hoop. Just as well, I hated summers of weeding. So many memories in this room.

Like the time a bat got in the house and we kids hid on the stairs and watched as it swooped at top speeds getting so-close to the windows and swerving out of the way at the very last second. Or the many wrestling matches that took place on mom's new rocking chair. The Christmas mornings, the smell of the pine tree that we would hike into the mountains each year to cut down.

I gazed at the circular stairs heading down to the basement, with some anticipation. yes, I was soaking in the memories, but the basement was where my old room was. The room I was most excited to see.

Standing at the top of those stairs, with my hand on the rail, I couldn't help but smile at the memory of the time my older brother and i threw my younger brother down those stairs in a suitcase. It was a harmless game at first. Patrick willingly got in the suitcase and we zipped him in, then Brent and I - standing at the top of the stairs - shook the suitcase up and down, with a laughing brother secured inside. "We're going to throw you down the stairs!" we cried, giggling as we mocked his descent down the staircase. How it happened, i'm not entirely sure, but at some point my hands left the case - and we watched, horrified, as our little brother in an old blue suitcase, bounced down the circular stairs to the cement floor below. Silence. A few seconds - that felt like ages - passed and Patrick unzipped the bag and stared up at our two terrified faces peering down at him. "You guys actually did throw me down the stairs?? Let's do that again!"

I ran my hand down the familiar railing and entered into a different world. The world of makebelieve and play. Too many memories in this basement. Part of me was releived to see that not too many changes had been made to the partially unfinished lower level. To my left, the later owners had finished what my father had started when he framed Brent's bedroom. For years it was a skeleton made of 2x4s, the walls were made of old blankets. Now, it had been gyprocked, taped, mudded and painted - with an actual door.

Standing on the last step of the stairs, and facing that direction - i remembered this was where i saw my first act of masturbation. My brother had a friend, Daryl, who was much older than Brent. Looking back now, i should have realized what kind of 20 year old hangs out with 15 year olds. But i was 13, Daryl had a fast car, dark hair, green eyes - and a Woodstock tattoo on his right shoulder. He used to 'let me' massage his shirtless back - when my parent's weren't home. He was in fairly good shape, and had a more muscular body than any of the boys i'd ever seen shirtless. I remember being amazed how soft and tanned his skin was, as i rubbed his back and shoulders.

He had a rough family, and a mean father. He stayed with us a lot. One night, I was walking down the stairs, in my pjs, to go to bed. The basement was mostly dark, but the moon was full and let enough light into the rooms to see clearly. To this day, i don't know where my brother was, but as i reached the last step of the stairs i heard a noise and stopped. It was like a soft repeated slapping, coming from the left. I looked over and through the blanket-door i saw him. naked. i couldn't move. It was like i was glued to the spot - intrigued and curious. I knew, at that age, how it was done, and why, but i'd never seen or heard it. My heart was pouding so loud I was sure i'd be found out. He picked up his pace and was grunting softly. It was the hottest i had ever been. When he finished, i waited, like a statue, until i was sure he'd fallen asleep and moved slowly and quietly to my room on the other side of the house.

I shook the memory away, and smiled. That explains a lot, i thought to myself as i stood there in the middle of the family room.

There were some changes to the family room, like carpet over the cold cement floor that we would sprint across each morning in our bare feet and jammies, the far wall had been finished. No longer could you see the half cement wall that we would spray with various things like hairspray, household cleaner, or purfumes - and light on fire to watch the floating blue green flames. Also covered over was the top portion of gyprock which, over time, we had converted into our own year-book of sorts. People who came over would sign it, or draw something on it, write a dirty limerick that my mother would scratch out with black sharpie, but not soon enough for us to have it memorized.

The pot-bellied stove that my mother would light in the winter mornings to warm the basement an hour before we had to be out of bed for school was still there. I can remember the sound of her opening the stove. The clang of its door colliding with its body, the sound of the crackling wood and the smell of the woodsmoke rising out of the open door, and the creak and clang as she shut and locked it.

I made my way to my old bedroom, and slowly opened the door. I had spent incredibly formative years in this bedroom. From age 9 to 14. It was empty, like the rest of the house, but i could see my old bed in the corner by the wall, the desk my father built for me next to the door. I could see my books on the windowsill, and could almost smell their pages dying yellow in the sun.

This is the room where I tried on my first training bra, where i wrote in my very first diary, the place where i would escape into books, the headquarters of the Best Friends Club which tanked 2 weeks later, where i sang my heart out to mixed tapes and dreamed of being a famous singer, the place i got my first period, where i sobbed into my pillow after being violated on my 13th birthday, the window i crawled out of when i ran away to protest my mother saying I couldn't keep the kitten, and years later the same window I crawled out of to meet up with an older guy who drove Jenny and I to town.

The memories swirled around my head, thick like clouds. So much of who i am transpired in this small room. There was something i was searching for, though. Something in particular. I just needed something to stand on.

When i was young and we'd move a lot, i always dreamed of finding a secret door, or a hiding place, or old love letters left in a drawer. When it was apparent we were leaving this place, i became determined to leave my mark for someone to find. At first, i wrote a message on the cement floor and covered it with a piece of carpet. It was short. It said: "This was my bedroom, take care of it. Love Laura" I looked down to see the cement floor covered with the same carpet as the living room.

I walked to the corner of the room and looked up at the floating ceiling. How many nights had i stared at those tiles before falling asleep? I counted one in from the wall, and two down. There. That was the one.

To reach the ceiling, i had to go outside to find an old log, used as a chopping block. I positioned it under the tile, and when i was sure of it was stable enough to hold me, i climbed on top. I removed the small flash light from my bag around my shoulder, turned it on, and gently lifted the tile and pushed it over.

After quickly shining the light into the hole, and realizing i wasn't high enough for it to be of any use, i turned it off and blindly reached about searching for what i knew/hoped was still there. Dust fell from the hole into my face. i resisted the urge to cough and continued the search until i found it. i managed to grab it and carefully pulled it out.

An old cracker tin. Covered in dust.

I slid the tile back in place, and hopped off the log, brushing the dust and debris from my hair and shoulders.

I returned the log to the backyard and was careful to lock the door. Holding the tin in my hand, i made my way back up the stairs. I could see the sky in shades of purple and pink through those picture windows as the sun sank lazily into the mountains. I watched the dust dance in the air for a few moments before grabbing the keys off the counter. Taking one last look, i sighed and left, locking the door.

I sat in my car for a good 10 minutes, soaking in the scenery of the little hobby farm where i grew up. With the tin sitting next to me in the passenger seat, i started the car and drove down the little dirt road - away from the home of my childhood.