They’re gutting the house.
There’s an old bureau, missing it drawers, that droops over the curb like a scolded child. Twin mattresses curl against bookshelves jammed under the stop sign. It started with a disappointed beanbag and has grown to a long, Depression Era line of rejected household organs. Chairs peeling paint and piles of books with covers flapping, embarrassed, whenever a car squeals by. Dirty clothing, a rotten sofa, detritus with its hands held out, as if to say, It’s not our fault.
The other night, as I drove past, I couldn’t help but slow, wanting to glimpse the people who’d made this sculpture so public, so fast. It’s an unapologetic display. It feels frustrated, panicked. There’s no obvious order to what they’ve dragged to the curb. The items look like they might have been thrown from the windows. All of it looks exhausted, like Tom Joad has just turned his back and left.
No light shines from within the house – squinting at the front door yields a rectangle of darkness and the flash of a figure moving within. Has the power been cut off? Have they chosen to turn the lights off? To continue this dismemberment under the cloak of darkness? Do they know the surgery disturbs me?
When I dream of a house, I dream of the one on Orbit Place. The surrounding streets came straight from the cosmos as well: Venus Lane, Mercury Circle, Shuttle Drive. The house stood around three small bedrooms, two small bathrooms, a living room with a bilious carpet, a kitchen my mother hated, and a playroom. To its walls, my dad taped pictures of lizards, volcanoes, tenors, scientists, cheetahs, suffragettes, nebulas. The gallery changed on a regular basis, and it was magic.
I’m not sure why my dreams insist on placing me in that house – no matter my age, what’s happening, if it’s in a house, it’s the one on Orbit Place. I’ve been back to see my childhood home twice, and both times, I resisted the urge to look inside. Instead, my eyes rake over the place, desperate to see evidence of my memories there…the darkness under the two pine trees in the front yard, the symmetry of the front porch, the cherry tree outside my bedroom window. I’ve fantasized about uprooting that tree, in the dead of night, stealthily freeing it from the soil and running soundlessly with it across my shoulders. But I have no place to put such a tree, that now towers over the roof and threatens to invade the neighbor’s garage.
I try to imagine the house with different furniture, a new carpet, unfamiliar dishes in the cupboards. Maybe they’ve knocked down a wall, or decided to go with vertical blinds. There could be a drum set in the playroom, or a home office. But all I can see is the arrow of light under my parent’s bathroom door. My mother’s soft Just a minute when I knock on the door. The uneven cadence of my father’s footsteps down the hall. My sister playing Monopoly by herself. There are only the real imaginings of a past life that stagger forward in dreams.
When my family finally moved from the Orbit house to a newer, bigger, open-floor-plan-modern-amenities home, I was 2,000 miles away with my brain stuck in some feminist literary criticism class. I had sailed so far and so fast from a house that caused me frequent humiliation, I was stunned to find myself suddenly, pitilessly, unmoored. My mother swept around her new, relatively palatial kitchen, my father tinkered happily in his three-car garage, and my sister basked in the sun of her bedroom’s bay window. When I came home from college over the Christmas holidays, I felt like I was living at the mall.
It was antiseptic, that transition. I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten over it. The new house never once felt like home, and why would it? I was only a visitor within its walls. There were no familiar creaks in the floor or tricky door knobs to rig. My bedroom doubled as a sewing room, and even the sheets smelled different. At meals, I glanced at my family’s faces, but they appeared calm, content, unsurprised.
Just down the street, a handful of blocks away, a family is systematically removing every item that inhabits their home. I imagine the piles growing into a wall that eventually cuts the sunlight and suggests the fortress behind must be undergoing a drastic renovation. I want the house to emerge, gleaming, clean. I want it to be filled with familiar things. I want to drive past and see the people within gathered around a table playing cards. I want them to be glad they emptied their old home of histories.
Perhaps they will dream of this, their new home.