When I was wee, I grew up in a house in the Forest.
Everything is bigger when you’re wee, and to me this house was a palace. It had as many bedrooms as our old house a mile down the street – but these were bigger. The room I shared with my two sisters encompassed the entire two-car garage. I didn’t always share a room, and the configurations shift in my head, but the memories that are the strongest are of the three of us trying to not kill each other while we drove each other crazy.
The front porch is where I entertained when company dropped by and the parents weren’t home, or I wanted a little privacy from the zoo. We weren’t allowed to have company when Mom and Dad weren’t home, and while some of you may scoff that rule was followed, you didn’t know my dad or the neighborhood. That man had eyes everywhere, and he was prone to drop by because #12 was literally down the street (that’s City of Detroit, Police Department, 12th Precinct).
I remember the former house on Warrington, with its laundry chute that would interfere with the phone lines and the kitchen my parents renovated themselves, and the afternoons spent watching Johnny Socko and His Flying Robot and Ultraman and TV20 in the den my dad had put on, but the years between 8 and 20 were spent on Cambridge.
Prior to family reunions we’d scrub down the back patio with bleach and landscape the backyard with flowers. Dad put evergreens around the pool and it was an original intent to turn what the realtor is trying to call a “Florida Room” into a cabana so we wouldn’t track our wet swimsuits through the living room. Instead, it held a couch, dad’s binders from work, a rabbit hutch, and bikes. We kept the dogs back on the back patio, a Newfoundland and a Border Collie, and never better guard dogs lived.
I remember sliding the front steps on blankets and pillows. I especially remember putting my baby sister in a dog carrier and sending her sliding down the stairs. Good times. I remember the wood and glass bookcase of encyclopedias (both World Book and Britannica) next to the 1st floor powder.
I know there is an attic I have never been and a few basement rooms I am still terrified of. There is an upstairs room where I tried to kill myself, and the downstairs nook where the baby sister remarked once over dinner “that’s some helluva good macaroni and cheese” before being exiled to the steps so we could giggle silently. We had two dogs, three cats, two guinea pigs, and more hamsters and gerbils live and die under that roof than the ASPCA would have ever allowed. We even witnessed the birth of hamster babies to the lovely couple, Sean and Dave (we had no idea Dave was a she) and watch the circle of life close and Dave ate her babies to keep them safe.
When I dream of home, that is to say when I’m asleep and my mind’s eye says “home”, this is the house I see. I see the expansive back yard with the built-in pool and the sloping landscaping where we planted petunias and watched the poppies spread and infect the neighborhood like a case of the plague.
I can see the changes from the outside – the grey used to be a red the shade of a fresh laceration and I don’t recall the bushes being quite so tall. From the realtor’s description, someone decided to put a jacuzzi tub into the master suite and I can only chuckle at that folly. Through the windows the beige carpet is gone and the floors appear to be stone. The cabinets were updated and the funky art-deco/diner-style chrome looks to be replaced by cherry and wrought-iron. There is still a leak in the upstairs hall, as evident by the blue tarp across the back roof, so I suppose the more things change, the more they stubbornly stay the same.
I keep thinking that one day I’ll ring up the agent as ask for a tour but I’m afraid it’ll break my heart. It’s not my house anymore. Someone else has lived there and taken the memories and ghosts and replaced them with something foreign and oddly antiseptic. It looks like my house, but it doesn’t feel like my house. I’m a stranger walking across the lawn and up the front steps. There are new neighbors in the homes and it doesn’t feel – welcoming.
I’ll miss this house that isn’t mine, but I’ll carry with me the years I spent becoming me. Somewhere in my dreams, it’ll always be home.