It’s just a house, I keep reminding myself.
A house my parents bought when I was five, a “big purple house,” we all couldn’t wait to move into. I was finally getting my own room! It had aged pink wall paper, even older pink carpet to match, and thick oversized cream drapes. It was perfect! The closet was big enough to fit my Barbie house, albeit nothing else once I shoved that inside, but nothing else mattered.
It’s just a house.
A house with a big backyard where I could pack a lunch (consisting of popcorn and stale marshmallows) put my Siamese cat Kit-Kat in a baby stroller, and we could stroll to the huge pine tree and have our very own picnic. We’d lay in the grass and look at the sky and plan the things we were going to do in life. “I’m going to be a writer,” I told Kit Kat. But he wasn’t surprised, I’d written numerous short stories about him already.
The following fall my dad took down the big pine and we lost our picnic spot, but we gained something better. A pirate ship! I played for hours all by myself on that tipped over tree collecting gold (bark) and fighting off ocean lava (grass.) I didn’t come inside until it grew dark and my hands were numb and I decided the ocean was probably too treacherous at night, anyway.
It’s just a house.
A house where every Christmas morning we’d run down the creaky staircase, sometimes before the sky had even woken, and wait outside the living room to see what Santa had brought. We weren’t allowed to enter until we heard James Taylor on my dad’s CD player and the sound of fire cracking in the fireplace. Once the sun came up, the scent of my mom’s cinnamon rolls would fill the entire house.
My sister, arguably the nicest of the family, always chose Christmas to be her one time of year when she released all of her pent up anger and threw a massive fit about the gifts she did (or didn’t receive.) Of all the things I’ll miss about our old living room, a room only really used but once a year, it’s the Christmas tantrums.
It’s just a house.
A house where as we got older and were left alone more often, I learned the importance of listening for the garage door to open. Any rule could be broken as long as you acted innocent once you heard that door start to rise. No food on the couch? No problem. No TV until your room is cleaned? No worries! No Simpsons cartoon because it’s “PG-13?” Good luck stopping us.
If my parents left us alone for more than twenty minutes we knew that gave us ample enough time to run across the street, cut across “the gulch,” and buy all of the candy and junk food our penny banks allowed at Video Update.
“Why aren’t you eating?” My dad would bark as we sat around the dining room table, our scallop potatoes going cold. “You ruined your dinner with junk food again, didn’t you?”
We’d lie and shake our heads, with chip crumbs still lining the corners of our mouth.
Our house didn’t have a big kitchen when we were younger, no island or stools, so every dinner was eaten in the dining room. My mom always made sure our plates came with a small bowl of canned fruit on the side and some type of green somewhere near the meal. And every dinner started with the prayer, “Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ, our Lord, Amen.” I’ve never considered my family to be overly-religious, but we were Catholic so we said things just because we knew we should… or else!
Summers were an exception to the dining room rule, then we moved outside to the patio, where we feasted on dry chicken breasts or dry pork chops- the only thing my dad knew how to grill in the 90s. The fun of it was trying to figure out which you were eating!
But if it was a cold winter’s night where the sun had retried early for the day, you could find us in the dining room. My brother probably getting yelled at,”keep your head up, no sleeping at the table!” And me griping that I had to dry again, “I hate drying the dishes!” And Jade offering to do both jobs, “wash and dry,” because it wasn’t Christmas, after all.
When Jade moved away to college, I took over her room. The BIG room. I painted the walls lime green and purple because I got the Limited Too magazine in the mail and I wanted to make sure everyone knew it. I put a mini fridge I won as a prize from our school’s cookie dough fundraiser right next to my bed. And when I say mini, I mean mini. It held four Hi-C juice boxes and that was it. But what more could someone want? I was living! I hadn’t loved a room this much since… well since the pink room. Where had time gone?
It’s just a house.
A house with a skinny long driveway that seemed to poke fun at anyone who didn’t know how to pull out of a skinny long driveway “correctly.” Just keep straight! Don’t hit the bushes. Watch out for the hedge! Don’t hit the neighbor, he’s behind the hedge!
When I turned sixteen and got my license on my birthday, I sat in my new white Honda (i.e. my mom’s old white Honda) in that driveway for 30 minutes trying to convince myself to just pull out already. I’d done it a hundred times before, but never on my own. The thought of heading out there alone was terrifying.
I sat in that same car, in the same driveway, one year later on a freezing winter night after my last basketball game where I didn’t score a single point, absolutely devastated. I cried and cried as I stared at the basketball hoop in our driveway where I’d spent the past decade shooting hoops and practicing my dribbling around trash cans, and wondered what I’d done wrong. Which drill hadn’t I practiced enough?
On the night of my high school graduation, after I’d come home from a party where I didn’t want to be, I sat alone in our backyard where the old pine tree used to be. Now it was a swimming pool, with a deck and chairs around it. Or an ocean with a pirate ship. I laid on a chair and stared at the sky and wondered what I might do in life, especially now that my WNBA dreams were probably over.
After high school came college, then jobs out of state, and each time I came back the house felt just a little different than the time before. I could never quite pinpoint why, it was like the big purple house was delicately pushing me away, pushing me toward finding my own home in the world, perhaps. Although that sounds silly, doesn’t it? It’s just a house.
On my last visit back this past July, I went through old boxes of gossip filled notes from friends, folded like origami and covered in smeared gel pen ink. I found scrapbooks from elementary school and journals from when I first learned how to write all the way up until the day I left for college. All little pieces of me, timestamps of my life, created in this house.
I said my final good-byes to each room and thanked the big purple house for a great childhood and everything it had given me.
“It’s been a good one,” I said as I pulled out of the long skinny driveway for the last time. “Thank you for the memories.”
“Nope,” it whispered back, “the people make the memories, not me. I’m just a house.”