That Old Damned House
That old damned house was built in 1967, by one man’s vision and bartering. If he didn’t know how to do it, he bartered. He understood masonry, carpentry, plumbing, and roofing, but he wasn’t an expert. He was though, an expert electrician. So he bartered. And that bartering built this house for him and his wife, Theresa. I was just ten when I met him. I helped old man Prince put in the furnace. I didn’t know what I was doing, I just did what I was told. I guess he thought I was a hard worker because after we installed his furnace, he hired me as his official lawn boy. During the summer months of 1967, I watched him finish that old damned house.
It wasn’t always damned. When it was finished, it was beautiful. You could smell the fresh, sweet cut of the planks and beams when you walked in the door. It smelled so new. It was his dream house. There was no mortgage. It was paid in full through hard work and bartering. It was the last house Bill would ever live in.
Old man Prince (Sorda) and Bill were good friends. I was just a kid that desperately needed a father figure, so I tagged along. From 1967 through early 1968, Mr. Prince worked on that house with Bill. Then in May of 1968, I lost Sorda Prince. I didn’t blame the house. They said it was a heart attack. My mother found him in the outdoors, laying on the ground, in the early morning hours of Mother’s Day. Things changed that day, but that old damned house drew me back to Bill.
Since Sorda was gone, Bill came and picked me up to cut his grass. His wife Theresa used to sit on the front porch and watch me mow the lawn. She didn’t say much. She just looked mean as hell. She never, ever, smiled. I don’t know what it was about that house and her, but ten years later she was taken away from the house in an ambulance and lived her few remaining days in a mental facility. She died in 1979, in her early sixties.
My mom and Bill married in 1982 or somewhere thereabouts. She moved out of our childhood home and moved into the old damned house, with Bill. I didn’t like being there from day one. I hated sleeping in that house. There were reminders of Theresa all over — cigarette burns in the carpet, snuff stains on the couch. I didn’t like the place. I couldn’t sleep there. I tried, but usually spent the whole night staring into the darkness and waiting on daybreak. I hated that damned house. In 1983, Bill, unexpectedly jumped off the couch, went into the bedroom, and killed himself. No one saw it coming. It just happened. He was in his mid-sixties when he took his life. And in my mind, that house became just plain damned at that point.
After Bill’s death, I vowed to never spend another night in the house. But I did, though I didn’t sleep. My mom stayed on in the house. She put crosses over the doors’ portals — small, hand-made wooden crosses. I once asked her why. She told me she was an old woman and a cross over the door protected her from intruders. I wasn’t so sure. I sometimes thought the crosses protected her from what was inside. My mom died in one of the bedrooms of the house in 1996. She was surrounded by family. I wasn’t there. I did come home for the funeral. My brothers and sisters, we sat there, in that old damned house and reminisced. After that, I never spent another night in that house.
One of my older sisters decided to stay on in the house. Fifteen years later she died at the young age of 66. I know it’s not the house. But somehow this place telegraphs sadness. My oldest brother, who now owns the house, says he is going to renovate it. I don’t know what he will do after that. Maybe he will sell it. This past fall I made a visit to the house. I went inside and looked around. Not much had changed. The bullet hole from Bill’s suicide was still in the door. It was covered with paint, but still there. The house was just quiet. The brown carpet that had graced the floor since my mother changed it out in 1983 lay worn and frayed. I could feel my mother, sister and Bill in this house. I could see them walking about, joking, drinking and having fun. I went out back. My sister, before she died, had had a gazebo built in the back yard. I walked up and sat down on the bench inside the gazebo. As I sat, a slight wind stirred and started to sway the chimes that she had hung from the eaves. I sat there and listened to their wonderful tones and thought about my family and our history in this old damned house. Despite all the sadness created inside its walls since its construction, as I listened, I realized that it wasn’t this old damned house’s fault. It was just life. And sometimes, that’s just how life happens.
Originally published at alonzoheath.com on August 6, 2015.