Two years ago, I wrote a short piece about my childhood home as a five-minute creative exercise. I’ve always been particularly bad at spawning readable language within a time constraint, but this particular effort was fruitful enough:
“The house was big, too big for a divorced family of four. It had sickly, pale yellow siding with cracking paint and a long archway that led to a round asphalt backyard.
Most days the trees that rolled out into the little valley alongside the house were barren and spiny with winter, and you could see through them, all the way to the quiet road that cut through the half-built houses below.
If you were lucky, you would have seen a few scrawny kids shooting airsoft guns at each other, running through the fallen leaves, leaping over the muddy mounds next to the creek. They have since lost contact.
If you were to climb the little green hill that rose beside the house’s driveway, you would find an off-brown greenhouse with splotches of dirt on its windows. And if you opened its flimsy door, which was usually locked, you would see all of the uncut tomato plants, all the overgrown sage and parsley and rosemary, and you would probably wonder why none of it had been harvested yet.
But the people who owned it usually bought their groceries rather than grew them.”
At the time I wrote this, I’d been moved out of the house for two years. I missed it terribly, and remembered it with a kind of warm nostalgia that usually makes me want to scream, but for the purposes of this exercise, made me want to curl into a tight ball and cry.
I haven’t written anything about the house since, and I’m not sure why. I’ve visited it twice in the last four years (it’s only about ten minutes away from where I currently live), and it looks completely different — its chipped yellow siding has been repainted a smooth, regal gray, the huge driveway arch that I used to run under has been blocked off and filled to accommodate more space, and the windows are much larger, clearer, and prettier than the ones I used to stare out of when it was too rainy to go outside. The first time I went, I cried for ten minutes, then drove home half-blind. The second time, I just stared, unsure how anybody could have the gall to change it, unsure how anybody else besides me and my family could live there.
If I were to be glib and reductive, I’d say that I haven’t written more about the house because it’s been a long time, and I’ve moved on. But if I were to be honest, and perhaps a bit melodramatic, I’d say it’s because part of me died when the image of my former home died. I’d even say there’s a void where a large chunk of my childhood unraveled, and leaning into that void only convinces me that, as I get older and my own appearance changes, I’ll come to see voids in parts of myself that were once fresh, immediate, and exhilarating. I’m afraid that, by looking incessantly back on memories of my younger self, I’ll come to embody some twisted nostalgia, and will sew myself forever to the happinesses of the past.
I could extend this metaphor, but then it would seem all-encompassing. I’m actually quite optimistic about change, if you leave out the existential musings. I’m looking forward to all of the funny, confusing, and generally wonderful adventures that come with aging. And I won’t be doing any of it in a vacuum, of course — the world is a big place, occupied only by people who are getting older, and who probably have old homes themselves, homes they wish they can return to for one last look at its façade or one last sniff of air the way they remember it.