I close my eyes and I’m young. Young enough not to care too much about getting scraped and dirty, and old enough to crave the freedom of running loose around the outside of the house. My feet slap against the cement, and it’s warm, and I can smell the grass. I can hear my mom inside cutting something, the knife smacking against the cutting board. I can hear the sound of my father finishing up a business call so he can finally be home. There are three humans in this house, but it is truly a family of five. There’s also a dog and a house. The dog and you.
I close my eyes and call to mind the light that wakes me up when it streams in through the windows, and I’m reminded of all the mornings I groaned and rolled over. I think of all the times I wished I had better curtains, stronger and darker. The days I had to force myself to pry my eyes open, slip my feet into my raggedy slippers, and almost push myself down the stairs to the kitchen. The dark and cold winter mornings, versus the bright and hopeful spring ones. The sounds of local news and even worse, local commercials. I sat in the kitchen on countless mornings, the kind where you’re so tired that it feels like your organs may just fail. You seemed so unforgiving those days. I’ve seen all phases and iterations of each of these rooms, just like they’ve seen all of mine. But now, I’m confronted with the thought of moving apart and moving on. Moving away.
I don’t care how many people after me live in the bedroom with giant beach roses painted all over the wall. I don’t care who sneaks up to the attic, or down to the basement. This will always be the house where I laughed, cried, grew, bled, cried, fought with my parents and myself, cried more, faked sick, actually got sick, and cried. Good luck getting the ghost-sobs out.
Logically, I have always sort of known this time would come. At some point, the tree cluster to the left of the front door stopped acting as a secret spy HQ and turned back into a tree cluster. The old pine with the weak branches stopped being able to support my weight a little over a decade ago. The attic wasn’t an invite-only club for cool kids any longer. The older I got, the more you became just a house: less and less about what I could do there, and more about who was there that I loved. It turned into a much simpler place, if slightly less exciting.
But you have always been so patient. You’ve put up with renovations, and animals, and sickness, and noise.
How much chaos did we create, choreographing dances in the living room? Pushing aside the furniture, scraping it along your floors to get maximum space. How many times was the fire alarm set off, smoke filling the kitchen? How often was there an animal staining the carpets? Sometimes, animals that didn’t even belong to us! Yet you never stopped welcoming us in. You had decided to love us, and you were not going to change your mind.
We all measure our lives differently. You and I were measured in plants watered, trees climbed and bits of bark stuck in my eye, in toes stubbed on the stone path, and in entire games of tennis played in the driveway. Ask me the amount of sidewalk chalk a new kid will need to fill up the “court.”
Various people came in and out to join us, but it was always fundamentally down to you and me.
The one thing that keeps twisting my insides is the thought of my bathroom. It took me a while to figure out why, but I think I’ve got it. It’s because yours is the mirror I watched my face, my body, my self-change in. That same spot, for twenty years. So many different faces and makeup attempts and products on the counter in front of me. The same mirror that my dad wrapped me up in a towel in front of after my bath; the same mirror I first tried blue eyeliner in; the same mirror I hated myself in, loved myself in; the same mirror I watched myself in every morning and night while brushing my teeth.
Someday, in thirty years, I’ll come back to you on a summer evening in late July. I’ll take off my shoes and walk down the gentle slope of the hill I was raised on, and you and I will be old friends. I’ll be different from who I am now, which is different from who I was then. You’ll get to meet me in full.
Your old friend,
The Once-Young Girl