Sue still lives there.
She’s welcome to it, as far as I’m concerned, though I’m not sure my father would have agreed with me about that, back when she changed the locks and filed for divorce. But neither can I imagine that he would have wanted to live there all these years since. I know that I would not have been all that happy to visit him there, if he did.
So one time, when we were both in town to visit him, my sister and I decided to drive out to the old place. Over the years, maybe a handful of times, I have coasted by on the main road, from which the house is barely visible for all the trees, more of them now than there were back then. But this time, we harvested what nerve we could, and drove down the long driveway, past the No Trespassing sign, past the spot where the old trash barrels used to sit, and then down to the turnaround where we could park the car and face the house.
If Sue was home, it was hard to tell. If she looked out the front window to see who was in the driveway, we’ll never know. But we lingered, and weren’t afraid of a confrontation, if it came to that. Short of calling the police or waving around a firearm, there was nothing she could have done to make us leave. Those days are gone, and I think she would know that.
It’s true that things–places, houses–appear smaller than they did when we were children. As we sat there in the car, my sister and I noted the truth of that. The house seemed smaller, and just less. Brush had taken over part of the yard, leaving less of it to mow, I suppose. There were tacky, alligator yard ornaments.
It wasn’t the same place. And I was not the same person.
It’s hard to say what that house and that land mean to me now. Without question, I left parts of myself there when I moved away for good. The last time I left the house, it was to return to college after a holiday break, and I didn’t know that I wouldn’t return to it. It’s just as well. It would have changed nothing, knowing that.
What is left of me there? Small pieces, yes, almost none of them essential to me now. Tears. The echo of us crying out, a sound that died out a long time ago. Photo albums with our young, sweet faces on the pages. Board games. The tree I loved to climb. The small basket of memories that were good. The violets. But there is nothing there that I haven’t replaced over time with something better. My own family. Love. Strength. Knowledge. Gumption.
I have always thought that if I had an opportunity (and the money) to buy the property, I would cancel the insurance and see the house burned to the ground. Then, I would tear out the foundation and bring in fresh soil to fill the hole left behind. Where it stood, I would plant violets, but you might have guessed that. The rest of it, I would let grow wild. I would let the little oak starts grow tall and take over the yard, and allow the wild blackberries and ferns and milkweed to have their way. In time, with enough years, those two acres might come to look something like they did before anyone lived there.
There’s little chance that any of that will ever happen. It’s nice to imagine it, though to be honest, it’s not often that I think of that place at all.
In every way possible, I live far away from it now.