My mother tells me that she had always loved the house. She used to drive by and admire it. When I was thirteen, it came on the market, and she and my dad snatched it up. The house was built in 1948, old for Oklahoma, painted brick with wrought iron and ivy. It needed a lot of work, and they tore out walls and opened it up, changed everything. It was their biggest, finest collaboration, and they made it exactly what they wanted. It was weird in ways, or maybe quirky is the better word, with a mirror on the ceiling of the downstairs bathroom and Pepto-Bismol pink wallpaper in the dining room. But mostly it was beautiful, obscenely beautiful, full of books and art and small fragile things that my dad collected at estate sales and antique malls. He got to live there for less than ten years before he died, but my mother is still there, or will be for another two weeks, when she moves to Seattle.
This move has been a long time coming, and I’ve been waiting impatiently for the house to sell. When she called me up in mid-June to tell me that she’d gotten an offer, I nearly shrieked. But then a different thought came, and I stopped nearly-shrieking, because that thought was, I will never see that house again. So on Wednesday, I got on a plane and flew here to do just that, and to help my mother clear twenty-plus years of living from the various cabinets, closets, and shelves. If you had asked me fifteen years ago, even ten years ago, if I’m a sentimental person, I would have denied it. Now there is no doubt. Between loads of books – 295 donated to the library thus far – and trips to Goodwill, Mom and I get lost in piles of photographs; her old jewelry box, with its collection of scarabs and giant costume earrings from the ’80s; the box of poems my dad wrote to her before they were married.
We moved into the house when I was a freshman in high school, and I lived there for barely four years, plus a couple of summers in between other places. It wasn’t long. But I can still hear the creak of the stairs when my dad went down to make coffee in the morning, and the shhhh of his hand sliding along the banister. I know the smell when you walk into the front hall, and the smell of the living room, and the smell of the kitchen, all of which are different. I know the hiss of the air conditioner. I can find all the light switches and lamps in the dark. I dyed burgundy streaks into my hair in my bathroom there, put on the long black net skirt that was my favorite article of clothing at age sixteen, and listened to Minor Threat on vinyl that I mail-ordered from Washington, DC. I had the hots for Guy Picciotto in that house. I sat on the floor of my bedroom and typed out college applications on an electric typewriter. In the laundry room, my first dog had her last seizure. My mother and I carried her to the car on a beach-towel-turned-stretcher, and not long after, she was gone.
I made my first pie with my mother in that kitchen, a blueberry pie from some Martha Stewart book. High on our victory, we attempted a towering lemon meringue pie that wept uncontrollably onto the counter. Later that same summer, on that same counter, my dad and I rolled out fresh pasta. He liked to grill burgers out back, the burgers that I ate all through my so-called vegetarianism. He sat by the window in the kitchen to enjoy his Saturday egg salad and beer. Upstairs, in my bedroom with the stereo cranked up, I daydreamed (for years, years) about what it would be like to make out with someone but never actually did – until, VICTORY, shortly after high school graduation, I had my first kiss in the front hall and, hopped up on elation and pure cold terror, grabbed the doorknob to keep from passing out.
It was to that house that I returned the summer after college. It was in that house that I woke up on September 11, 2001 and, along with everyone else alive that day, watched as the World Trade Center fell. I read a lot of Frank O’Hara in that house, and I wrote a lot of poetry that I do not plan to ever read again. I attempted and abandoned Henry Miller. I once folded myself into the biggest chair in the living room and spent an entire weekend reading The Fountainhead. It’s the house where my dad spent the last weeks of his life, on a hospital bed in the den. It’s where, Brandon likes to say, he first knew that he wanted to marry me. It’s where we found out, over dinner in the dining room, that my cousin Sarah’s first daughter had been born, my “niece” Mia. Five years later, in the living room across the hall, Mia’s grandmother, my aunt Tina, spent her last night on this earth. And the following night, at 26 weeks pregnant, I hid with my mother and three cousins in a closet as a hailstorm knocked out more than half of the windows in the house and sent shards of glass flying into the remains of our Thai beef with chiles and basil, still in a wok on the stove. We lived a lot in that house, and I probably don’t even know the half of it.
Brandon sometimes tells me that he misses places, physical spaces like rooms and sites and buildings, after he leaves them. I’ve felt the same way occasionally, about a house where I often played as a kid, the amphitheater at Quartz Mountain, or apartments where friends have lived. But I never really missed this house until now. I’m glad I do.
Big, bad, banana
I was not an easy child. I was afraid of thunderstorms, and of the vacuum cleaner. My head was so big that I would wind up in tears when my mother tried to wedge it through a turtleneck. I was terrified of needles, so much so that nurses had to sit on me to give me my booster shots. Even sweet, wrinkly E.T. scared the crap out of me, with his weird misshapen head and creepy glowing finger. And on top of all that, I hated bananas. Kids are supposed to love bananas — when all else fails, that, at least, is supposed to be easy. My poor, patient mother did her best. To ease her mind, she once consulted…Read more