Thursday, February 25, 2010

On Childhood Homes (Or, Say What You Need to Say)

The window was too high, so I climbed onto the air conditioning compressor next to the abandoned house. I felt adventurous, though it doesn’t take much at middle-age.

When I peered in the window, I knew I would find the kitchen.

What I didn’t know was how suddenly my insides would tighten and then spring loose, sending a knot of pressure into my throat that took my breath away.

The abandoned house was my house, the one I had grown up in but was forced to leave in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew ripped it apart. I had heard it had since been put back together and occupied by two different owners. Now it was deserted, a torn “Final Eviction” notice still taped to the front door.

Nostalgia is a strong and confusing feeling, even more potent than joy, I believe, and certainly more complex. As I walked around the outside of the house, cursing whoever was responsible for the sunburned grass cracking beneath my sneakers, I peered into all the windows. I felt sad. And angry. My house was so exposed, so naked, so vulnerable. And so dead. I found it hard to believe that anyone had ever lived there, even me.

It was a long time ago that I left that house. It had actually been my parents who stayed there until 1992. That house had stopped being my base years earlier, when I had moved into my own apartment in an attempt to be an adult. But even when the house was not my base, it had always been my anchor.

I peered into my bedroom window, which faced the front of the house, and then turned to look at the white convertible whose engine purred softly in the driveway. It belonged to my childhood friend, Jennifer, whom I had come to visit that day, for the first time in a very long time. Too long.

I had heard the house was “on the market”, though buyers seemed not to be chomping at the bit to pick it up, and Jennifer suggested we drive by to see what I could see. And oh, what I could see.

I saw my purple bedroom walls decorated with a Richard Gere poster alongside my horse paraphernalia. Now those walls were white.

I saw the apple green carpet littered with album covers (Styx’s Paradise Theater, REO Speedwagon’s High Infidelity, Journey’s Escape) as Jennifer and I decided which music to rock to on our sleepover. Now the floor was tiled in beige marble.

I saw my banana-yellow, rotary-style telephone, the one on which I spent countless hours chatting with Jennifer, my other girlfriends, and some of the adolescent loves of my life, all now grown with children who would never know what to do with a rotating phone dial.

As Jennifer sat patiently in her car, the sun beating down on her long wavy hair, she suddenly looked like the sixteen-year-old version of herself instead of the forty-three-year-old mother of teenagers. I realized how much I missed her. I didn’t miss the past. Lord knows – and so does Jennifer – that it wasn’t always pretty. I didn’t even miss that old house so much. I simply missed my friend.

I didn’t say much as I climbed back into the car and allowed Jennifer to take me away from that house, driving me down my street, away from my past. She turned on the radio to a classic rock station, and the song just starting to play was Feels Like the First Time by Foreigner. (I am not making this up; it’s too corny for that.) It was the first rock concert Jennifer and I ever attended, in the now demolished Miami Orange Bowl.

That is when I cried. For what felt like many minutes but was probably less than one, I sobbed for times lost and, more importantly, for missing friendship. Jennifer, to her credit, said nothing while I bawled.

Finally composing myself, I announced very matter-of-factly that she and I had to see each other more often. Jennifer agreed. I then told her that I missed her.

She let out an “Aw”, so obviously trying to hide her own tears that were swiftly being blown away by the summer breeze. “I miss you, too.” Which made me think of a present-day song by John Mayer, who sings that you should say what you need to say.

I’m glad that I did.

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