It feels weird to write to a thing, not a person. To write to wooden shutters and glass windows, chipping paint and an attic full of dark corners and creepy cobwebs.
It feels strange to mourn the loss of a home the way one might grieve the passing of a family member. And not some distant, far off family member, but the fifth grandparent, maybe acquired from a second marriage; the super-cool kind of family-member who didn’t HAVE to show up for you but somehow always did and who both comforted and delighted you in a sort of surprising way.
My parents were young when they had us, which I’ve come to learn means they will always be young in a relative way. Relative to friends’ parents and co-workers and people of “retirement age”. And either because of this or because of something entirely unrelated, my house was “cool” growing up. Sitting on 2.5 acres of land with oddities like a hollowed out former dairy farm that was 10 feet deep and which we affectionately referred to as “the Pit”, this house in many ways feels like the source of the memories as opposed to just the backdrop. Like the memory I have from when I was about 11 and my family friend’s dad fell into the Pit and broke his collarbone during a particularly competitive game of manhunt.
We lived behind my elementary school, which I walked to every day from the time that I was six until I graduated the fifth grade. The same elementary school where I would see my older brother post pictures of him and his friends playing beer pong when I was away with our parents for a lacrosse tournament. And the same place where I snuck out to meet a boy who wasn’t good enough for me in high school. The same place where I remember seeing through my first grade classroom window when my dog, Bernie, broke through his electric collar fence and ran around the schoolyard. My brother named Bernie after the former Yankees player, Bernie Williams; I always named the cats.
My mom is and always has been an amazing gardener. My dad is an engineer. Any child of an engineer knows that whatever you can dream of—treehouse, lofted bed, or in the case of my mother, a gorgeous greenhouse and garden—you can have. The garden wrapping around our peanut-shaped pool was full of Tiger lilies, spikey Coneflowers, Black-eyed Susans, a miniature Japanese Maple tree, and whatever else my mom took interest in that summer. We’d have tomato wars in August when the garden was overflowing with fruit. We’d find random bushes of flowers that had traveled, seemingly impossibly, to another part of the lawn.
On late summer nights, my parents would have amazing parties, something my sister-in-law to this day praises my mother for being phenomenal at. It’s a skill I like to think my mom passed on to me, part of what’s shaped my career in a form of event planning today. We’d stay up late and our crazy, eccentric neighbor would sometimes wash our hair on the side of the pool with buckets of water, only to let us jump back in again. My mom, a second-career nutritionist, once let me take popcorn to bed with me after one of these parties—a truly singular event in my childhood.
We’d catch fireflies and spend entire days in the woods. On summer mornings, you’d wake up to bruises on your lanky legs from the previous night’s torpedo wars in the pool. My two best friends, fraternal twins, grew up down the street from me, less than a quarter-mile walk. Some nights I’d sleep over there even well into high school and college because we were afraid to walk home at night—not of any person or predator, considering nobody even locks doors where I grew up. We were afraid of the dark, the night, the little noises you hear unattached to any person or thing you might encounter in the city.
My childhood home gave me a love of frogs and toads, an understanding that sometimes peace can only be found in wilderness. And it’s funny, because I realize now that I can be so completely in touch with who I am and happy with myself and feel a gaping hole when I am without nature in my life.
This must be what it means to know where you’re from.
I don’t feel any sort of attachment to the town I grew up in or even the college I went to. I am indifferent and almost resistant to ever raising children or settling down in the community in which I was raised, and yet the thought of somebody else’s family trampling in those woods simultaneously comforts me and breaks my heart.
Is it odd or completely ordinary to feel as much raised by your childhood home as you do by your circumstances? Obviously, I am a lucky one to look back so positively on these formative years, but is it crazy to think that I can be excited for my parents that they get to experience and enjoy the next phase of their lives and yet feel equally concerned for what it means for me to no longer be tethered to the place where they live?
I suppose this is the juxtaposition of a woman who wonders if that time capsule from her 13 year-old self still exists in the closet of her childhood bedroom and who also occasionally lies awake at night wondering if she herself will ever have children of her own.
What does it mean to grow up? And grow older? When does one person’s childhood, adulthood, and retirement begin and another’s phase into a new beginning?