I haven’t stayed in the same place for more than three years since I turned eighteen, but I lived those eighteen years in the same house with all its familiar details.
I remember it as the house of the 80s tannish-pink bathroom with an angular sink that seemed normal to me until I saw the round sinks of my friends’ bathrooms. House of the enclosed back porch of white walls and many windows and a glass sliding door to the long, green backyard.
The backyard of the maple with a single swing, the kids’ club house built by my uncle, the stone grill we never used, and Mom’s garden with the raspberry patch and compost heap.
The kitchen of kermit green linoleum tiles, mustard fridge and oven, and dark brown cabinets--all gradually transformed under my mother’s watch. A black and white chessboard floor appeared. (My brother Benj made paper chess pieces and attempted a game, but the board was just a few squares too short.) Mom painted all the cabinets white and bought dusty blue knobs for them. A black fridge was purchased when the mustard one shuddered and heaved its last breath.
Uncle Frank helped Mom put up wallpaper that was white with delicate patterns of colorful fruit on it. I don’t remember the pre-fruited walls. Were they plain white paint? Other wallpaper?
Dining room of old brown carpet until Mom pulled it up and sanded the wood beneath. The living room carpet was pulled up, too. Mom replaced it with that dusty blue, a few shades darker than the kitchen knobs.
Living room of the three windows that looked out on the dogwoods in the front yard, of the great mirror above the mantelpiece, of the fireplace below with its brass, black, and glass doors.
Room of the carpeted stairs leading up to the three bedrooms, the Room Over the Garage where Dad kept his books, and the door to the unfinished attic that held the Pretend Box full of costumes.
The house is long sold and occupied. But I wind up in my hometown every few years for some gathering or another.
When you live long in a place, it lodges in your skin. Even if you don’t trust it and it doesn’t trust you, there’s an awkward sense of familiarity. A long series of one-night stands that somehow turn into a long, reticent relationship between perpetual strangers.
I cross the border from Pennsylvania into New Jersey and it feels familiar. There’s something Jersey about Jersey. The way the houses are set together or how the roads make no blessed sense. The strange hybrid in its suburbs of houses and apartments built among trees and green, like it wanted to keep living up to its name of The Garden State, but wasn’t sure how. Like it needed places for people to live, so it decided to just build those houses, pave those highways dammit and hope that some of the garden would break through the concrete.
The misty earth-scent after the rain, the way the light hits the trees after a storm and pulls its leaves into bolder color. The sun filtering through the windows on to the warm carpet, silent flecks of dust floating lazily in its long, perceptive beam.
New Jersey summers are humid and dragging, but full of ripe fruits. The autumns are full of spice and green leaves crinkling into wild orange and crimson.
The air knows me, or knew me once. Not old lovers, quite. Old somethings. It thinks it knows me, and in a way it does. I was in it long before I had a say as to whether or not it should be in me. And it loved me in its own ways, as much as it could.
Still. I feel bereft in that place. The golden leaves of the many trees I cannot name watch over my comings and goings, waiting for my imminent return.