Our last home had the most spectacular view of the sunrise. We were on the third floor (which was really the fourth floor) facing what must have been very close to Due East. Our bedroom window was a mouth perfectly poised to swallow the first stream of sunlight.* It was the kind of view that made you understand why human beings once worshiped the Sun, made you wonder if perhaps it would be a good idea to leave offerings on the windowsill for this benevolent being that chased away the darkness.
Sure, it might have been even better had there been a rolling meadow instead of an H.E.B. parking lot and a grove of live oak trees instead of a Bank of America, but there is just something about the first light of day which can overpower the ugliness of any suburbascape. It was glorious. It is still glorious. But now it belongs to someone else.
This is hard for me to accept.
I have a new house now. It also faces East. It is everything we dreamed about and thought we might never have. Not for a long time anyway. I just finished moving all of our belongings in this past weekend. This coming weekend I will go to Texas and retrieve Alex. Together, we will turn this place into our home.
But right now it feels strange. The house and I feel awkward alone together. Like strangers left alone together at a party by a mutual friend, expected to make polite conversation but with no idea where to begin. Moving our stuff in eased the tension a little bit, but I am anxious for Alex to arrive. It our interacting energies – and those of our pets – that transform the empty space between any arbitrary set of walls into a place that feels like home.
Until then, there is a part of me that pines for what we had before.
Alex has a theory that not all ghosts are the spirits of the dead. Some are the spirits of the living. And when your hair stands on end and you break into a cold sweat because you can feel another presence more certainly than you can feel your own blood pulsing, someone who lived there before you is thinking longingly of that place, recalling some happy memory, reliving some secret pain. Haunting is not the sole property of the dead, but an activity each one of us engages in every time we give in to nostalgia.
This house will be my tenth home in ten years. Not counting boomerang stays with my parents. I have haunted some more than others, but none so much as our home in Bee Cave, TX. None so much in so short a time since I left that place. I haunt it daily, and I wonder if the new tenants feel me there. Those people who moved in only days after we moved out. Those people who have no idea about the love story that happened there or the friendships forged there or the way we were thrown out for being $250 too poor. Those people who have no idea that their home is a scab on my heart that I cannot resist picking. Are they feeling uneasy as I write this?
I don’t believe that houses are just objects. House are made of wood and stone and other elements of nature. If I can commune with these elements in the wild, why should I believe I can’t commune with them in my home? Why shouldn’t the lumber beneath the plaster walls absorb my emotions as do trees in a favorite clearing? Why shouldn’t the granite counter-tops bear witness to my stories like the stones I climb on in the woods? I am not a religious animist, but my personal experience tell me that there is a kind of consciousness in these things we take for granted. We form relationships with the elements of our homes just as we do with the people and animals we live there with.
My last home and I were not ready to part. We had no choice in the matter. We were ripped from each other like Jack and Rose. Too soon, it felt. Much too soon. Though we had talked for months about leaving when the lease ended – indeed it never would have happened at all had we not signed a short lease in the expectation of moving out – a lot can change in six months and our certainty about moving had waned as our good memories in that home increased. By the time we were told we must leave, there was nowhere else I really wanted to be. By the time we were told to leave, I believe the apartment had finally embraced us in return. And then it was over. I yearn for that place, and though it sounds crazy I can’t help but feel it yearns for us too.
Thus, the awkwardness I feel in this new home right now. I sit here alone on a chaise lounge that was plenty couch for our tiny apartment but appears like pitiful seating in this comparatively huge living room. The ceiling fan is clicking in an alien tongue. The walls settled. The floor creaks. The windows rattle with a rush of cold wind. There is a loud thump each time the heater kicks on. I do not know these sounds yet. I do not speak this home’s language. It is like dating after a divorce. There is affection and hope for the future, but there is no past. There are no memories yet to fill this huge space with their collective warmth. Not my memories anyway.
I believe the feeling goes two ways. The house seems to be regarding me almost warily. The last tenant treated it very badly indeed. This house has been burnt before and I feel its love will have to be earned. Regular cleaning. Fresh paint. Soothing music. Silly dances. The smell of chocolate chip cookies and freshly cut fruits. Cats in the window sills. Dogs waiting at the door. The sounds of love and coffee being made. There is much to do to convince this old house that we mean it no harm.
I suppose I could start by waking up early and appreciating the way the sunlight streams into our new room.
*Metaphor inspired by this picture which I assumed was staged until my grandmother confirmed that the cats on her family farm would actually do this every morning.