Someday when I’m old enough to write a book of my craziest memories I vow to write about the effect my various homes and houses have had on me. How they enriched me and how some depleted me too. How some were an extension of me while some just added to the internal turmoil that anyone’s life can be on any given day. All of it needs to go in my book of houses. That book will have the warmth of some habitations and the heat of some abodes. It will become an extension of me and a tell-all of a journey that many people, like myself, spend in compartments. Compartments like life before this thing or that. Compartments like “when life stood still” or “when life rushed by”. Compartments of intimacy and distance, of love and mistrust, of fortitude and indignity.
While walking through this journey my footprint has been documented in a veritable variety of shades. It has been lighter in moments of passion and love. And has been heavier when I’m fatigued.
My homes have held all my footprints with a forbearance that hasn’t always been so patiently shown by life itself. So the homes became a place to return to. They became safe. They became a part of me. And I became a part of them.
I’m sure many people cry at night in their pillows or silently laugh at themselves for a silly fight that they passionately fought in another time. These are secret tears and secret laughter. They can’t reach others. But there’s still a yearning to document them somewhere. I rest assured in the knowledge that the house around me absorbs my tears and reflects my laughter. So it has become a friend of sorts. It has become a confidante.
At night when the moonlight enters my room stealthily and creeps up on the walls to claim its own, I can’t keep my eyes off the walls and then images sprout there. Of men I’ve met and women I’ve loved. Of places I’ve been. Of people I’ve called mine. Of diseases I’ve cured. Of patients I lost. It all starts to come to life. Somehow the house holds all these memories in its walls. They come out anytime I’m despondent. It’s a great thing for me in moments of solitude. The house reminds me of a life spent busily attending to the business of life.
Some people argue that houses are houses and homes are what really matter. And yet we look for a house, long before we’ve made it our home, that reflects our personality and mirrors our desires. Then we decorate the walls of the houses, talk about them like they’re living and breathing things and care for them, all the while hoping for it to transform into a home when actually, the house represents the home, and vice versa.
I have never argued with anyone about the relevance of the etymology of homes and houses. To me, they’re the same thing. Some houses I was more eager to leave. The memories were intense and there was an animosity that the house had developed too for infusing so much anger into it. And then there were some that I visited long after I called another place home. When I deliberately took a wrong turn just to end up in front of my previous home, suddenly my current home seemed phony and like it was playing a cameo in my big movie of love and loss. It seemed like nothing could change my ownership for my previous house. That this house was the only home I ever built, if I built one. Then I returned home and it took me in. It felt like cheating on my home with the my ex-home. Could one person exist in two places at the same time emotionally?
Usually for most people houses keep getting bigger. Until they get smaller one last time and then we actually settle. One morning as I was fixing my child’s closet I marveled at how much more space we had now compared to the tiny apartment where she was born. We had a tiny closet for her that could hardly keep up with her ever-expanding wardrobe. She learned to walk between many tables and couches. Her tiny feet ran the length of the small space, the pitter patter of life itself, making our apartment warm and inviting. The walls had big blotches of where she had thrown up her cereal after I had wrestled with her to eat it and then there was baby proofing material that spoke of the vulnerability of the house and the baby in it.
I felt a strange desire to see that apartment once again. I longed to breathe it one more time. It was such a happy time with some very dark moments when the vibrancy of life clashed with the business of it. My life in that apartment became a reminder of the constantly rocking state of us. There is a high and a low. And then there’s another high and another low. And a wave can help us ride the high for a little longer, just like there are whirlpools also. It all came together in that house that was my home.
I started walking down the stairs to defuse some of the emotion that this barrage of memories came with. No other house ever mattered as much as that one, I thought sadly. And no other house will, I kept repeating to myself. Lost in thought I absentmindedly stared ahead of me at the white walls of our current home, their beautiful white now streaked with crayons of many different colors, each more vibrant than the color underneath it.
I remembered once when someone said, “Oh! Did your son deface the walls?” Deface? It was a strange word for the biggest wonder of the world. A child’s imagination. Scribbled on the walls. In places the lines looped into each other and resembled some abstract form of art. A work of his newly learned fine motor skills. A moment of pride. A piece of my heart.
I caressed the walls. There were stories of a planet that he drew there. A planet hitherto undiscovered. There were trees with what looked like little birds or apples, it was hard to say due to the artist’s obvious lack of attention to their form. And there was a sun with a moon right next to it, exactly how it likely is in a child’s mind. The idea of one world. One love.
I felt more settled after discovering our footprint here too. This house has absorbed us too. Our fears and pain. Our happiness and whoops. It tells a story which is different from the other homes that I have had but is complete nonetheless.
I watched out our sunroom window. The sun filtered in through the big window that opens to our backyard. This was a thing that my husband didn’t want to compromise on. He wanted a sunny house. A house with a lot of light and warm energy. So he paid extra to get it. When we had closed the deal with our contractor and we headed back to the place we called home then, I asked him why anyone would pay so much for a sunroom. It’s an egregiously large amount of money, I insisted. We can still change it, I tried to convince him.
He didn’t want to change it. He had made up his mind.
“I want to have the sun rise in our faces”, he said as our children giggled in the back at their father’s rare attempt at seizing a poetic moment, “And hear the kettle singing as morning begins for our little family. Then I want to sit on the couch in my sunroom with my cup of tea and watch the miracle of life that we’ve created together”.
“Oh”, I said, suddenly struck by how I thought the same about closets and bedrooms and the moon, “How strange that I always thought of our bedroom as the place where we’d snuggle together after waking up and watch our kids running around the room trying to get out and play, and marvel at the life we’ve created together”.
“Yup, same idea”, he said, relieved that we finally looked like we were agreeing, “Same idea of making it our own. Same idea of feeling safe and happy”.