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Creative Nonfiction


Just a House

Tara Dole

I’ve always searched for a new home wherever I could find it, but I fear nothing will ever be as familiar or hold me in as much of a vice as the house I spent my adolescence embarrassed by. It’s a crumbling little place on a large plot of land that stands right on the busiest street in the city. Termite damage, building code violations, and old age always threaten the yellowing walls. The heavy equipment that my father fixed up scorched the dusty earth of the backyard. That must have been his way of forever damning us to remember him, beyond the reminder that I bear his blood in my veins and his nose on my face. Just like the memories of that house that I will never be able to cleanse from my mind—the smell of the basement or the vomit-mustard color of the carpet.

Turbulent, tense voices were the signature of that house. Maybe that’s why I have trouble accepting kind words, for what could they carry besides hidden animosity? Grudges left unheard of outside pointed glares and slammed cupboards.

Don’t misunderstand, I don’t want people’s condolences. My family was often the subject of the pity and gossip that ran through the sleepy suburban streets near that house like flash floods down a drought-starved creek. Saying “I’m sorry that happened to you” never accomplished anything outside of turning me into a poor bird with a broken wing in the eyes of those who said it. Something that had to be nursed back to health, a project. Never a person in my own right but an obligation to be taken care of due to my brokenness.

I could talk about the way the house rattled when harsh, resentful footsteps treaded its floors. Or how I tucked myself into dark, forgotten corners to avoid more hostility . . . but I’ve written too much about these things. I have pitied myself in the way that I claim to hate, because without that house to blame my shortcomings on, I would just be another person. Another person swirling around and around, trying desperately not to drown with millions of others. Billions, probably.

My mother still lives there. So does my brother. They cling to that house like a habit you can’t seem to shake. It’s the  familiarity that holds them. I know it well. It’s easy to stay there in the same way it is easy to stay in pain because you refuse to see a doctor. The pain is familiar, and you’ve found your way to live with it. Seeking treatment would uproot your whole life, change your routines, turn what you know inside out. And so it goes. I’m lucky that I got out before I sunk too deep into the tar pit, while I was still rebellious and passionate in the way only eighteen-year-olds can be.

One day, that house will topple, and with it will go the longest relationship of my life. A business or an apartment complex will someday take its place, and the people within won’t know that they’re living on haunted ground. I will have to find another place to think of as home. Another house, another state, another person. I will have to accept that my pain will not disappear with the house. If it were that easy, I’d have taken a wrecking ball to it years ago.

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