The flowers are gone. The butterfly garden my father and I painted together disappeared the day my home became only a house. Purple coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, blue lupines, daisies, and Queen Anne’s lace and butterflies dancing around my bedroom, all gone. Even my own two little flowers in the corner that I painted with fingers trembling with perfectionism. Daddy says the shadows of the flowers can still be seen through the standard stale gray paint if you look carefully. I miss the happy sunshine yellow. I miss when this room was mine, not this replaceable version. I can’t see the outlines, but it comforts me that there is still a shadow left.
I haven’t been here since the morning six years I woke up and found a brown necklace we forgot to pack. It was one of those magnetic ones, lying on the green carpet. I put it on so it wouldn’t be lost. It flew to a far country and broke a long time ago. The beads scattered. They’re lost now. Lots of things feel lost now.
Not everything. I can still recite my old phone number. Strange what things remain. That number. The one odd pointy “special” spoon the table-setter used to bestow special favor. The piano we posed for Easter photos with. The nest of robins I never got to watch grow up. I don’t even know my cellphone number.
I didn’t want to come back, not after I heard what they did to my room. I was afraid of overwriting my memories and letting my childhood fade. The last time we came, I stayed outside. But this time, my family was moving back, and they needed help. Dust is not sympathetic to my sentimentality.
My mother is practical. There are windows to wash, floors to sweep. It’s been six years. It’s over and there’s work to be done. It’s time to move on. I do not move on well.
Everything seems smaller despite the emptiness. All the rooms are bare except for memories. But I still remember. And I put it all back. There’s the stubbly blue rug with the rose islands for toys to journey to. The full bookshelves. The elegant red couch where I waited for my dad’s bedtime stories, playing with the white coiled phone cord.
There’s the yellow strip of light I’d watch under my bedroom door before venturing out on my nocturnal book raids.
The white hopscotch in the basement is still here. For now. Dad’s going to paint it over, white and grey, marbled. It will be fancy and formal. Like a magazine house.
All this painting. It’s just another warning that this could all be temporary. We don’t know. We could be moving again. So, we make it all nice for strangers rather than make it ours.
I shove my smartphone back in my pocket and go outside. Away from the emptiness. I’m stifled with memories and I must not cry.
This was the house of my parents as newly-weds. The house they brought me back to when I was free of the womb and the hospital. The house where I learned to read, lost teeth, made imaginary friends, welcomed my sisters to. For thirteen years, before I moved to the other side of the world and traded Great Lakes for mountains and stairs to heaven, this house was my home. But it’s not any more.
There are trees in my garden I did not plant. Poison ivy ducks under the mint which has overrun the rest of the flowers. Tall grass pokes up all through it. Dad says he should mow it over. It’s too much work to fix and I’m at college now, and after that, I’ll be gone away somewhere else working. Nobody else in the family wants to fight the weeds. But the licorice plant is still sweet. I pluck one of the new black feathery sprigs to chew on. It’s been years and the nostalgia tastes good.
The sun shines yellow through the maple leaves. I remember grasping for a handful of seeds, jumping up and yanking. They were still green, not ready to leave the branch yet. I wanted a piece of home to touch and remember. Now I don’t even have dust left.
I was going to climb the maples trees when I grew up. I reach up but they are still too tall. Or I am still too small. Some things don’t change. Growing up does not happen as quick as you think it should. I’m not sure which lesson I should learn. I’m still waiting for the “know-it-all” stage I was promised, and my teenage years are nearly over.
There was one tree I would climb as a kid. The redbud. It was easy. I’d swing up and just sit and watch pretending I was some forest princess, letting the soft petals sprinkle my hair.
I hid a white stone up in this tree the winter before I left. When I returned, I was going to climb up and get it. It’s not there. I wonder if one of the tenant kids found it. I wonder if they came up here to sit and watch the ants crawl up the bark and look at the clouds just like I did.
I lean my cheek against the tree bark but I stay on the ground. I stare at the white house that used to be mine. It’s a nice place, a comfortable place.
It would be good to go back to having one address without any asterisks. Without any explanations. Not “this is my mailing address” or “my US address” or “I actually live in the Philippines, but I stay here in the summer.” Not a couch where I sleep during the summer. Not a hush-hush house where we pass each other like strangers. Just one address. Just one place to belong. But it’s not that easy.
I could live here again but the place I come from is gone.