The thing about childhood homes is that they are depressing. Some homes were worse than others. There was never a time in which Jade had ever enjoyed even thinking about going back to where she was born. It may have something to do with the neighbors who hated her or the school that taught her to trust nobody. But, as she stood in front of the two-story house, Jade knew that the reason she dreaded this day had nothing to do with the community around the home.
It had all to do with that house.
It sat as a monument to all the things she had ever feared, all the things she had ever done wrong. Her worst nightmares had taken place here.
Jade’s footsteps sounded weak as she walked up the sidewalk to the house. She noticed that the flowers that her mother loved so much were dead and dry. The door creaked as she opened it, and a thick stench of dust and misuse flooded her nose. Her father had left the home to her when he died, but Jade didn’t care. All she ever wanted was to leave this place behind and never come back. Yet, come back she had. Once, to collect her few belongings, and now- here she was again. Emotion choked Jade as she crept forward towards the old light switch. She hoped it still worked. As the lights blinked on, memories seemed to cascade around her.
“You surely don’t want to leave forever?”
“Yes, I do.”
“What will become of your father and me?”
“I don’t care. Just like you don’t care about me.”
With every breath and every thought, Jade pushed away the ghosts that seemed to surround her. They had followed her for as long as she could remember; here they seemed to have more strength. Within the confines of these walls, Jade felt as though her very self was waning. She passed the living room where the old tv was sitting over the sound system, black and lifeless. She could almost see her parents sitting on the couch, their backs stiff, and hands folded primly in their laps. She remembered their lifeless eyes staring at her and her mother’s loveless smiles. Jade shuddered but moved on knowing there were other fears to face.
She stepped into the kitchen where the items to make a chocolate cake, the cake that her mother was going to make for her brother’s birthday, still sat on the counter. Thinking about her brother brought a swift shaft of pain. And terror so deep, so debilitating, that Jade didn’t dare to consider it. The room felt so cold and hollow. She was getting ever closer to the place where it happened.
The creaking wooden boards of the kitchen seemed to mock her as she passed the counter with the ingredients and towards the stairs. She paused, her legs not willing to move another inch. Upstairs sat the room that witnessed everything: the arguments, the tears, and the pain. The walls that hid the everlasting secret that ate at Jade’s soul- that ate her parent’s souls- until their death.
Staring up the stairs, Jade’s memories flooded her mind as though she was transported back to that night. She could hear the screams that came from above. The initially, delighted and happy screeches of a young boy playing, then turning to horror. Her vision turned red as the boy’s scream turned terrified. Jade’s eyes slammed closed, shutting out the memory. Her body started shaking. When she opened her eyes again they were wet with tears of regret and anger. She seemed to be waiting for something, though she was unsure what. But, when it came, she recognized it. The absolute hatred she had felt about herself, the fear she was a monster coupled with the knowledge that her parents couldn’t love her anymore. With those feelings heavy in her mind, Jade forced her legs to move. She had to get it over with; she had to deal with the past before she could move on.
The playroom was exactly as she remembered. The small playpen sat folded in the corner, though it was blackened and smelled of smoke. Thick black marks stained the ground. She remembered that evening like it was last night. She was making her baby brother laugh in the playroom by knocking things over. Jade remembered she knocked the fan over onto the thick bearskin rug. I was so young, I didn’t know. She desperately tried to excuse her mistake yet again, knowing she still wouldn’t allow it.
She remembered the smell of burning hair that she had smelled from her room. Then the searing tounges of flame slowly creeping closer to her brother’s playpen when she rushed back in to investigate. Jade hadn’t been strong enough or tall enough to lift him up over the playpen rail. Fear had choked her as she rushed downstairs to her parents, where they were still planning her brother’s 2nd birthday, yelling for their help. They didn’t understand at first, and by the time they did, it was too late.
Jade remembered the ambulance ride to the hospital and waiting impatiently for her brother to come out and be handed to her mother. She remembered the doctor entering the waiting room without her brother, then the tears that fell from her parent’s faces. The doctor said words like, “...smoke inhalation...” and “...exactly what happened, Mrs. Hanover?” Jade remembered that her parents lied, of course, it was a lie; they told the doctor it was an accident.
Later, in the days and weeks to follow, the truth occurred to Jade; she had killed her beloved little brother. The revelation shook her to her core and she could almost feel the demons rising up. They gripped her mind, whispering. They called her a monster, a murderer, and a failure.
Jade remembered spending countless hours over the years trying to deny the demons, just as she did now, staring at the old playroom, left exactly as it was the night of her brother’s death. He would’ve been 15 this year. As she stepped into the room, the demons grew louder, mocking her, telling her that a monster couldn’t mourn. Jade remembered believing them for such a long time. She believed that her parents hated her. Jade couldn’t decide what scared her more: that her parents thought that she was a monster or that it was probably true. She had never allowed herself to mourn her brother- she thought she didn’t have the right. She was a murderer, and she had accepted that. Even after all this time, she still felt like a quivering mess, afraid that the progress she had made in forgiving herself would evaporate in the memories of the fire.
Jade forced herself into the room and sank down on her knees. Silence rang in her ears, and as a floorboard creaked from her weight, she finally broke down. They were not the nice tears on pretty faces that you see on TV; they were wet and loud with snot and spit in the corners of her mouth. The ragged breaths poured out her anger, fear, and sadness that she had not allowed her self to feel over the years. She ignored the screeching of the demons dancing around her and let everything out. She could feel herself crumbling into a thousand tiny pieces. This was it. Jade knew it. She had to let go- either that or die. With a sense of finality, she left herself go, and for the first time, she told herself it was okay to mourn.
When she was done crying, Jade looked up and examined the room. It no longer looked so scary. She couldn’t even feel the ghosts that used to reside here. It was as if the screaming cleansed the room the same way it cleansed her. Standing slowly, Jade rubbed her puffy eyes and wondered how long she sat on the floor crying. Her numb legs told her it was a long time. She took a deep breath- then another- before leaving. Down the stairs and through the dusty kitchen. The house felt so lonely without the whispers that used to haunt her. She stalled on the step on the front step of the house, feeling the sun with a new sense of peace and happiness. She felt lighter than she ever had in the last 15 years.
Jade still wasn’t sure what she was going to do with the house, but at least it wasn’t depressing anymore. It was haunted by the ghosts of regret; now it housed forgiveness previously thought impossible.