Was this a house or a home? I shook my head ruefully as I gazed at the barren yard. Tulips and Petunias long gone, faded from summer heat and done away by Autumn's first freeze. Bitter October winds whipped chipped gray shutters against charcoal siding, faded form years of sun and wind. Bushes overgrown, grass long and unkempt...even the door is bare bones. A dark contrast from the playful wreaths which once graced the front door. A new wreath for each season, every holiday, and even for birthdays.
I pull the lapels of my coat closer to each other, my thread-bare scarf not much match for the cold, lonely winds of late Fall. The kind which find their way through layers of clothes and freeze toes encased in thin canvas shoes. Maybe I will pick up some extra shifts with the Thanksgiving holiday coming up. That Home Health Aid isn't covered completely by insurance.
I never imagined I would be working two part-time jobs, taking a full-load of nursing courses, and taking care of a teenager. The 24-year old gazing in the car mirror is a stranger, a pale ghost of the carefree girl who used to live life in complete abandon. Always trying new things, dreaming of exciting adventures in far off countries. Now those dreams are nothing but burned out images from a life I used to know.
I walk up the front porch stairs and unlock the front door. Barely across the threshold, the musty smell of a stagnant life greets me. I choke back a cough and move to open the blinds in the living room. There is an hour of daylight left and I want to take advantage of the brightness. It may not erase the gloom but it cannot hurt to pretend. Even for just an hour.
I'm an expert at pretending now. Plastering on the smiling face in order to gain the tips I need to pay my share of the bills. Just so I can live in the dingy apartment I rent with two friends and pretend I'm going place. That I will make it through nursing school and create a new life, a safe life.
My gaze wanders of the plastered walls painted beige and the soles of my shoes speak on the linoleum kitchen floor. I drop the bucket of cleaning supplies by the refrigerator and open the blinds in here too. The windows are grimy and dust lingers everywhere. I know I'm in for a long night, one I can't really afford to take but its what I have to do.
Everything has to be just right when Krista comes home tomorrow.
When I walk to the back where the three bedrooms are located, I hesitate outside the pink door with the flowers doodled around the border.
My sister Angela loved to craft. Art was her way of expressing her emotions, the love she felt for my niece, and the joy she felt at having her own gallery show.
If only we could freeze moments of time-I would of froze the night of the showing 6 months ago. I would wrap it up in cotton and hold it tightly, not letting go. The feeling of complete happiness that my sister had finally achieved her dreams. If only my heart would remember how that felt.
Gently, I push open the door. Art supplies, craft items, and doll babies were scattered on the floor and bed. Posters of rainbows and kittens adorn the walls. Glitter stars on the ceiling remind me very much of Krista.
In the very middle of the bed is a pack of construction paper, a pair of child's scissors, and a pack of crayons. A partial Easter egg decoration is partially hidden under a bottle of glue. I finger the craft, lovingly tracing the childish scroll and bright shiny stickers.
What if I made something? What if I tried to decorate the way Angela used to do?
I grab construction paper, scissors, tape, markers, stickers, a glue stick and pompoms. Carefully, I place my treasures on the kitchen table and begin to brainstorm. The images of leaves, pumpkins, apples, hay bales, turkeys, s'mores, bonfires, and cornstalks come alive before my eyes.
Abandoning the cleaning, I sit and immerse myself in my work. I model my leaves off of the Maple tree whose orange, yellow and red gifts lay scattered among the base of the trunk. My turkey looks a little hokey with mismatched eyes and a snarl but really, it's not happy its about to be cooked for supper. What turkey really smiles?
My handprint pumpkins, cats, and cornstalks are much better. I even am able to use the pompoms to make leaves for the apples and vines for the pumpkins. A stray can of silver glitter adds pep to my s'mores treats.
The moon is waiting, a sentinel in position when I finally finish. I turn on every light in the house then go around taping the decorations on the windows. Despite a few cobwebs, dust enough to cover a bed, and dirty streaks, I am able to clean and spruce up the windows.
Slowly, this old ranch is becoming a home again. My fingers ache, my fingernails are glittery, and some of my skin sticks together from the glue. But the grin I sport could light the whole city of Richmond.
Krista can come home. I can't wait to see her smile.
I think of the 6 months of pasty hospital food and stiff bed. Of 'sterile hospital smell' and tubes galore. The tiny window with its view of the visitors parking lot. None of that felt like home. Krista deserves to come home to a house, to love and light and goodness.
I picture the facial expressions my niece will make when I bring her home tomorrow. The toothy grin. The raised eyebrows and her boisterous laughter. My sweet cousin, with her wide eyes, jutting chin, and mental capacity of a seven year old-she will light up our home.
Moving out of the apartment I shared with my roommates was difficult, but there was no way I could live somewhere else when she left the hospital, recovered from the car accident which caused her severe injuries and left her an orphan. The car accident that robbed me of my only sister and best friend.
The hour strikes way past midnight when I fall asleep on the couch, exhausted beyond measure. But as I close my eyes, the last thing I see is my bright orange pumpkin creation plastered to the front door.
Welcome home Krista, welcome home.