Something I’ve come to realize through (lots of) therapy: my childhood was defined almost entirely by the house I grew up in. I suppose that’s not that surprising of a concept. It’s most likely a recurring theme, maybe even one of the simplest ones a therapist can look out for. Still, I spent my formative years in a haunted house that is now but a ghost, itself.
Not that I’m saying all times there were bad times. There are good memories, many of them sensory. I remember the way the floorboards felt underfoot, and the icy surface of the enameled cast iron clawfoot tub in our upstairs bathroom. I see the slant of late afternoon sunlight stretching itself out between shadows across the staircase. The fresh cedar smell of my Santa pillow, the one that got stored in the holiday decorations trunk all year long, and only came out for Christmas week. Long afternoons in a tent on the back porch, hungrily devouring every single book from the library’s YA section.
I remember how inky black it was outside my bedroom door at night, and how the light from my room barely seemed to cut through the thick darkness. I remember the snake curled up in my windowsill, the beetle under my pillow, the wasps dead on the stairs, or alive and dive bombing me as I bathed. Those termites that seemed to come from nowhere, one minute nothing, the next a undulating mass covering the floor. The fleas, and how Daddy sprayed all of the floors with pesticide until they were soaked through. I walked through it barefoot, and probably took a few years off of my life. At night in the summer, the drone of the mosquitoes intermixing with the roar of the box fan in my window. Seeing my breath in my bedroom on freezing cold mornings. Being so terrified of whatever was downstairs in the dark that I would lie awake and cry with the pain of holding my bladder all night, too scared to run downstairs to use the toilet.
When I went to college at 17, my dorm room had a door, four walls, windows that didn’t let bugs in, a ceiling, heat, and air conditioning. To the other kids on my floor, most of whom had grown up upper middle class or higher, our accommodations were disgusting. To me, they were luxurious. Imagine a place with real light fixtures instead of bare bulbs, where the floor has actual carpet, and there are honest-to-goodness showers in the bathroom! Not to mention an actual elevator? Talk about a palace.
It’s taken me all these years to grasp what I couldn’t then. I grew up in a very unstable, frightening, and ultimately traumatizing environment. The house, despite my parents’ best intentions, was damaging to me. I loved it sometimes, but much about it put me on edge. It scared me, and never stopped scaring me, even once I no longer lived there.
The last time I was there was when I came home for the holidays during college, and was helping my parents move from the old house to their current one. I had just flown in from New Orleans, and we were going straight to the old house to gather up my beloved cockatiel and move him to the new place. When I walked in, he was newly dead, still warm on the bottom of the cage. It makes sense to think that he died of old age; he was very old. But to me it’s always felt like a “fuck you” from the house. In the back of my mind, I’ve wondered if he was frightened to death, as a sick little coming home present to me. That’s what the house felt like, in a nutshell. That’s what it still feels like. I wish I could let it go for good.
I am very sensitive to being trapped — in places, in relationships, in jobs, in social situations. The Irish Goodbye used to be my calling card. I seldom lasted out an entire party without succumbing to the urge to disappear. I’ve lately begun to realize that I feel that way in my own home, and that not only is it a feeling that I’m currently fighting, but it’s one I’ve fought cyclically all of my life. I don’t know what to do with it, really. The obvious answer is to face it, but how, and then what?
We’ve been trying to buy a house, and it’s not going well. It’s a beautiful house. Not perfect, but very good. It’s big, bright, lots of light, giant yard, huge kitchen, a beautiful primary suite. There’s no door on the primary suite, and that makes me nervous. I need to be able to close the door. But besides that, it’s dreamy. A dream that costs too much money. And I don’t know how to feel about that, either. On one hand, I’m disappointed, because I’m feeling trapped in our current too-small house. But on the other, I’m relieved because I’ve already started fearing that I’ll be trapped in the new house, just the same.
I’ve already imagined what happens during a home invasion scenario. What happens if the house is burgled during the day and someone shoots the dogs. What happens if I was wrong on my initial visit, and there is a negative spirit attachment that terrorizes me when I’m home alone. What happens if my partner moves his business to the other side of New Orleans, and my time there alone stretches out much like my mom’s did in my childhood home. What happens when my peaceful country house becomes a prison. And if we move forward with complicated financing options and I get tied to it financially as well as physically, what does that mean for my future?
I don’t want to live life with no strings attached, but I am feeling like I’m caught in net with no way to cut myself out. I want so badly to have a real home, but the only real home I’ve ever had left me with severe trust issues. How do I get myself free of an abusive relationship, when the abuser was a three-story clapboard house in the woods that was demolished 20 years ago?