HOUSE VS. HOME

My mom died when I was 18. She died in her sleep in her bed across the hall from my childhood bedroom. My grandfather went that same route 20 years earlier in the same house in a room that sat directly between my bedroom and my mom’s, creating a triangle at the end of a hallway. When my mom passed, I was no longer living in that home, at least not regularly. I was in college so I spent my breaks and vacations at home but otherwise lived in an entirely different world far away from what went on there.

The home that had housed my family for two generations where two highly influential people in my life died slowly became more and more vacant after my mom passed. I was already gone, then my mom died, and soon after that illness struck my dad forcing him into prolonged hospital stays, effectively removing him from the home as well. My sister was the only one left to inhabit the house, but pretty quickly after everything changed she decided to move out because she didn’t want to live alone in what she called "a depressing old house". Even though we all left several years ago, we still own the house, so It has sat entirely empty, vacant except for the drafts from old doorways and the silent lives of window plants. 

As Mother’s Day approaches, I do think of my mom, but more so I think of her in relation to that old house. We still own it (for how much longer no one knows), so that house sits, with occasional visitors to make sure it is doing alright, but otherwise as the days and weeks and years drag on, it slowly ages. I think of my mom’s grave the same way I think of that house. Two pillars marking the resting place of giants, slowly forgotten out of pain and a resulting inability to connect with the past. Places people visit for small periods of time with a confusing mixture of comfort and grief.

When my grandfather died, there were experiences of ghostly activity that my family attested to. When my mom passed, the same sorts of experiences were had. My father, my sister and I all experienced strange things in the house. Maybe we wanted there to be something, or maybe there actually was, at this point my memory is unreliable, but there is a catalyzing moment when it stopped that I wish never occurred. I see that moment as the turning point from the house transforming from a home into what I can only describe as a poorly managed museum.

There were the typical bumps in the night, some worse than others. There was a feeling of a presence, sometimes in a comforting way and sometimes not. There are countless occurrences that have been told to death, many corroborated by those close to me, but in the final one, the one that I remember vividly, it was a night that I was alone in the home and it started with noises I couldn’t identify. Small knocks and pressure on old floorboards. Small bells chimed off in the distance, but close enough that they felt near. They grew more frequent and the knocks and creaks came closer to my room where I was listening with the door shut. As it all swelled, I felt what I could only describe as an inescapable dread. I remember frantically demanding into the air that my mother (or what I considered to be my mother’s spirit) was no longer welcome in the home and that she needed to leave. I told her I loved her but her presence was terrifying and that you can’t scare the ones you love. I told her I was ok with never hearing her again and that if she loved me, she would move on and leave me the hell alone. After that night, no one experienced anything again. The house stayed perfectly silent right through to present day.

I have gone through several extremely difficult periods in my life since those days where I have needed my mother more than I ever needed anyone else. I wanted her when I got engaged and before I got married. I wanted her when I was trying to figure out what to do about my dad’s illness and how to deal with the several times that I had to essentially go say goodbye to him because the doctors thought he was going to die. In those moments, I went to that empty house and walked its silent halls, hoping to feel a presence I knew I would never feel again. I have spoken to the house, more so to my mother who I imagine watches silently over it, pleading with her to reveal herself again and to come to my aid when I needed it, but all I got was the smell of old wood and dust and the feeling that I was extraordinarily alone. A consequence of my own wishes, silently judging me and taunting “you get what you wish for you little prick.”

When people leave us, a part of us goes with them, and sometimes when that person is such an important part of you like my mother was to me, huge fundamental pieces of you simply walk off without you realizing, leaving gaping holes in their place you don’t find until much later in life. I have often imagined that when I demanded my mother leave me, she packed a part of my soul, a part larger than I would ever allow her to take, and took it with her. Maybe she did it out of vengeance and spite, or maybe she wanted it so badly and justified taking it because she felt my soul was large enough that I wouldn’t notice; I’m not really sure.

I do know that current me has been searching for that 18 year old care free version of myself that existed before my mom died for years, and I have found nothing. I have combed through every nook and closet in that house, every dust bunny and spider web. I have played old VHS tapes and read old journals, wondering if I could find him in one of those many areas he used to frequent, but still I have found nothing. He is not in the basement, the attic, the backyard or the garage. I tried looking inward, to see if he retreated into me and never let me know, but ones consciousness is deep and full of hiding places, and as far as I know, it’s the last place he would feel at home.

I worry that he too is silently lurking through that blue raised ranch, watching over those who come and go, never revealing that he is there. My grandfather, my mom and he, milling about that little house, bumping into each other and telling jokes when none of the living are around. When I am there, sometimes I think I catch the old me in a mirror, smiling back at me, reassuring me that he’s still there, but when I take a second look, he is gone. He was quick, I remember that about him; it was all the sports and caffeine he didn’t realize was in the coffee he drank. Maybe that’s why I go to that house so much when no one is around, or worse, maybe that’s why every time I do go; it takes everything in me to leave it. When I do leave, as I take the final step onto the stones that lead to the driveway, I wonder which ghost is actually trapped in that house and which one gets to leave. Some nights, I worry it is the later of the two.