MY CHILDHOOD HOME
Months ago, I wrote a piece called Ghosts and Tractor Blades, about the demolition of my childhood home. Since I wrote that, I’ve visited my old neighborhood often, walking past what was once our house, then walking up the hill in back of it and looking down at what the workmen are doing. Just after they cleared away the rubble, I took a photo of the tree my father loved — the tree that shaded our deck, which he would carefully trim once a year. It is now all that remains of our home. I love this photo — I love the emptiness behind the tree, nothing but sky and possibilities. I love the way the tarp is draped protectively around the roots, as if to say, This is what needs nurturing, everything else can go.
I’ve become fascinated by what I feel and don’t feel whenever I go to my old neighborhood. I feel more curiosity than sadness, as if I’m a tourist in my own life. There was something liberating about finding the lot scraped clean on the day I took this photo; it was as if all the uncomfortable memories, the shadowy corners of my time there could be scraped clean as well. After all, isn’t that what we all long for — to put to rest the long-ago memories that still sting and draw blood? In a strange way, the tractor blades did that for me. I think less now of the little girl who closed herself in her room and wept to God that she never seemed to get anything right and more about soft blue summer evenings on the deck, sitting under the boughs of that tree while my father barbequed steaks on the outside grill. You can look out across the city to the ocean from that side of the property and sometimes I would watch as fog rolled in across the sea and hid buildings beneath its blanket.
The contractor is used to seeing me now. Today, since there was no heavy equipment up there, he led me up the driveway to the now empty lot. I was surprised at how small the wedge of land felt with nothing on it. The lot felt innocent and clean, waiting to be defined by new life. It struck me that this is why I’m now so drawn to this street, this neighborhood. It’s how I want to feel — not defined by the past, but waiting for whatever is new and hopeful, for whatever will be built. There are all kinds of therapy; some forms of therapy come unexpectedly when a house you thought would always be there is demolished, and a new home is being built.