Sunday I come home to an empty house. Couches - gone. Tables - gone. Bags of trash and miscellany occupy the living room floor where furniture used to hide the dust bunnies. A bag of food hangs from my hand until I hoist it onto the kitchen counter. I start to heat some water to make food, but then I open cupboards and find them emptied of plates, glasses, silverware... Even the can opener is gone. I bang on my can uselessly.
I wander up to my room, which still comfortably explodes with possessions. Even though all the interesting papers have come off the wall and the exposed holes boast fresh spackle - despite the giant bag of trash and giant bag of donations and giant suitcases - even so, my room still welcomes me - home.
When I finally punch holes in the can top to make a sauce for my last box of pasta, I sit on my bed and eat with an abandoned pair of chopsticks. After another hour or so of stirring stuff around in my room (ineffectual packing), I leave to find solace at another person's place.
The next time I return to the little house, my housemates (whoever remains of them) and a few kindred souls have created a campout in the front steps. The last remains of our candles - wax nubs of various shapes, colors, smells - slowly melt into the cement and grass where they burn. They illuminate furtive faces. A bottle of wine - then another - gets passed around. We lounge outside on couch cushions reclaimed from our landlord's junk pile. Music drips from the living room out onto our candlelit ears. We lay on the grass, long skirts hiked up to our knees, looking up at Michigan's nightly cloud cover, feeling the green blades and puppy ears between our fingers.
The need for yet another bottle sends me inside for a minute to the bare house. One bulb burns in the yellow kitchen, casting shadows into the purple dining room and a warm glow to the red-walled living room. My footsteps, which swish my skirt around my ankles, echo in the empty rooms. It is a shell. A physical shell, one that only has meaning when full of things and furniture and the people to claim them. Room delineations are useless when there is no table to make the dining room a dining room, no couch to make the living room anything but four red walls. A virtual shell, one that has held many people and many memories - lives that intertwined there, encounters of all kinds but mostly for good.
Sometimes over the two years I lived there I would hear voices. A laugh, two girls laughing, and I would think my housemates were home, but a search never turned up a person. Others in the house also heard them, and we affectionately called the laughing our ghost. On our ghost we could explain the frequent peculiar appearance of unclaimed items, perhaps left by prior tenants or forgotten by guests, but chalked up to our friendly poltergeist.
Now I can hear laughing. The sounds come from the front door, where the bohemian merrymaking of my friends calls me.
I feel like a squatter, claiming a house of illicit pleasures where minds go wandering on lacy green smoke clouds. We embrace each other without touching. We are a handful of free spirits, forgetting for an evening trouble with our landlord and tensions between girls and the imminent departure date screaming at us from calendar pages. Calendar pages mean nothing to us now. We are floating on stolen time, buoyed up by the humid, thunder-laden breeze. Warm water drops and distant flashes are the only things that root us in a time, in the first storm of summer.
Our fingertips find each other when the rain comes to smatter our upturned faces. Like that - hands clasped, a wet boy on one side of me and a wet puppy on the other - we laugh. The house behind us sucks in the laugh, chew on it, adds our spirit and our memories to the collective ghost of its presence. This laugh will echo with the others, flitting about the ceiling and the secret nooks. It will reach down and caress the new tenants, another group of girls who will fill the house again with the material things and the daily activity that makes life. It will beckon them into the mysteries of female friendship and whisper the freedom of a night in the rain. It will invite them to look past possessions and interpersonal frustrations and pressing obligations into the furtive faces of a few kindred souls.
The house is now just a shell, emptied, but of all the nights spent here I know I will forever remember it just like this - empty of stuff, but full of us.
7 years ago