In the latest installment of ‘Love, Recorded,’ Matt visits the house of his youth.
The word “fall” comes from an old expression, either, “fall of the leaf,” or, “fall of the year.” The second has the right kind of ring to it, I think. It makes me picture the year as a coat dropped off of one’s shoulders. Though we pull our coats around us.
On Saturday, Cathreen and I rent a Zipcar and drive to Rhode Island, to the house where I spent the summers and holidays of my youth. One of my first memories is of playing in the sandbox there, a vast territory of sand that no longer exists. There used to hang in the foyer a picture of the old house beside the renovation; that picture has disappeared.
Cathreen is wowed by the long dirt driveway through the woods, by the twenty acres of land, by the facade and the natural color of its shingles. I have not been here since I was an undergrad. The house was rented out for a long time, sadly for us children. Now my brother rents it; he cooks at a golf course nearby.
A lot of memories are welling up inside me. I would guess half of them are probably only ghosts of things that really happened. I have this memory of my father, for example, chainsawing into his leg. I have never asked anyone if that image was real—it is real to me.
Our dog, I think, is buried somewhere around here. I remember my father pointing out the state flower, which looks like a slipper, though I am forgetting its name, a rare flower that was always to be found in our yard. There is a tree somewhere in the woods on which my brother and I nailed a few boards to make a pretend tree house. Where we had sword fights with sticks, keeping an eye out for punishment but also staying within sight of the house, as was my mother’s rule.
I am not sure what to tell Cathreen. I walk around the house by myself before I give her a tour. It is my brother’s birthday, or will be soon, and also my grandmother’s. We bear gifts. My aunt appears with my two youngest cousins, three and five, who take Cathreen’s hands. Kids. The house. There is something uncanny. I feel uneasy by how at home I am.
I squeeze my wife’s hand and look out the window, down to the river flowing by in the distance.
I write about all this with no goal in mind. I feel that I have meant to say something about the past, about who I once was, but I am not sure what. Later that week, it rained the end of the world. Cathreen and I had a fight that I realize now was brewing for a long time. The past, or my part of the past, was swirling around under the surface, where I couldn’t access it, either to understand who I was, or, more importantly, to see the difference, or what should be different, now. My past is always swirling around under the surface, I think. I wonder whether this has anything to do with my two cultures, our two cultures. Whatever it is, it is something inside me.
What I guess I am trying to get at, in the end, is this: you are living not how you think you are living. You are not who you were; sometimes if you don’t realize this, you are not who you are.
There are days when everything changes. But then there are years, the fall of years, years slipping by all the time, and days when you realize at last which year you are living in now.