I dream of an old house, and I’m always afraid of it. Yet, I travel there and wander through the vast rooms, changing forms and designs.
I once grew up in this house. It is the house of my patchwork childhood, where my mother lived with a man she grew to hate. Where their arguing echoed throughout the halls, leaving a mark of their frustration as a thick black residue on the thin walls.
Where I lived with a man that used to be a father, an abuser, and later – a stranger.
The house still exists today, but it does not appear like it does in my mind. The landscape is mutable, evolving and warping through the raindrops of my memories. The rooms are familiar but I dwell in them as alternate versions of myself. I wake up in the rooms of this house sometimes – as if I’ve always lived there, only growing through the fine lines of spider webs of different lives.
One room used to be my playroom, which had spilled out from the kitchen. I remember a picture of myself in this room, sitting with my legs tucked under my knees in a schoolhouse desk, gripping a pencil and trying to see through my long brown bangs. I’m smiling at whoever is taking the picture – probably my mother. I’m wearing light purple pants and a white shirt with matching purple sleeves. I’m happy, and one tooth is missing in the front of my mouth. I’m waiting for the picture taking to be over so I can resume my drawing. In the background, a late afternoon sunlight trickles through a dark curtain, making the room look orange and gold.
I remember the room being scattered with toys and pencils and crayons. Occasionally, a cat would hide inside the room – finding solace in a toy box or window sill.
In my dreams, the room is never like this. It reshapes itself into other forms, in other lives, but I’m still there.
It always smells like cats, and I’m afraid of what’s underneath the carpet. Something is underneath the carpet. The floor’s not clean. It smells like urine and old messes. I feel like it will never be clean. Each time the room changes, the carpet changes, but it is never clean underneath.
In the high corners of the room, a black mass is always hovering above me, circling the ceiling.
The room sometimes seems longer, like an addition was built onto it – making the blackness out of the corner of my eye appear endless and hungry.
Other times, the room is small, and I’m encased in a box, always worrying about the old stains of the past hidden under a pristine new carpet.
Sometimes I’m a young girl. Sometimes I’m almost a woman. Other times, I’ve returned, still living in the house as an adult. Still worried about the old stains hidden from everyone’s eyes.
I can still smell the past. I sit in the room and hunch over, running my fingers over the carpet expecting to find a wet stain.
There is never a bed in this room. My schoolhouse desk is gone. Sometimes there are things littered on the floor: food wrappers, tissues and broken pencils. Pieces that embed into the carpet and stick to your feet when wet. Other times, it’s an ordinary room, and my mother is telling me that they redid it, that it’s ready to show so the house can be sold.
Once – the room had dark wood paneling on the walls. It felt cheap and flimsy as I scratched my fingers over it. That part never changes. I can still feel the cheapness of the walls. I still see the dark wood blending into the black mass that coils in the corners like a snake, waiting to wrap around me and draw me into another corridor of the room. Another changing place that used to be different in my childhood memories, but returns to my dreams like a distorted film reel.
I pace around this room like a ghost. I’m alive but my spirit travels here, seeing only what it thinks it remembers – pieces of a tattered painting that aren’t coming together as it used to be when it was whole.
The room will always draw me nearer to why I’m always coming back – promising to reveal secrets but only spiraling with an old fear.
(A memory can scab, but sometimes it scars. A thin white mark reminds me of what was.)
Today the room looks different. I’m not sure what the current owners have done to it. It could be expanded. It could be knocked down and changed into something new. I won’t know.
There is no reason for me to intrude on the current owners of the house, no matter how much my curiosity cloys. Knowing wouldn’t satisfy me anyway. It would be a stranger’s house, with a stranger’s energy into it. Mine is long gone by now. The room is inviting in my dreams, and I only recognize it by my unreliable memories.
Instead, my dreams paint me different pictures, trying to guess at what it used to be, filling in the blanks of yesterdays with the absurdities of my own mind.
Will I someday release the room inside my dreams – the room that once was my playroom when I was little? I don’t believe so.
Something is still lurking there. A secret that must be told. A shield is protecting me from whatever really happened in there, and why I keep coming back to it, why it draws me from the real world into a mad world of phantoms and fears.
The room is an open invitation, but the language is all wrong. The message is tangled and tattered. Maybe the truth is lost forever.
But I keep returning to it. I keep existing in a room that is gone from time, but never gone beyond the waking world.
Part of “The House of Wasps: An Unreliable Memoir” which is a new project of mine.
©2015 HK Rowe