a house in place of a home

I had my quarterly appointment with my psych nurse yesterday. In case some of you have never had the privilege of visiting a psych nurse, here’s what happens: I read back issues of VOGUE in the waiting room until she calls me in, we talk about whether or not my current regimen of meds are working, how many milligrams over the course of how many hours I should be taking said meds, and if they should be tweaked in any way so they’re at “therapeutic levels” and I’m functioning normally (and we’ve all – me, the nurse, and my therapist – more or less decided that this means “somewhat irritable but able to get things done without acting out inappropriately or charging thousands of dollars on shoes and lipstick”).

If you’re interested – we’re holding steady, we had our prescriptions refilled for the usual pills at the usual dosage, and we’ll see her again in March.

What we didn’t talk about is the fact that my childhood home got torn down.

I mean, I don’t talk to her about stuff like that. That’s for my therapist, and for the internet.

So, yeah. The house. I was on my way home from doing a little Christmas shopping on Saturday, when I got a message from a friend of mine who grew up in the same neighborhood. He was there visiting his parents, and decided to take a stroll up the street to see my old house.

A little history: we moved there in 1980, when I was in the fifth grade. My folks sold it around 2006, after they had permanently relocated to Florida. The last time I was physically in the house was detailed in this entry from my old site. So – do the math – 25 years, pretty much. There were celebrations acknowledging 2 confirmations, 2 high school graduations, 3 college graduations, a couple of graduate school commencements, 3 weddings, and a handful of christenings in and around that house.

We were not rich, despite the assumptions many make about people who live in that particular town. We weren’t able to make too many significant “improvements” to it over the years. There was new siding, a new closet in the master bedroom, the floors downstairs were redone. But my family has always been….homey, let’s say. Or better still: not given to ostentatious displays of whatever “wealth” we had. My folks were more about meaningful road trips and education than recessed lighting and giant window treatments. The money we had went into those things, and so our house stayed in a perpetual state of “lived in.” “Redecorating” meant moving the furniture around so that it faced the television at varying angles.

It was an ersatz “Colonial” cobbled together around a pre-existing cottage that, back in the 40s, was someone’s vacation home. When you opened the closet in the kitchen, you could see the old wood siding from the original structure. Its odd construction created some problems. My sister’s bedroom, in the far back corner of the house, was heated sporadically at best. In the winter, she just piled on extra blankets. The floorboards in my room groaned alarmingly at the slightest pressure of my feet. I learned to avoid the “groan-y spots” en route to my bed or closet. The ceilings were ridiculously low, posing a constant challenge for my 6’4″ father. Because it had originally been a cottage, the rooms were small, too small to contain the sheer amount of LIVING we did there. But there were lovely, cool things about it. It had a big, magnificent fireplace in the front room, with a mantle on which we displayed my Uncle Willie’s shillelagh, which had come over with him from Ireland. On the second floor, there were four bedrooms, the largest of which belonged to my brother. The back wall, inexplicably, was a mural of a pre-explosion Mount St. Helens. I don’t think we bothered to get rid of it until around 1992.

McColgans inhabited that house for 25 years, some of which were difficult. But a lot of them were pretty great. When I think back to the defining moments which made me who I am, the crushes and the decisions and the discussions, nearly all of them took place under that roof.

In 2007, someone finally bought it. Fairly extensive renovations were made to the inside, so many that I could only barely recognize certain rooms when I went online to look at it after it went up for sale again several months ago. My bedroom had been painted a violent lime green, which horrified me, and I joked repeatedly to my friends on Facebook: “BUY MY OLD HOUSE AND PLEASE REPAINT THIS ROOM FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY I AM BEGGING YOU.”

Someone bought it. And that someone decided to tear it down.

My friend had to do a double, then a triple, take. There was no house.

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I won’t lie. I full-on SOBBED inconsolably for about a half-hour.

A big empty lot. A couple standing off to the side, perhaps the new owners, surveying it all. Talking excitedly about the big ol’ prefab house that’s going to go up. The house was too small for them, probably. Too tacky. Too lived in. It wasn’t worth salvaging what was lovely about it. Tear it down. Cart it away.

I feel….rootless. Robbed. I hadn’t set foot in that house for seven years, hadn’t LIVED there in almost 20. But it’s gone, and I’m struggling with the words to describe just WHY this hurts so much.

I can’t even drive by it and say hello. It’s gone. The fireplace, the old siding in the back of the kitchen closet, all of it. Gone.

I’ve never been shy about speaking pretty bluntly and honestly about my adolescent and teen years. They were not great, for a lot of reasons. I’m sure people wonder why I bother revisiting them over and over and over again. What can I say? I’m a fan of my teenaged self. She was a fighter. She lived in that house, and now that house is gone, except in photographs and memories.

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It feels like a death.

I called my sister, who was similarly shaken. We discussed telling our parents. We basically came to the conclusion that they were going to be rather sanguine and “Zen” about it all. They are not as attached to places as my sister and I are. We have always been painfully psychically sensitive to the absorbed energy and the “ghosts” of a place that’s seen a lot of life come in and out of its doors. We feel that energy, we see those ghosts, and we somehow believe that the dwellings themselves teem with as much spirit as its inhabitants. We’ve always been a little “other” in that regard.

And we were right. While my father did lament the demise of the fireplace, my mother was unruffled. “Bricks and mortar,” she said, “Life goes on, and you make new memories.”

I get that. But I’m still SAD, damn it.

So I sat on my couch, sniveling and feeling good and sorry for myself, when Kevin said, “I know. I know how you feel.”

I looked at him, puzzled. We are living in the house in which he grew up, the house that’s been in his family since before WWII.

“DO you?”

He stared at me, hard. “My childhood memories get taken away every day.”

Then I understood. He is losing his mother, slowly and insidiously. A little bit gets destroyed every day, when she can’t remember how to use a knife, when we have to keep her from throwing away family heirlooms that she now views as “junk,” when she can’t remember Kevin’s name.

Bricks and mortar.

A friend of mine summed it up thus: “It’s a shame when someone destroys a home in order to build a house.” But even as I (sort of) jokingly refer to this unknown couple as THE DESTROYERS, I think, “Well, how could they have known?” On paper, I suppose it made more sense for them to raze the existing structure. I’m enough of a logic junkie (thanks, Dad) to recognize the bottom line.

But my heart only recognizes one thing: they tore down my home.

house

2 thoughts on “a house in place of a home

  1. Pingback: The Year That Was. | Lisa McColgan

  2. Pingback: Silent House | Lisa McColgan

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