This Is My Dwelling
Memories of a pale blue house.
Repetition numbs. Or at least, it’s supposed to. But watching the foliage of upstate New York flash past the window of my dad’s battle-worn Toyota, I remember the countless times its tires jostled me over the bumps and potholes of the parkway. It’s the road that always transports me from the blinding lights and blaring horns of Queens Boulevard to that pale blue house mounted atop the steepest hill in Westchester. The road that was once met with a chorus of are we there yets is now given the silent treatment.
I will never know the exact moment when the car ride changed for me. Probably because there isn’t an exact moment. I like exact moments. They make things clearer in my mind, a sort of timeline of myself. As kids, my sister Meghan and I raced to the car. We itched to get to the blue house and play with our cousins, Dan and Lizzie. But I take my time today, dragging my feet. When I climb in the car my heart constricts. The Toyota reeks of the soured expectations of past rides.
My parents, Meghan, and I haven’t seen my Aunt Jess, Dan or Lizzie since last Christmas.
“Will Dan be there?” I ask, my voice cracking. I know he avoids that house like it’s rotting, even when I’m there. But I have to ask anyway.
“Maybe. That shouldn’t matter, though,” my mom replies.
I sigh. Of course it matters. Whether it SHOULD or not . . . I can’t say.
I know by my sister’s eye rolling that she thinks I’m stupid for caring. She got over our family a long time ago.
The first and only time Meghan and I slept over at the blue house I was ten and she was thirteen. That night, before the classic, Westchesterian “I-can’t-see-my-hand-waving-in-front-of-my-face” darkness set in, all four of us cousins jammed our way onto the narrow, wooden swing behind the blue house. It was tethered to a stubby branch with yellow rope. Lizzie’s bony hip jutted into my side while Dan’s pre-teen body laid horizontally across the three of us, the swing spinning so fast that the blue house blurred into the sapphire sky behind it. We shrieked and squealed and yelled. It was about thirty seconds before we all fell backwards to the ground. The swing danced around the tree in the absence of our weight, laughing at us. But we were laughing, too. I laughed hardest when I discovered I’d cut my knee on the tree’s roots. At the time, the cut solidified our fun, fun that, in the end, was as wispy as the swing’s thinning, yellow rope.
The thing about being a kid is that when you experience something really amazing, something out of this world fantastic, it becomes your standard for measuring all other experiences. In that way, you literally set yourself up for disappointment. Everything changes, and you’re still hanging on to that memory. For years I bothered my cousins about getting back on the swing, but we never did. Today, going to the blue house is still about seeing Dan and Lizzie, but it’s a Dan whose ear is pierced and a Lizzie whose eyeliner is darker than the onyx night of the sleepover.
At subsequent visits to the blue house, whenever voices were raised, or doors slammed, I would escape the house and swing for a while. The swing was the one remnant of the sleepover, proof that the day had actually existed in the first place. But it could never support the weight of four kids now. The swing was splintering and crooked, the rope frayed. Was it the aftermath of that one adventure? Or maybe it had always been brittle, and I just hadn’t noticed.
We zoom past a car with a dented bumper and broken headlights. I think about all the brokenness of the blue house. There is the house itself, and then there are the people living in it, who seem to be broken, too. And there are the memories, of course, which are themselves intact but break the people who dwell incessantly on the past. People like me. As we park our car on the hill, this is what I’m thinking about. How things are broken, and how they can’t always be fixed. Because by glorifying one moment among hundreds, by trying to bring the house back to a less broken time, I started to break myself. And I don’t want to be just another broken thing in the pale blue house.
We wait a few moments before getting out of the car. My sister’s face is emotionless: it’s just a routine. I push open the door, and glance toward the tree near the back of the house. The stubby branch has been severed. The swing is gone.
Amanda Day McCullough is a class of 2014 mentee alum from Queens, NY.