you have been here before
By Dalya Cordeiro
An introspective piece about returning home and seeing the past through different eyes.
This place reeks of me.
That’s not a bad thing, no, but everywhere I turn, there is evidence I’ve existed here before—that I’ve lived and breathed this house just as much as its current inhabitants. Every piece of furniture has a picture frame, my own youthful face staring back at me from every corner.
And yet. And yet.
I ghost my fingers along our old DVD players and they come back stained with dust. I draw the curtains open and they shriek against their support bar. Windows we used to throw open every day are rusted shut, dirty with disuse. Rooms we used to frequent smell stale, covered with boxes and old knickknacks no one has the time or patience or desire to unearth.
This house has aged with me.
While I was away, they painted the walls gray, and it’s so antithetical to their previous comforting, sunflower yellow that I feel queasy just looking at them. The dogs in the backyard have their fur streaked with white, and they snarl at me menacingly as though I didn’t help nurse them back to health when we picked them up off the side of the street. My old bedroom has no traces of me left within it, every inch covered in thick, choking layers of age.
Perhaps most painfully of all, the bright pink dahlias we used to grow in the front garden, forming an elegant circle around the lightpost, have long been uprooted and replaced by yellow orchids—beautiful, but devoid of character. Of significance.
It’s disorienting, certainly. Upsetting, of course, though that’s blanketed with resignation.
Five years is a long time, I remind myself, and let that reality wash over me as many times as I need it. A very, very long time. Long enough to move on, but not enough to forget.
My own eyes smile at me from my mother’s lap—I think I was five in that picture, maybe six?—and they’ll always be there, immortalized. That moment in time, some Christmas in my youth, belongs more to my family than to me. It belongs here—on their high shelves in their huge house with too many rooms left vacant.
Five years is a long time, I remind myself. Long enough to move on, but not enough to forget.
All of these moments do, actually. Although it’s me in them, they were never mine to keep.
They don’t belong in cold winters, nestled among skyscrapers and flashing billboards and bustling crowds. They don’t belong in long distances, wide and sprawling, reflecting an emotional detachment that grew from necessity, not preference.
No, these moments belong here, in the warm and quiet and familiar. They belong with family, with old furniture and older houses, with unused fireplaces and dangling chandeliers, with five bedrooms and seven bathrooms, with two dogs and two cats, with a sense of loss and bitterness so powerful it only barely saves itself when cut through with aching longing and ancient love.
These moments are not mine—not anymore. Not really, not ever. I am both inside and outside, both beheld and beholder, cursed to touch but not to grasp—not to bring close and squeeze tight and breathe in, inhale so deep as to swallow it down and keep it.
I clutch at picture frames and feel the memories slip away like water, feel them running along the earth of my brain and eroding, so quiet and gentle you’d think them benign. I try, sometimes, to hold them, but all they do is trickle down faster, delighted at my inability to live within them, to absorb them, to feel anything other than clenched teeth and unshed tears.
I am both inside and outside, both beheld and beholder, cursed to touch but not to grasp—not to bring close and squeeze tight and breathe in, inhale so deep as to swallow it down and keep it.
Walking away is a necessary defeat—perhaps even a welcome one. What a relief, to brush away regrets like cobwebs, to shake them like half-remembered dreams.
And yet. And yet.
My fingers quake along the edges of a memory, and I try hard to keep it still.
After the whirlwind of 2020, I returned to my roots, and was confronted with memories that have shaped who I am as a young woman, a writer, a daughter, and a friend. In the wake of a restless night with very little sleep, I knew I needed to ease my mind and gather my thoughts on paper in the lingering rush of nostalgia. Ultimately, this piece is by and for me, but I’d be pleased to garner a response from readers as well.
Dalya Cordeiro is a quick-witted, curious young woman living in Queens, NY with her mother. She is creative, kind and quick to make you smile. Dalya will be starting college in the fall and is eager to study political science, which is a testament to her deep sense of integrity and admirable moral code. Dalya lives to serve others, and her infectious spirit will undoubtedly continue to change this world for the better.