I often have recurring dreams of the house and neighborhood in which I grew up. In the dreams, I'm usually coming back to the house or subdivision after having been away for quite some time (just like in real life). But in the dreams, the roads are longer and more desolate. The house is quite a bit bigger, similar to how my little eight-year-old self might have seen it. It's almost always night, and sometimes there are large dogs involved.
It doesn't take a Freudian scholar to analyze the messages my subconscious is sending to me. My brain replays the images of my youth, distorting them to show the fear and sometimes abject terror I felt growing up. The anxiety and anger is there, too; I often wake up feeling irrationally angry. In the dream I may have been screaming in anger and throwing punches, things I was never able to do when I lived at #6 Tompkins Drive. Of course, even in the dreams the punches are unsatisfying; the anger feels impotent.
I feel I should insert a disclaimer here: there are people who fared far worse than I growing up. Compared to them, I'm sure my childhood looks like middle-class paradise.
I haven't had these dreams in quite some time -- crap, I'm even getting teary-eyed just writing about them -- but lately I've been haunted by the fact that I did go back one time and snap some photographs of my childhood home. My father's family has long since left #6. There were no people to visit, just blank places to stare at. The fact that I did go back and take photographs is disturbing to my mind because I can't quite remember which memories are real (from my childhood), real (from the return trip), or just recollections of my vivid (and disturbing) dreams. Perhaps seeing the photographs will help me clear up the confusion.
I had planned, I think, on posting the photos on my old blog (really old, like that site doesn't even exist anymore), but just never got around to it -- which translates into, "It's too heavy to deal with, so I'll put it off." So I decided to look back at those pictures, post them here with perhaps some small descriptions attached, and maybe lay to rest a few ghosts, though certainly not all.
Imagine my surprise when, just now as writing this (and multitasking, as usual), I brought out the external hard drive, looked through my files from that Thanksgiving road trip, and found one.
Just one photograph of the house in question. None of the roads leading up to it, the signs of the subdivision, not even the fence or the yard of the house. Just one lone picture of an innocuous ranch-style house.
I don't know whether to cry or vomit or both. I was actually looking forward to a small bit of catharsis by seeing and attempting to describe things that hold so much negativity for me. I was really looking forward to clearing up in my brain what was real and what was false. But now I can't. It's just the same Swiss cheese muddle it was before.
I think the fact that I took only one picture is somewhat telling. I took over seventy pictures on that road trip -- of me, of my dog, of the apartment building I grew up in, even a couple of my old high school. But the house in which I spent seven years of hell? Just one plain photograph.
Still I suppose I can tell you about that one photograph:
The house is now a light beige color (as shown). When we moved in, it was a delightful light peach color. Not a pink house, but my little girl heart thought it was close enough. Within a few weeks, my stepmother demanded that it be repainted. Something about light-colored houses getting too hot; I don't really know. So they picked out a new color, and sometimes I'd get to help paint. The new color? A dark, I'm-not-getting-enough-water-so-my-stool-is-really-hard brown. The house looked like a giant glob of mud.
See the window on the far left? That window was home to one of my greatest achievements as a former food-hoarder. I used to hoard food for years, sticking snacks and crackers and cookies in various drawers and coat pockets. My dad and stepmother could never quite figure out why my bedroom had a near-constant infestation of ants. I used to spend hours watching the ants eat the poison they put out, but that's another story. One winter I managed to sneak a frozen fudge bar (or fudgesicle, if you will) all the way from the kitchen freezer down the hall to my bedroom on the corner of the house there. When my stepmother came in to inspect my room (as she did after every time that I had to clean it), she looked in, judging as usual. My heart pounded in my chest because the fudgesicle was stored in that window between glass and the storm window on the outside (so it would stay cold, of course). The thick wooden window frame (maybe two inches wide all the way around) kept my fudgesicle hidden from view. When she left, I enjoyed my tasty frozen victory and said a silent "fuck you."
And that's all she wrote: that is where this particular post, originally started sometime in 2013, ends. And I think that's where I'll leave it for now. For more on houses, monsters, and childhood terrors, see "The Long Road Home."