March 27, 2007

Finding My Way Home

I dreamed you and I were visiting my great-grandmother and my great aunt. Or maybe your grandmother and aunt; it was hard to tell for sure. They had us stay in the guest room on the second floor. When I looked out the window I was stunned to see a lawn and flowers growing right beneath it; it turns out that the roof of the porch had been built with an embedded area for just that purpose. While it was an interesting garden, I saw that many of the plants were struggling or needed to be cut back or cleared away. I made a mental note to get to work on this; it was easier and safer for me, instead of my relatives, to do this treacherous roof work.

Our hosts were really big on making us comfortable-- cooking our meals and even asking if we wanted to go to the movies when it was rainy and boring. But we were very content to just hang around in their house, and I began to realize that there were lots of areas that were overrun with clutter, with knick-knacks books and junk having sort of spread out across the house over the years. One quiet afternoon I figured no one would mind if I rearranged things to make the space attractive and the house more liveable-- and also to make room for us to relax with the belongings we'd brought with us. It seemed we'd be staying for a while.

So first I began collecting all the little glass birds that perched on almost every surface and meticulously arranging them all in one place in a way that seemed lifelike. On an end table I found a strange antique, a horse's armored helmet made out of porcelain. When I lifted it up, I found that it was covering the head of a taxidermied white colt. The rest of the colt's body lay buried under clutter and old newspapers on the table Its hair came away in my hand, so I was very gentle with it; I realized that I must have found a shrine to someone's very beloved pet from ages ago. I rescued it from the clutter and set it up somewhere high where it would be protected. At first I worried that someone would come in and get upset with me for making all these changes in their house, but no one was home but us,and we seemed to have the place to ourselves for a while, so I kept going. Over time I could sense unmistakably that my work would be very much appreciated. I was taking care of things in a way that was necessary but that my family was too old or contented to do on their own.

There was a big oil painting standing neglected in one corner. In our room the window had no curtains, so I moved things and propped the huge painting in front of the window where the light would shine through and illuminate it. I noticed that all the other artwork on the walls-- prints and posters and my great-grandma's paintings-- had been sort of gracelessly, randomly hung many years ago, so I took them all down and began imagining better places for each of them so that they could actually be noticed and enjoyed for a change. You and I did this together. We spackled over the small holes left in the crumbling walls.

As I worked on these things, something suddenly became obvious. We weren't just visiting, our vacation had gone on for way too long for that; we had unconsciously moved in, and were here to stay. I realized that none of these relatives had been back in to check on us in a very long time. And even though it was full of their belongings instead of ours, the way in which we had redesigned and transformed everything within it made the house seem more ours than theirs. Looking around, the layout felt completely familiar to me. This room was my great-grandmother's living room. This room was my old bedroom at my dad's house. This room was my grandma Shirley's kitchen. Other rooms corresponded to your family and their homes, which felt familiar though I didn't recognize them. Their possessions and ours could not be told apart. The house was completely resurrected because of our influence as well as our deference to these old lives, and I felt a curious dual-sense of both accomplishment and awed humility.

And then I woke up to find myself living in it.

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