I knocked on the door two times before the door slowly opened. A woman cautiously peaked out through the parted doorway. I was relieved to discover she was fully clothed. I stammered out,
“Hi, I’m Tracey, and this used to be my family’s house.”
I could see, through round glasses the woman’s cautious eyes brighten with recognition.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, with surprise. “Hi!” she said happily. “We were the ones you bought this house from!”
“Really?” I couldn’t believe that the same family had lived here for over twenty years.
“I remember you! Come in! Please excuse the mess!” she said sweetly. She proceeded to apologize for the dirty condition of her house despite my protests. It was I who should be apologizing, not her, I said repeatedly. Not to mention, her house was totally not messy at all!
Now the moment had come. I had to tell her why I was there and try to convince her to let me go through her house. I was relieved she remembered us. I didn’t have to explain about them dying and how young we were. She remembered. A lot of people remembered. My voice was shaky. It started to crack as I choked out the words as to why I was there.
“I’m having a lot of problems dealing with the death of my parents still,” I choked out, “and I really think it would help me,” sniff, “if I could just be in my old house for a few minutes,” I said with desperation, tears streaming down my face. ” I’m so sorry to bother you, this is so embarrassing…I know I must sound like a crazy person.” The tears just kept coming. I was a wreck.
“No! Please! Just excuse the mess.” she said again. “I’m Mary Ellen, by the way!”
“Wow,” is all I could think. That was easy!
Mary Ellen gave me the tour of the upstairs. The first thing I asked was if I could go downstairs, but she said it was just too messy and she had cats. I was disappointed, but beggars can’t be choosers, right? I was elated to see how good the main floor looked. Ugly brown paneling had been painted a pretty cream color in the living room. The kitchen had been redone with new cabinets and granite countertops. They loved the house, and it showed.
We entered my parent’s old bedroom and she proudly told me that it was brand new paint.
“Did you paint the inside of the closet too?” I asked.
“Oh yes”, she said with a hint of a northern accent.
“Oh, well, um, did you see on the inside closet wall where I wrote in black magic marker?” I asked half scared she’d say yes, half scared she’d say no.
She laughed, “No…why? You wrote in there?”
“Yes! I wrote all four of our names on the inside wall with the date right before we moved all of our stuff out,” I said, now with a little pride since I was off the hook for defacing her closet. She thought it was funny! I liked this lady a lot!
Our tour upstairs was wrapping up, and I felt some anxiety about not being able to go downstairs. I was so close to completing my goal, and half of it was going down the stairs and out the back door.
“Are you sure we can’t go downstairs?” I asked, embarrassed by my rudeness. I apologized again and explained briefly about my PTSD and how I fled out of the back of the house.
“Okay,” she easily gave in. This woman was an angel. “But I have cats. We just have to make sure they don’t get out.” No problem.
“Oh my god,” was all I could think in my head. The garage was filled with tools, boxes, and remote control cars. It was if I had traveled back in time. My dad was a big kid in that he loved building remote control boats, planes, helicopters, and cars. They were always scattered around the house and garage. We also just had a lot of crap.
“Oh! Do you know what that hole in the floor is?” I asked. “Right there, under the steps,” I pointed to a piece of carpet, roughly cut into a shaggy rectangle.
“This right here?” she asked as she pulled up the piece of orange berber. The same ugly orange carpet that I remembered so well curved around through another door from the garage into the downstairs den. “No! What is that hole for?”
“It’s a safe!” I was thinking how cool it was that I could share some new info. “My mom used to store all of her valuable sterling silver in that safe. Five years ago I took it all to get it appraised and sell. We had it running out of our ears! I lugged three huge bags of heavy plates, bowls, and platters, just to find out it was all practically worthless! My parents carted this stuff around for years thinking it was all real silver! My brother and I just laughed, and I felt so stupid at the appraiser’s office!”
We both laughed at my story as she headed for the den’s door. I felt a weird sensation as I walked through the door into our old living room. To us, it used to be the typical eighties’ family room. We had the L-shaped couch made of plaid mystery fiber, two recliners, satellite tv, a pool table, and a wooden bar with mini fridge. The car-sized satellite dish still lived outside the house. Of course, who could forget the orange carpet. We had an intercom too! “Kids! Dinner’s ready! Ya’ll come on!” the static-y voice commanded from the box.
Two years after my parents died, I got married and moved out. My younger brother moved downstairs and it became the ultimate party house. An 18 year old with a big place like that, plus no supervision, tends to be very popular with the teenagers who want to have a good time. I remember coming home and finding myself kicking a path through piles of beer cans and passed out minors. Once, I had to give a very hungover couple the boot from my waterbed (classic 80’s furniture). Needless to say, I freaked!
Mary Ellen apologized some more as she showed me the den. She used it for mostly storage. The bar was still there, but it was in the corner under piles of boxes. There were five or six bookcases lined up like a store, full of parts and pieces for her late husband’s Nascar hobby. He had been dead for six years, she explained, but she just couldn’t get rid of it yet. I understood, I told her. I did.
We went out the back door and our chatting never stopped. She was extremely easy to talk to, and I felt the empathy she felt towards me and my struggle. We had a common bond it seemed. Loss of a precious loved one that we couldn’t let go of.
“Okay,” I said as I looked her straight in the eye. Now I had more business to tend to. “Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to leave my car in your driveway, and I’m going to walk down your backyard and up to the neighborhood. Then I’m going to walk to my husband’s old house (I married that young man), and then I’ll come back and get in my car and head north to the cemetery. Can I leave my car there until I get back?”
Of course she let me do that, and we hugged and said our goodbyes. I think I saw a tear in her eyes through the tears in mine. I will forever be grateful to Mary Ellen for allowing me, a stranger, into her home.
To be continued…again 😉