I cruise by the yard of this old house now and again. I roll down my window and try to see through those windows.
I used to live there. It was my house after all. And the county tax office says that it still is mine, because I remember to keep paying for the lot, though they are telling me I should be doing maintenance on my property. I think about going back inside and seeing if the lights will still turn on. I wonder what I’ll find, and the thought makes me wince.
This time, I make myself keep driving. I don’t stop.
I don’t go cruising through that part of the neighborhood for a long time.
But one night, I dare myself to go back. It started as a flash of a whim, but after a half of a bottle of beer, I get to thinking that I need to see the state of the place. I need to know how that house is doing.
I drive my little grey car back to the shaggy, unkempt yard in the middle of the night when I think no one will see me.
I cut the engine and sit in my car for a long time, just watching the outside of the house. There is no movement that I can see, though that’s not saying much with how dirty the windows are. My hand rests on the car door handle for long moment, and then I make myself open the door.
My boots crunch on the gravel driveway, and my chest gets tighter as I walk around the house to the backdoor. I finger the key ring in my jacket pocket as I come up to the back step that leads into the house. The doorknob is kind of tarnished, with brass colored paint flaking off. Pulling the key out, I slide it into the lock and then turn the knob.
It’s a little sticky, but the door opens and lets me look into the house. I can smell dust, stale air, and something indefinable. A slight smell of mildew maybe.
The house is completely dark, and I can’t see anything. I step uneasily through the door, testing the floorboards with my boot before I take a step each time. Fear is coiled in my gut, and it’s threatening to claw its way out of my throat. I swallow, carefully making each timid baby step inside.
Sweat slicks my hands, and I compulsively wipe my hands on the front of my jeans. Logically, I know there shouldn’t be anything in this house. Nothing can hurt me here. I think.
I make my way slowly over to the light switch that I know is in the kitchen. With each step, I get a little closer, and my fear starts talking to me.
‘What if this place is falling apart entirely? What if there are rats in here and they swarm you? What if there’s a person who’s been living in here who is angry and surprised? What if your neighbor sees you and screams at you for being so neglectful?’
My resolve falters. My hand flinches away from the light switch, and fear becomes a yawning dread. The courage from the half bottle of beer I had earlier feels like it sank through the floor and into the foundations of the house. I squeeze my eyes shut and brace myself against the kitchen wall, breathing hard and fighting down the urge to vomit or sink onto the ground and cry.
I’m so scared of what I might see. I’m so scared of having left this place abandoned for so many years. If I don’t acknowledge it, I can pretend it didn’t happen and then I can forget about this stupid fucking house. I can forget about it and it can be swallowed up by the earth and neither I nor anyone else will have to remember it.
…But I want to remember it. A tiny little part of me in the back of my skull won’t let me leave this place without turning on the light in the kitchen. So instead of running out of the house and throwing myself in my car to drive away, I hold myself rigid, braced against the kitchen wall. My back is hunched and my head is lowered as I try to gather myself.
I stay still for a long time, just breathing, holding still and trying to bring my heart rate down.
Eventually, the dread rolls back. Just a little. Just enough.
I pull myself up right, and my hand goes back to the light switch. I hesitate again, feeling the same anxiety rise in my chest, threatening to cut off my air. So I take a long, slow breath in.
And then I flip the light switch.
To my surprise, the light flips on with ease. The electric light buzzes overhead, illuminating the kitchen its yellowy-orange glow. I flinch from what I see at first. The counters are covered in dust and dirt. The wall paper has warped, and is peeling in some places. The clean dishes that had been piled next to the sink are also dusty. A cockroach skitters under the dishwasher for safety.
My cheeks burn as I take in the sight, and I feel ashamed now. This place…was truly abandoned.
And yet, as I continue looking, I notice a few things. The floor boards remain intact. The walls are sturdy underneath the peeling wallpaper. And when I turn the cold tap on the sink, water sputters out of the sink spout.
I had been paying for the utilities for this place all this time, but I never expected them to actually work. I am surprised at that.
I stand in the lit kitchen for the first time in years. It is gross, it needs a hell of a lot of cleaning. But there was a time when this place was mine. Memories come flooding back as I run my finger over the dusty plates. The air has taken on a different quality.
No longer do I think of this place as ‘the house’. I think of it as my house.
And I have some work to do to fix it up. But it’s better than I thought.
Maybe I could even live here again.