I grew up in one house. I’ve heard stories about how when I was born my parents lived in a one bedroom apartment in New Jersey, and how I slept in the hallway or the closet or wherever they could fit my crib, but I grew up in one house on Doris Drive in Scarsdale, New York. When I lived there I didn’t think it was a big house. Yes, my sisters and I all had our own rooms and I was lucky enough to have my own bathroom, but I didn’t think it was a big house. Like I said, it was Scarsdale. There were tons of houses bigger than mine. Now, though, having spent the last 13 years in tiny dorm rooms and apartments all over Manhattan and Brooklyn, I know what kind of house I grew up in (and I kind of can’t believe how lucky I was).
My mother took care of my sisters and my house. That was her full time job. She didn’t work outside of the home until I was in high school and she would never have had time to. She did everything from making dinner to painting the house. Seriously, she’d get up on the ladder with her bucket of paint and paint the outside of our house from top to bottom. When the gutters needed to be cleaned, she’d climb out the window of my third-floor bedroom window with a plastic bag around her wrist and dig into the gutters to make sure they were clear. I remember actually using the phrase, “My mom’s on the roof again,” multiple times while on the phone with my friends.
As an adult, my mom has told me how hard it was to maintain the house, how much it took out of her physically and emotionally. For a long time, the main lesson that I took from hearing that was: I don’t want a house. While I still do feel that way, I understand now why the house took so much from my mom. The house was the thing that my mom had the most control over. When I was a teenager I would have said that she tried to control me and my sisters, which I understand looking back, but she didn’t actually have “control” over us in the sense I would have meant it as a 16 year old. She couldn’t control all of the pieces of her life, but she could fix the house. She could repaint and repair and distract herself from the fact that my dad, though physically present, wasn’t really there.
I can’t tell my mom’s story. I can’t know how she felt when she moved from South Africa to New York as a 24 year old. I can’t know what it was like to raise three kids without any outside help. I only have my perspective on what happened. As I think about starting my own family, with my own husband, I can only imagine the struggle that she faced and how little she asked for in her own life. She crossed an ocean and was on a path that it would have been near impossible to veer from. I understand that she could not have asked for help–could not have demanded any more than she was receiving–without the possibility of her life crashing down around her.
When my parents’ marriage was finally unravelling when I was in my early 20s, I actually begged my dad to sell the house. Their marriage was over, but because he’d been so comfortable there for so long, he was trying to hold on to the house. I was old enough to know what was going on between them and how miserable my mom was. I was so angry and so desperate to see my mom in a place that wasn’t as toxic as the house had become. I didn’t want to move out of the house, I didn’t want to not have a home to come back to, but I knew that we couldn’t stay there.
I miss little things about my house: the brown, bumpy tile on the kitchen floor that was always cold no matter what season it was; the way that my bedroom ceiling slanted with the slope of the roof. I miss the couches in the basement that were made of hideously itchy wool, but were always covered with soft blankets. I miss my bookshelves and my bulletin board. Most of all though, I miss the fact that it was home. When my mom moved to her apartment, my own apartment became my home. It only had my memories filling it and, for the first few months, passing the Scarsdale train station on the Metro North on the way to my mom’s new apartment was the strangest sensation. I felt misplaced.
I’ve driven past the house a few times over the years. The new owners made changes of course, but the house was always standing…until now. My childhood home is no longer there. It is a pile of rubble on Doris Drive. It is gone. Yes, the home I remember (that I’m not romanticizing) been gone for 8 years, longer if you count the years it took for my parents to finally separate, but it was always there. I had visions of bringing my kids to Doris Drive to see the house their mom grew up in, but now I won’t be able to. It feels silly to think about–to write, or say out loud–but it feel like a part of me no longer exists anymore. The house was the last tether I had to my hometown and now it’s gone. Obviously this doesn’t affect my daily life in any real way, but there’s something very sad about it. It’s the last piece of the era of my childhood and my parents’ marriage, and while both of those things have been over for quite sometime, this feels final. They say you can’t go home again, and now, I really couldn’t, even if I wanted to.