In the Thomas Wolfe novel, he claims, in part, that “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood”. While we know that literally, one can go home again, but as I stated in an earlier post, the metaphorical idea holds true…one can never really go home again.
For the past decade I have held inside me a dream to buy back my Grandmothers home. When she passed in 2001, my father & step-mother decided to sell the house. This fact has bothered me since I found out about it. The main reasons for this being that my Grandmother had this house custom-built during a time when women were still not as likely to do such a thing, but she was never a “typical” woman. She worked very hard for everything she got in her life & I have always respected her for that. Sadly, I always held in my heart that she would allow me to live in the home & carry it on in our family once she passed. That was not the case.
I have to make it a point to admit that when my Grandma passed away, I was not there. The easy answer to why is that I wasn’t aware. The more complicated answer is that after so many decades of running into a brick wall with my family & relatives (mostly the relatives), I made the choice (at the wrong time, it turns out) to stop running at the wall, only to slam into it, hurting only myself. (or so I thought)
Madelyn was diagnosed with Lung Cancer in the fall of 2000 & passed away in April of 2001. Christmas was ALWAYS her favorite time of year. The weeks leading up to Christmas, she was recovering from surgery that removed her lung tumor & half of the lung it had invaded. She was planning a family Christmas party, including her sister (my Great-Aunt) her children & theirs as well. A few days before Christmas, as I was making my daily phone call to see if she needed me to stop by & bring her anything, she mentioned to me that she felt it would be best that I didn’t attend the Christmas party. I can admit now that I immediately saw red. Her reasoning was that she didn’t want any “trouble” this year & with the Belians attending, my presence would cause strife. I don’t think she had any idea how much that statement broke my heart. What did she mean, I shouldn’t come. I was her granddaughter, the child she had a HUGE hand in raising. Her direct bloodline. If anyone should be there, it was my dad & his wife, myself & my brother. Well, they were all there, but not the bad seed. That was my moment. The moment when I said “Enough!” I stopped that day. I stopped trying. I stopped putting myself out there, only to be ridiculed & seen as the person I was when I was young….irresponsible, disrespectful, distant, loud, etc. That is a person I would never outgrow in the eyes of many people I share a bloodline with, some of whom I don’t even really know. It’s amazing how those things can stick with you, but all the good, the growth, the change that you make is just plain invisible. (I did find out later that my Grandmother never told my father that she & I had that conversation, which only made him angrier at me, which in hindsight is understandable (“Same old Jennifer”)
I openly admit that not spending Christmas Eve with my Grandma was a terrible mistake on my part, regardless of my reasons. What I should have done was suck it up, bury my personal pain & go hang out with her. Because I chose not to, we never spoke again & 4 months later she was gone. I wasn’t able to be there to say goodbye, to help pick her burial outfit (because she took great pride in the way she appeared & dressed), to help care for her (even though I was told I couldn’t have handled it), to give back, even in the slightest bit, what she gave to me my entire life by being my ONE constant. The stable, responsible role model that I always knew she was, but could never quite live up to. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t love that woman more than anything or anyone in my life. It just means that once again I was selfish, consumed by hurt & bitter that I was always the bad seed, the black sheep…a role I never asked for, but surely earned.
Fast forward 11 years & a HUGE change in myself. I have made it an odd habit of driving by the house since I found out my gram passed. It became somewhat of an obsession to me. At times, mostly highly emotional times, I would find myself crying or screaming at the people living there to get outta my house. Not the healthiest behavior, I’m aware, but I never claimed to be entirely stable, emotionally or otherwise.
Recently, I’ve noticed there were no cars in the driveway. That was the immediate sign to me that they had moved out, obviously a case of foreclosure. Last week I typed the address into the local realtor website & sure enough, there were 9 pictures of my childhood home. I wrote them IMMEDIATELY, asking for a viewing. I was gonna get it back! I was so excited, making plans in my mind, blah, blah, blah. It was a very fun & exciting 24 hours….that is, until the real estate agent showed up to meet me.
As he unlocked the door, he turned and said to me “I have to tell you that this house is infested with black mold”. I said I knew & didn’t care & he opened the door. For a brief 5 seconds, I could smell her. Then the black mold stench took over. My mother had offered to go with me & at first I didn’t understand why. Maybe she wanted to see the house she spent much of her late teens & early twenties in. Later, at lunch, she told me the real reason, that she felt this was something I shouldn’t have to do alone. That was lovely, especially considering that we are not very close.
I walked through every room. I envisioned the furniture, the sound of the television or music on Christmas. I went into my old bedroom, that one felt weird, the bathroom I used to sit on the counter with my feet in the sink getting ready. Everything was the same. In the ten years these strangers lived there, they didn’t change a thing. They just let it rot. I hate them.
When I reached my grandmother’s bed/bath in the back of the house, the agent & my mom had already gone outside, unable to stand the smell of the mold. I just talked to her in there, seeing her putting on her makeup in her bathroom, standing in her walk-in closet choosing one of the 100’s of dress suits to wear that day. Inside her closet I began to cry. I cried because I miss her. I cried because I wasn’t there when she passed. I cried because I was still the same failure she hoped I wouldn’t be when she was alive. I cried because this was the last time I would ever be in this house.
In the end, I’m glad I went. I feel free of that dream now. I no longer drive by the house. I don’t think about it. I don’t fester over it. I don’t care.