A Ghost Story

Before we lived here our house had grown wild. We do not know all the details. From what I understand, there was a span of time when no one lived here.  There had been some attempts at restoration, and some repairs made in the living room, first floor bedroom and bath. It was obvious, however, that no heat had pumped through during some New York winters since we discovered multiple holes in the steam pipes and chunks of coarse, crumbled metal where the boiler had disintegrated. We did not know anyone to ask how long the abandonment had lasted other than the stray cats in the backyard, who did not welcome us.

After the minimal initial repairs and arduous mortgage approval, we moved in to make it our own. The first night, Susanna in utero and my son approaching his first birthday, we slept on a mattress in that first- floor bedroom. We had moved from one neighborhood over, walking distance. This new neighborhood had pieces of open, star spattered sky. Somehow the air was cooler. Somehow this house had become our destiny. On our first Thanksgiving, we were awakened to a surprise parade going right by our house, including Sesame Street characters and a marching band. A unique neighborhood tradition we could not have foreseen.

There was first a restoration of the kitchen, which had a big hole in the floor where the refrigerator and washer/dryer needed to go. This preceded the biggest part of the makeover by about a year. The crux was when S.O. decided to use his adequate savings to tear off the roof and siding and rebuild the entire second floor. Rented dumpsters filled with scads of house flesh. Worn brown outer walls were replaced with pale blue vinyl. By now, Susanna had arrived and grown old enough to complain that she wanted a pink house. The most exhilarating point was when I arrived home from work one day to see many extra workmen using compressors to grind and tear into everything that needed to go. This preceded coming home to a house so transformed it seemed a new one. The house was rebuilt, thoroughly almost to the bone, but there was destiny yet to meet.

During Superstorm Sandy there was the flood water which rose up under a full moon at high tide, to reach far enough to unexpectedly wash in. Afterward we scrubbed away mud and replaced tainted flooring and sheetrock. I greeted a new sadness, a mistrust of the universe and would have thought it a low point. I was disheveled and looked at videos posted of those floodwaters sometimes and cried. My two small children noticed and would ask that I not watch the flood anymore.

Two years later, Susanna’s brain aneurysm ballooned and ruptured. There were no signs of this, no symptoms. I am writing about that night these days. That occurrence, my discovering what had happened to my daughter when I saw her face, in the living room, that is a crucial turning point in my life. I wonder if my wild house absorbed the shock and pain, whether some of it will speak from inside the walls when we no longer live here. I wonder if that pain was so great that it will outlive me.

If walls can soak up emotions and experiences, my family and I have contributed much to layer upon the veneer. There will be the giggles and mirth of two happy small children playing and watching cartoons. There will be the courageous and energetic laughter of a young man who has learned to live well in honor of his sister, so much work that a child should not need to face. There will be a love and romance which repeatedly transcends linguistic and cultural barriers and an unthinkable common tragedy. There will be more than the anguished cries of three people in pain, but that will be here. I can not erase it or scrub it off, so I will honor it as a most important part of our history.

There is no point in the story of my house where I was alone. Nor when my small family was alone. There were the workmen who painstakingly took the house apart and replaced its body. There were the people in the marching band who paraded by our house that Thanksgiving and every Thanksgiving since. There were all the people who came that night, the crucial night, to help revive Susanna and get her to the hospital. And the people who came to stay and try to soothe us when she did not come home. I am convinced that we come here not just as a part of one tribe but a multitude of tribes. There are the great many humans we can see, plus the great many other discarnate we cannot. There are the connections we make with the rest of the world plus all those which happen beyond our understanding.  Just as Susanna’s story did not end after the five short years she was a resident of this wild house, my story does not end here either. There is more to be lived and more to be revealed. Peace.

By trishfreer

Mother, writer, artist and teacher grappling with grief and loss.

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