We Can Never Go Back
I see the room before I ever open my eyes. Dark brown wood paneling, closet in the right corner, window on my side of the bed and one behind the headboard, the door to the even darker hallway on his side of the room.
Wait. That’s not right.
I see the room before I ever open my eyes and it is peeling plaster painted dark blue, the door on my side this time, the window is where it is supposed to be: behind the headboard, and through the freezing air of the window unit propped precariously inside it I hear the birds who made their nest there last month. Hungry bird-baby mouths squeaking loudly, the sleek yellow kitty on my pillow is ready to pounce. But she’s smart. She knows there is window pane between them. But no, that’s not right either.
I’m on a waterbed and the sheet-rocked white walls are obscured, every inch of them, by posters. Grateful Dead and Jane’s Addiction and R.E.M. Absolut Vodka ads cut out of Rolling Stone magazines. We were so clever then, so creative. So sensitive. We covered our world with the things we loved best. There is a movie poster on the ceiling above where I sleep, Kevin Costner in his Field of Dreams. I trace the contours of him and his cornfield and the bat that he leans on while I talk on the phone; endless hours with my best friend, red plastic receiver with red wind-y cord half buried under the books and magazines and clothes on the floor. I am there, but I am not there.
I am not twenty years old in the cottage in the woods, sounds of the shower on the other side of the wall as my boyfriend gets ready for work. I am not a new mother her first born freshly transitioned into her own bedroom next door, baby-monitor humming quietly, still off-duty for now. I am not sixteen, safely ensconced within the walls of my parent’s home; I hear my mother running water for the dishes, I know the kitchen phone is pressed to her ear. She is talking to her sisters.
I open my eyes and find myself. Pale yellow walls, they were like this when we moved in, we didn’t hate it so we never changed it. No window behind the headboard, six years later and that part still startles. The door to my right: the bathroom and the hallway. My children are down there, all three of them. He is at work. I am thirty-six years old and this part is real.
I am haunted by the vanished places: the blue flowered sofa in front of the tiny TV. We didn’t have a proper place for it so we stuck it on the splintered coffee table. Just out of college our standards were low. A cottage in the woods, yellow puppy curled up and sleeping at my feet. I dug holes all day and would collapse when I got home zoning out to whatever happened to be on, waiting for him to get back from class. Graduate school. Long nights that paved the way for our later life. That sofa is gone now and so is the dog.
High school in the winter and we don’t have practice. I park in the driveway because her parents aren’t home and walk through the mudroom that leads to her space. Plush beige carpet and a bed properly made and tucked, the covers as smooth and flat as if they’d been pressed with an iron. I lay on my back on the floor beside it staring at the ceiling, tracing the patterns of the stucco over and over in my mind. A few feet up and to the right she lays face down on top of the bed. I can’t see her but I know she is there. We talk. About boys about school. We reorder the world because the world has collapsed. Our friends have left, most of them temporarily, one of them permanently. She will leave me soon too and I know that, am preparing for it. Preparing for what life will feel like when I have to do it all on my own. We didn’t know it then, could not have known it then, but twenty years later we would reset that stage in another place. We would repeat that scene again and again.
He built an addition on the house. He did it at our last house too. Long days and weeks and months to give us the space that our family needed. Our family kept growing, and he kept building the space. The smell of a man making things, sweat and dust and grease from the table saw. He is my husband, he is my father, he is my grandfather whose saw he uses, frayed cord now mended with black tape. My grandfather watched in appraisal as the younger men worked, would hand out compliments if he thought they deserved him. My husband deserved them, a fact that made me proud.
We still own his house but someone else lives there now. Our things are in another place but no matter where I wash dishes I am washing them in that sink. Too small for the job in a kitchen with not enough cabinets, not enough counter space. I cooked thanksgiving dinners there though, roasted massive brown birds with all of the fixings and invited the whole family to eat them. I did it because it was the kitchen my own grandmother had done it in. It was her kitchen really. Whenever I wash dishes I am washing them in her sink, drying them and placing them on her counter. Our daughter was a baby in that house, learned to walk in the same rooms that I learned to walk in. We moved before the other babies were born, so I share that with her alone. I find other things to share with them.
They add up like layers, my vanished places. I wake in the morning unsure of where I am, past bedrooms floating in front of my eyes, which one will it be today? Those places are all still there but there are different people in them, different voices filling their air, different dramas acted out in their spaces. I am just a piece of their puzzle and I wonder if they remember me, if upon awaking themselves they think back to those days, those mornings and consider Who will be here this time? This time will it be her?