Have you ever had one of those experiences that really just defy words? At least, right away? I went home to Indiana for a week and only recently got back to Washington, and I’ve been trying to wrap my head around my trip. I discovered something pretty profound, at least to me: they say you can’t go home again, but I don’t believe that’s true. You can, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to feel like home anymore.
We moved from Indianapolis to Seattle last August. Last September, my parents moved out of the house they’d lived in for 29 years. When I headed to their house after arriving at the Indianapolis airport, I was driving to an unfamiliar house in a town I’d never been in. There was no “going home.” In fact, home was gone.
After battling for years a shoddily built house, they lost the battle to termites that crept their way in from the ground and stayed in the crawl space, never making their presence known inside the house. When they were finally discovered, the floor joists supporting the house looked like swiss cheese. It was going to be $80k worth of repairs to fix the house. My parents decided to let it go in a short sale to the neighbors across the road, who wanted their 6 acres of grasses and woods as camping and hunting grounds.
Last November, they knocked down the house and the barn hauled everything away. I knew that it had happened. My mom told me about it, and she even went back there for some closure. I figured while I was in Indiana that I’d do the same.
On my way to my mother-in-law’s house in Kentucky, I drove back to the area where I grew up. Through my hometown, down the back country roads where I learned to drive. When I came to the “T” in the road that led to my childhood home, I slowed my rental car to a crawl, just inching along. Was I read to see the change? I turned slowly and drove up the hill, the spot where the house sat blocked by a hill. As I topped it and came to the driveway, the beauty of my old home hit me. Trees, green grasses, rolling hills – gorgeous. And the house was gone.
I pulled the car to the top of the driveway, hesitant to go deeper into the property because, after all, it wasn’t ours anymore. When I got out of the car, my eyes fall on the mailbox and I felt sucker punched to see it was still standing, my dad’s handwriting still there from where he painted the name and address. A mailbox with an address, but no home.
As I turned to face the spot where I grew up, my eyes started to burn. The driveway was already being overtaken by grass and where the house used to sit was nothing but grass. 29 years of living and loving and arguing and hoping and dreaming, wiped out. I only made it halfway down the driveway before I doubled over, the pain too much to endure. I stood there for a few long minutes, tears tracking down my cheeks as I looked around. The sound of Mom’s barking collies was long gone. In fact, the only sounds at all were the rustling of leaves and the chirping of birds. It was serene. It was agonizing.
As I trudged back toward my rental car, grief was tight in my chest. I was slow to get into the car and even slower to finally start it up and pull away. Finally, only the intense heat and humidity of a late Indiana spring could propel me to pull away. As I drove down the road, I looked straight ahead instead of grabbing one last look. I’d seen enough.
The house was a mess and couldn’t be saved, but the reality that a huge part of my childhood was gone is now very real. I don’t know why I was sure, prior to going, that it wouldn’t affect me. Maybe because I spent nearly all of my years there dreaming of getting out of Indiana and seeing more of the country? Of starting my life in a big city, away from small towns and where I could find a place where I actually felt like I could be me?
Part of my spirit still exists on those acres. Our summers were spent rolling down the hills, only to trek back up and do it all over again. I put in miles on my bike going up and down that driveway, flying down the first hill with my legs out for maximum thrill. We explored the woods using the trails Dad had cut in the thick foliage. We rode around the yard on Dad’s orange ’52 Moline tractor. We played baseball out on the open acre. We built snowmen below the big tree out front. We played in the barn loft (before I realized there were snakes up there.) We played on the swingset back by the burn pile, picked apples in the small orchard, endured terrifying spring storms that sent the trees bending toward earth. It’s where I would stand in the falling rain, my head toward the sky and my eyes closed, and be transported to another place through the stories that ran free inside my head. It’s where I found my writing voice for the very first time.
It’s also a place of very dark memories. The house was… unsettled, for lack of a better word. There were many strange, unexplained things that happened both in that house and on that property. Things missing. Voices coming from seemingly nowhere. Lights shining where there weren’t any lights installed. Things appearing from nowhere. I spent my entire childhood terrified of the dark and of being alone in that house once the sun went down. The fact that you weren’t really alone, even when you were the only one there, was well known by all of us. But now that the house is gone, those terrifying things seem to have less impact on me. Instead, I can only hope that whatever was trapped in that house was freed when it was knocked down.
I’ve had a little over a week to process now, yet I’m still torn between moments of numbness and tears over the experience. The house may be gone, and the property may belong to someone else, but I have so many memories of the place. The place taught me to explore and, most importantly, it allowed me to expand my brain and dream. I don’t know that I’ll ever go back again to visit. I’m not sure I can handle the pain. For now, and maybe forever, the tangible pictures and the memories, both good and bad, will have to be enough.