“I don’t want to be little again. But at the same time I do. I want to be me like I was then, and me as I am now, and me like I’ll be in the future. I want to be me and nothing but me. . . I want to be every single thing it’s possible to be. I’m growing and I don’t know how to grow. I’m living but I haven’t started living yet.”
― David Almond in Jackdaw Summer
January 21, 2013
I turn the Toyota Corolla onto a slippery, unplowed suburban street. The car isn’t mine. Like many things in my life these days, it was lent to me to aid my transition back to “real life.”
The tires squeal as they slide along the ice. Some things haven’t changed — 22 years on this crescent, and each one involved terrible winter roads.
I pass a man shoveling snow. I’ve known him since I was three — the father of my first best friend. He lives at the end of a keyhole, and we used to mock my mother because she would habitually turn her head to glance at their house as we drove past. Once, my brother and I even taped a sign to her windshield — “Don’t look left by the Riediger’s.”
My chest tightens as I round the bend. #17 looms in front of me. Dark brown, shadowed by a towering fir tree.
I still think it looks like a bunker. Or a haunted house — every Halloween our place was the creepiest on the block, even once we stopped decorating it.
Cruuunch — go the tires. That driveway has always been tricky to shovel.
As I put the car in park, I spot the toys in the side yard. Toys that were never mine. They painted the garage door lighter, I note.
My vision blurs slightly, and I blink hard.
I ring the bell for a door that no longer opens with my keys. I stare at the Christmas wreath until the door swings open.
A wide smile, a friendly face. Behind her, a boy races up the stairs. Has he already discovered that those steps are great for jumping tricks? My brother and I once choreographed a whole dance routine on those stairs, to “Backstreet’s Back.” We pretended not to hear when the pop stars asked, “Am I sexuaaaal!?” just so my mother wouldn’t get mad.
“You must be Ellen.”
My focus snaps back as she greets me. Her husband enters the hall. He shakes my hand, and passes me a fat bundle of mail.
The floor plan of my house — their house, I should say — hangs, framed, on the wall in front of me, just where the settee used to sit. The walls are yellow now, the floor, hardwood.
I smile politely, and ask what else they plan to change. They’ll paint my bedroom, I suppose. Nobody wants purple-spotted walls.
We talk light fixtures and baseboards while I listen for footsteps and recurring thuds. (Meisje always bumped into things.) But there’s no Schnauzer coming to greet me, and the silence tells me I can’t linger any longer.
“You’ve kept the bookshelves,” I remark as I turn to leave.
“Yes. They’re beautiful bookshelves.”
For the first time, I realize, they are clear of clutter.