“I will see the city poured rolling down the mountain valleys like slag, and see the city lights sprinkled and curved around the hills’ curves, rows of bonfires winding. At sunset a red light like housefires shines from the narrow hillside windows; the houses’ bricks burn like glowing coals.” –Annie Dillard; An American Childhood
You remember the first day scrubbing rainbow colored mold out of the fridges from the summer sub-letters. You remember bleaching the black mold that ringed the tub, toilet, and sink. You remember painting over mildew, scraping cobwebs out of corners, and carrying pile after pile of junk to the dumpster across the street. You remember sweating in the August heat, then screaming, then crying, wondering why you had moved into such a disgusting home.
Over the next week, each of the five other housemates took their place in their rooms, assessing the damage, choosing to clean, or not to clean.
One of the fridges broke and you had to put six people’s worth of food into one fridge. Then the electricity blew out in one of the kitchens. Then the roof leaked in two bedrooms with the first heavy rain. Then the gas stove stopped working. And one of the wooden stairs leading to the back door crumbled. And a cat had kittens under your front porch, one of them with an eye infection so bad it had to be put down. And the third floor toilet would run all day if you didn’t jiggle the handle just right.
There were fights and arguments. Housemates came and went. There were quiet discrepancies like the way someone’s shoes banged off the floor, or complaints of housemates that would sing at the top of their lungs at any time of the day or night as they walked through the hallways. There were louder discrepancies as well, like the attitude of one particularly rotten housemate that you all eventually kicked out.
The winters were cold. Single paned windows let in drafts of winter air even through the cellophane wrap you sealed over them. The showers would run cold before you could rinse the soapsuds from your skin. You could see your breath in the bathroom.
Summers were stifling. Even a window fan blowing on your face all night couldn’t stop the suffocating humidity from condensing on your hot neck, causing sweat to run until you’d soaked the cotton sheets you already washed once that week.
But you loved that house. You loved it because it was where you baked your first loaf of sourdough bread. It was where you learned to cook and wash dishes. You loved the feeling of the cool wooden floors beneath bare feet and the windows that opened so wide you could crawl out of them onto the roof. You loved the kitchen with the old grimy gas stove and the cupboards that couldn’t fit everyone’s food. You loved the living rooms with couches that sagged so deep, you almost couldn’t get out of them once you sat down.
But most of all, you loved that front porch filled with furniture gathered from the street that got soaked every time it rained. You loved the black and white cat that no one owned that would hop into your lap and knead his sharp curved claws into your leg while you tried to read a book. You loved people watching from behind the peeling wooden bannister and drinking beers on Friday nights with anyone that wandered off the street.
Coming back to it felt timeless. Some old housemates, some new. You sat on the porch with your friends, petting the black and white cat, feeling the sun on your skin, and remembering the good and the bad and wishing for just a little more time.