May 8, 2021

The Walls that Grew Me.

I feel the bend of the road somewhere deep inside me as I meander along the ocean.

The curves of the streets, second nature to my being as they were 17 years before when I lay curled up in the backseat of the car knowing with every turn how close we were to home—hoping that if I laid still enough, someone would scoop me up, carry me inside, and tuck me into the cool blankets of my white sleigh bed.

The baseball park down the street is the same. The tennis court is cracked with weeds here and there, mostly forgotten. In all the years I tumbled down the hill to this park in ratty old sneakers a glove in hand, the baseball diamond always felt so full and the court so empty.

The yard—my yard—is familiar.

My mother’s gardens grow bigger. The flowers she planted all those years ago are bright pinks and yellows in the dim spring light. The trees once seemed to grow as I grew—three feet together, then four, until I was standing alongside them in a white cap and gown, halfway to six feet. We grew together over the years, those little trees and me. Now 10 years later, they have continued along without me, reminding me how long it’s been since we shared the same soil.

My front porch is no longer mine, is it?

I sit across the street now and look up at the familiar stairs that I trudged up every day, never once imagining that one day I would no longer be able to open that heavy wooden front door and find comfort within its walls. There’s a similar porch chair in the corner—almost identical to the one that I used to sit on at night when the sky lit up with lightning. I wonder if anyone sits there anymore, counting the seconds between thunder and lightning.

If I were to walk inside, I imagine the walls are still a similar color.

The large windows expanding across the 11-foot-high ceilings. “Turn the lights off,” I can hear my mother say, “We live in a fishbowl.”  If I round the corner, away from the kitchen, and tiptoe to the second door on the left, I wonder what color my bedroom is now. Does the bed still sit beneath the windows? What covers the walls? Paintings, posters, anything at all?  Who now stares up at that ceiling at night, counting the spins of the fan as they drift off to sleep?

I can see the blonde little girl who used to run barefoot in the yard, climbing trees, the yellow dog not far behind. I can hear the giggles of 12-year girls from the second window late at night, long after lights have been turned off.  I can feel the dreams of a seventeen 17-year-old, writing them down in a sunflower-covered journal, frowning at the messy curves of her own handwriting.

I wonder if that little girl would trace the scars that zig zag beneath my skin now and wonder, “My gosh, look what you’ve overcome. Look how strong you are.”  Or would the harshness of the world in some moments make her retreat further into the safety of her own imagination? Would she be proud of where she’s gone? What she’s seen and who she’s become, in the 10 years since she lived within these walls?

As I sit across the street from the house that grew me, a faint melody plays from the radio.

A familiar voice—maybe Bruce, maybe Van, or even James—those quiet lyrics that echoed through the halls of my childhood. I wonder if my name is still etched in the corner of my closet or has it since been painted over. Thick black ink bleeding into the stucco paint. Is it faded now? Turned a dull gray, slowly fading as time passes, as the old, creaky wood floors get replaced and the trees in the garden grow taller still.

I turn the engine back on now. Steer slowly down the street, my eyes steady in the rear-view mirror as I drive further away from home. I can see that little girl and her dog skip down the sideway, turning at the driveway and making the familiar climb up that old front porch. One day that girl will be grown, and home holds a different meaning now—because a house full of walls means little if it’s filled with someone else’s dreams.

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Alix Bullock  |  Contribution: 5,185

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