Home, Less

I don’t go home for the holidays.

“Home is where the people are,” I remember him saying, maybe a little bit defensively, not long after they had moved. And it’s not the sort of sentiment you’re supposed to disagree with, but I feel the sting of that lie in my marrow.

Home exists only in my memory.

I can close my eyes and smell the carpet in my bedroom. See the ceiling, the swoop in the paint that always looked to me like a man lifting a woman into his arms. I can remember when my head got too big to fit through the bars on the railing of the landing. Feel myself racing up the stairs on all fours, plucking at the grain in the fabric of the guestroom sofa when I was sick or couldn’t sleep.

Home was outdoors, too. The tall grass beyond the circle that we crawled tunnels through in the summer. Dusty blackberries along the driveway. Bouncing in the back of a pickup truck on the way to the pump, or always being the dumb end when moving pipes, my brother squinting and directing–left, just a little bit more–stop. Drop it there.

And the sounds. Sprinklers always, that steady tick tick tick. The methodical thump of a bailer. Sheep lowing, on their own or in chorus. The distant yip of a coyote.

They tore the place down.

I found out on Facebook, from a childhood neighbor. I drowned my sorrows in a bar down the street, across from the subway station. Tried to numb that ache in the middle of too many city sounds.

They tore the place down, and now it doesn’t even live in google maps. It’s trapped in blueprints he can’t seem to find, and the sticky amber of my memory.

So I come here for the holidays.

I see cars with Oregon plates and my heart collapses in on itself. Just that tiny green tree is enough to undo me.

There are some similarities.

It smells like barnyard, that scent I tried for years to banish from my clothes and under my fingernails. At this point I’m afraid it’s in my pores somehow, the constant fear that I’m tracking sheep manure everywhere I go. No matter what shoes I wear I’m forever finding bits of straw stuck to my socks.

And so many of the set pieces are the same. The blue chair I spent so much time in, the china cabinet. Even my bed, lovingly reassembled but now covered in junk. That ancient microwave.

But the air is different here. Higher, thinner. I feel it every time we take the dog for a walk, my pulse pounding in my ears. I don’t smell alfalfa or blackberries on the breeze. It’s all rock and scrubby brush.

And it snows here.

I can really only remember one good snow at home, enough for an anemic snowman on the lawn. I had these visions of icy monstrosities straight out of Calvin & Hobbes, but there was barely enough for a melting head on a picnic bench.

I remember once our neighbor had a friend visiting from Japan. She had never seen snow, and we piled in the car to take her to Mt. Ashland. She shared these salty, pickled plums–something I would probably love now–and I was too embarrassed to admit I didn’t like mine, quietly dropping it on the floor mat. We got to the base of the mountain and her face lit up like a child’s. I felt so special, to be allowed to witness that kind of wonder from a grown-up.

Here the snow is real, fuck you snow. Have fun clearing the driveway snow. We might just stay at home for a few days snow.

When we walk the dog all you hear is the crunch of snow. Conversations tend to be quick, loud bursts or nothing at all. The layer of powder and ice muffles everything. Somehow the way back down always seems steeper. Little balls of snow go tumbling down the path and I imagine myself sliding headlong beside them, catching myself on sage and bramble.

In the spring the clay turns to mud. Everything squishes, nothing stays dry. Rush Creek rushes and rises and threatens to flood. You can hear it as soon as you open the door, louder than the snow.

There’s just enough that’s familiar to set my teeth on edge. Sleeping in my brother’s old sheets, staring at the stained glass window. Fingers pressed against the wooden napkin ring.

I don’t go home for the holidays. I come here, to be heartsick. Homesick. Fourteen again.

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