Two Pillars Make a House
The house I grew up in was a giant, awe-inspiring white house with 2 pillars in the front that cast a long shadow onto the street below. It had a long row of blue steps tilting in various directions and not safe enough to walk on. In the U.S. these are the kind of stairs people like to fall and “break their necks” on so they can sue you. A tree with purple leaves sat in the side yard with perfect climbing branches. I used to go up there and read when I wanted some privacy to be with my teenage thoughts, or to drop dirt on the heads of passersby.
Jabba the Hutt
We originally moved into the house that was divided into 5 apartments with my aunt Mary and her three children. She was an enormous woman who had the appearance of Jabba the Hutt when I looked at her from my short height, and she bought mayonnaise by the gallon at Sam’s Club. She was moving in with us because her blind husband had just left her for his seeing eye dog trainer. I was 9 years old at the time, and was obsessed with watching “Bring It On” on repeat every hour of everyday for months. I would dress up in my pink ballet leotard and belt out the cheers word for word while gyrating and hip thrusting, and jumping around on the blue futon in our living room.
Just a couple years into this living arrangement, things became explosive and volatile to the point that it was like living in a war zone. Bitter arguments were breaking out everyday, and I’m still surprised nobody ended up in a body bag, or at least with a horse head in their bed.
The Money Pit
My aunt had taken it upon herself to become my personal disciplinarian, although I saw her more like one of the prison guards from Midnight Express. After watching the movie “Scream” I played a game where I was pretending to be Drew Barrymore chased around the house by a man in a black robe and an alarming white mask. Mid-escape through said window my aunt happened to be just getting home, and saw me crawling out. She screamed at me so loud the chandelier shook. It was one of those old chandeliers with the plastic raindrops that were always falling off.
I got my revenge though; in the mornings while I was eating my Nutri-grain bar for breakfast and watching Hey Arnold she would take her shower. Depending on my mood I would turn on the kitchen sink and either scald her with boiling hot water or give her a nice wake up call in the form of ice. When I heard her scream my name I would skip off to elementary school with a grin on my face and invisible devil horns sprouting out of my head like Daisy Head Mayzie.
My aunt and cousins eventually moved out and my parents were left with a house big enough for 5 families and a mortgage they couldn’t afford on their own. This house became our own personal version of “The Money Pit.” My father worked nights and more hours than should physically be possible. He would work on the house when he could, which was usually in the summer. To this day, every time I hear a nail gun or wood being sawed it reminds me of summers when I would wake to that noise right under my bedroom.
Every room in that house was under construction, literally. My parents used to get so excited watching shows about house hunting and redecorating. HGTV was like their version of porn. They would get all animated on a Sunday morning talking about how they were going to paint some room or put a new floor in. I would sit there, munching on my Reeses Puffs and following their conversation like a tennis match. There were many weekends spent at auctions and Home Depot.
My parents once bought this old trunk that I used in a game of pretending I was going to Hogwarts with Harry Potter. I packed my things in it, including a fake wand I had made out of sticks from our yard. My favorite thing they bought was the costume jewelry. There were clip on earrings and long, gaudy necklaces that I enjoyed playing with and in high school actually wore as some sort of fashion statement.
It took so long to actually finish my room that I changed what I wanted it to look like at least 3 times. First I wanted the walls to look like a sky and I would have a bed in the shape of a boat. The next idea was red walls with red velvet curtains and my bed on a platform to look like a stage. Then I decided I wanted it to look like a garden, so we painted the walls pink and would add the flowers later with a white picket fence to go around the bottom.
My dad frequently rented a truck to move construction things to the garbage dump. Usually this meant random pieces of wood, plaster, and nails from walls he had knocked out. We tried to install this enormous shower in the upstairs bathroom. It came in 4 pieces, each one curved like a horse shoe and a height of about 5 feet. It took 2 hours for the three of us to get it all up the stairs. At one point I almost went up over the railing and off the stairs in a fit of hysteria and sweat.
An Erotic Claw-Foot Bathtub
Before we could put in the new bathtub we had to move out my old, favorite claw-foot tub. I used to sit in there while I ate fruit and wore face masks like I was at a spa. It was the first bathtub in which, at the age of 12, I learned you could masturbate using just a steady stream of water. It was steel, therefore it was a few hundred pounds. Eventually we just threw it off the second floor balcony. It left a dent in the concrete of our driveway that is probably still there to this day.
When I was about 13 I lived in my parents bedroom which was basically the only livable area of the house. I slept on this old floral couch from the 70’s that folded out and our bulldog Duke would fight me for it every night. During the holidays we even put our Christmas tree in this room and I would sleep on the floor in a sleeping bag to make room for it. One year, I spent 2 hours cutting out paper snowflakes, attaching them to strings, and taping them to the roof. The room looked like a paper shredder had exploded. On Christmas day after opening my presents we would watch Christmas movies and set up all kinds of snacks on the coffee table; shrimp cocktail, cheese and crackers, my favorite chocolate covered cherries.
When my brother went into the Navy I moved into his room. It had this old, creaky bed, a black rocking chair, old brown carpeting and a t.v. When I cleaned under his bed I found two of the books that list all the members of the Daggett family, and one of the books had cocaine on the top. He also had a picture of our bulldog Duke who had died in his sleep the year before and it said RIP DUKE on the back.
The Many Uses of Plywood
In the winter we went through every kind of heater possible. First we put in coal stoves that turned everything black and didn’t add any warmth to the house. Then we tried space heaters, and eventually kerosene heaters that made everything dusty. I spent more than a few nights wearing 3 pairs of pajama pants, 2 sweatshirts, a scarf and a hat to bed. Since we only used a small area of the house, my dad put a big sheet of plywood over the stairs to keep the heat in.
Our bathroom was all plywood floors, and part of it had a hole where my dad had worked on the pipes. Our toilet sat on two slabs of wood and wiggled when you sat on it. My favorite part of our bathroom was the previously mentioned claw-foot bathtub. I would take bubble baths in it and I had a little table that I would set fruit on. If I was feeling fancy I would make myself a Shirley Temple with sprite and cherry grenadine. Sometimes in the winter the pipes would freeze and my mom would boil water on the stove to put in the tub so I could still have a hot bath. I still remember her playing Shania Twain on the new stereo she got for her birthday and standing over the hole in the floor to do her makeup in front of the mirror.
The last bedroom I stayed in was the same room we had painted pink years earlier. At this point my dad had bought an inflatable mattress and I moved it into that room, along with a dresser, and the coffee table I now used as a desk. I had spent hours covering the table in a collage of magazine pictures and tape. I hysterically cried when my mom sold this table at our yard sale and I had to rip all the pictures off.
The Intersection of Congress and Miller
The last thing I ever did in that house was take a tour around each room of the area we lived in. I walked into my parents bedroom, and stared at the area of brick in the corner where I used to hang my Christmas stocking, hearing the Christmas Story movie, and our laughter in my mind. I walked into the hallway where we kept a microwave and a mini refrigerator, remembering the time I tried to make chocolate mousse that came out more like melted ice cream. I walked into my brothers old room, thinking about the first time I ever saw a Playboy magazine.
Lastly, I walked into my old room. I looked at the rose colored walls, the closet my friends and I used to play hide and seek in, and I stared out my bedroom window, on to the street below. The intersection of Congress and Miller street felt like a metaphor for my life in that moment. Then I turned and walked out our front door for the last time, hearing the familiar sound of our welcome sign banging against it.
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