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once in a house on fire

I've been writing my memories again.

I think it's winter, making me introspective, thinning the veils between worlds. That and the fact that I'm combatting insomnia and celebrating the fact that I can type with nine fingers now.

My Parents Rooms

One of the first memories I have of my parents is of their bed. Essentially, it was little more than a few blankets and a thin mattress on some very wide planks of wood, which my mother insisted was very healthy for the back. It was a bed my parents had shared since the beginning of their love affair. In that bed I had been conceived, and slept in as a child, stretched out like a starfish in the space between them.

I'd like to think that once upon a time the bed was golden with the hopes and dreams, and that once upon a time my parents held each other and were happy and unafraid.

When my parents moved in to a bigger apartment with my grandmother, the bed came with them although very little else of their old life did. I think when my parents made the decision to move along with their bed they carried with them the hope of the life together that they might create. The idea of how nice it would be to have a grandmother and the children living close, caring and sharing.

Of course, that's not quite how it worked out. Caring and sharing are not adjectives one can accurately use to describe my father's mother. Straight away, a war began about the divisions of love and divisions of space. In which there were Love Laws. About who should be loved and how much. And Space laws. About what belonged to whom and what should not be touched. I drifted on the in-between-space and drank all the laws in through my skin.

My grandmother claimed the lion's share of the apartment, my parents withdrew to the two rooms at the end of the entrance hallway and shut the door. I had my own room, but I slept on the couch in the living room. Up until my father's death I don't believe I ever spent a single night in the room that had been assigned to me (although after the beginning of my parents bitter fighting my father slept there sometimes).

My parents rooms were a strange space, with its own gravity and rules. A satellite at the far end of the house, tacked there like an afterthought. They were not cosy rooms. Neither of my parents was particularly organised, and the spaces they inhabited were a perpetual tip of strewn papers and clothes and half-finished DIY. For most of my childhood life those rooms were barred to me, as my parents did not want me inhaling the cigarette smoke and arguements within. But wooden doors do not hide things from children. I remember nights of their arguing voices, spilling out into the pool of light beyond the door. The days of my father passed out with drinking, and the days and months and years of my mother bed-ridden with illness.

I tried sometimes to make a home in their two rooms, and they tried to invite me in. Like French tele movies, it never quite worked. The tall library was not a child friendly place. And though I was permitted to act as a croupier when my parents played cards and grafitti drawings and messages and maths homework over the walls of my their bedroom it never disguised the fact that my mother was ill and my dad wasn't always home when he said he would be.

It was not all, or always bad. Those rooms were full of my father's voice, the records that he played. The walls were rich with his singing. In those rooms we danced, he and I, and jumped around on the furniture with my cousins who came for that purpose and rifling through drawers I'd come across broken bits of pens and trinkets and other marvellous treasures to be used in games or traded for marbles. My parents rooms were a wondrous place in which bits of clothes and furniture we'd inherited from relatives or dug up from somewhere simply turned up, cluttered with strange and dusty miscellany like the attics in American movies we sometimes watched. The valuable stood side by side with the very shoddy and all the pieces of furniture perpetually looked out of place and slightly confused. As though they were trapped in the wrong room, or a wrong life.

But we were never good at crossing over from one world to another. The house was wrought with ghosts. No lurking Bogeymen for me, only Things Between The Lines. The shouting, with the dog's barking in between. My parents rooms were never safe. It was the place to which they retreated, where they unravelled, where they loved as fiercely as they fought and hurled their hopes and dreams and helpless rages at one another.

When my father's brain aneurysm burst in the midst of one night, it happened behind shut doors, as he was preparing to cross from one room into another. He fell on the threshold, on the same spot where years later the greedy fire would finally be halted in its destruction of everything in sight.

My father toppled forward like a felled tree. Does a falling father in a distant room make a noise, if a child is asleep and doesn't hear him? Perhaps. For I remember waking up many times from my dreams that night.

My father had prided himself on his physical strength. He was a man in his prime. He had never had a sick day in his life, so nobody was expecting him to just topple forward like that. He didn't die then, but he didn't return either. In hospital he regained consciousness, he was stable and doing well, and when he died a few days later nobody was expecting that either.

I remember the dog's grief more clearly than I recall my own. In the first days after my dad died the dog refused to eat. It cried with human tears, it took my dad's shirt and withdrew under the bed my parents had shared and refused to come out. Perhaps the bed had absorbed some of the dog's ghost too, because years later when the bed become mine sometimes I'd wake up thinking I heard the dog moving underneath it. I myself withdrew to my father's closet, crawled in to it and howled and hid amongst his suits. Eventually when I left, I refused to go into my parents rooms for a long time thereafter. It became a No Man's Land in which things simply hurt too much. I could not bear to be so near the memory of his voice, or the throbbing epicentre of his absence.

It was in my parents rooms that my mother told me I would be going to Holland. She said *to live and play with your friend Aleksander*, although in essence it was exile. I left the country and did not go back to my parents rooms for a long time thereafter.

I claimed them for my own at 17. They had been empty and vacant, as my mother had made the sensible decision to go live with my stepfather and move out.

I tried my best to make my own mark there. Re-arrange and unclutter, put up paintings and tapestries on the walls. My godfather and friends came to help with the cleaning and the DIY. The ghosts watched without comment. They made themselves comfortable among the records and the clothes and the broken shutters. The memories shifted a tad deeper into walls, disturbed by all the hammering.

When the fire came it ate them all. The fire was hungry and there was so much in the room to feed it. The fire was merry as it grew and leapt from thing to thing, dancing to the symphony of exploding glass and electronics. I was not there to see it, but sometimes in dreams I hear it still. The crackle of the wood. The sigh of the muslin and cotton and wool. The cry of burning books. I don't think the ghosts made any sounds and I've no idea what noise burning walls and ceilings make.

When he and I met, I was a woman living a whole new Self in a place which had also been re-born. The fire had cleansed as much as it had destroyed. As devastating as it had been healing. The fire had been so greedy. It had eaten everything, but I knew at the same time that all the ghosts were gone. Burnt down with my parents records and their clothes. Escaped, flown away through the holes in the walls.

All that I had once owned and which had owned me, was gone, burnt down. Only the barest skeletons of the place remained. But sometimes the skeletons are enough. You can re-build from bones. And the war-torn are good at that. Continuation. Survival. Re-building.

The place in which we met, inhabited the same space as the one in which my parents lived, but it was not the same place. For it was empty and simple and new and blank. It had been re-made. It did not have a shape or a name, or old sadnesses and joys embedded in its walls. It was neutral. No plans or promises or dissapointments or expectations.

The bed in which we made love was not the same piece of furniture as the one in which I had been conceived, and when we made love we did not make it among the ghosts. And I knew I had truly sailed away from my family then, into an unknown ocean in which it was possible to love without being afraid, and to create of your life anything that you wanted your life be.

I love that, all of that, and I am grateful for the choices I was not afraid to make. And if there had been our own personal ghosts we carried with us, we left them in the pile of our shed clothes. A gift to one another. No baggage, no history. Just my smile and his blue eyes. Just our naked selves.

Our meetings were secret from the house. Hidden behind shut doors, in the rooms nestled at the end of a corridor like an afterthought. In the hallway we dared to light no lights, lest thier flare and our shadows betray us. But he carried a lighter in his hands. Bringing fire like Prometheus.

Posessions burn, and people belong only to themselves. Therefore, I claimed no physical things. Only moments. Only knowledge, such as that the places we belong in are the ones which we create.

All the secret smiling things. A sheen of fairytales to them. Loves without guilt or apology. Pieces of the half-life in my old country. The land far far away.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 7th, 2004 01:19 am (UTC)
Eek. My parents moved in with my grandma before I was born.

so empathic hugs.

Dec. 7th, 2004 07:30 am (UTC)
That's right, you know how much of a snugglewhore I am.. feed my addiction. :D
Dec. 7th, 2004 02:52 am (UTC)
You are amazing. Thank you.
Dec. 7th, 2004 07:30 am (UTC)
Thank you for reading. :)
Dec. 7th, 2004 03:23 am (UTC)
Amazing and inspiring - I'm so grateful.
Dec. 7th, 2004 07:31 am (UTC)
Thank you :)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )


deep sky, firefly

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