How many years has it been now? It almost seems as if no time has passed, but reality demands physical acknowledgement. When I look at my hands, I find that they have cracked with age. When I feel my hair, it no longer falls upon my shoulders in waves, but struggles to hide my neck with uneven, jagged strands. My eyes, which have witnessed everything I have ever known, paint a world that is rapidly losing definition. Oh, and this place! How can a house be so terrible, yet so beautiful? It must be this house that’s playing these tricks with my mind. I have lived here since I was a child. While my appearance may have changed with age, the house has been a constant; the floral wallpaper in the dining room remains untouched, the glass knobs on the bathroom sink still glimmer in the light, the crack on the stairs leading up to the back door gapes as much as it has ever. It is large enough to accommodate a large family, even two; but I have lived within it alone for the majority of my life. Well, that’s not entirely true. When I was growing up, I was far from alone. My mother and father took the separate master bedrooms on the first floor; I never witnessed them spend a night in the same room. My siblings, along with myself, kept the second and third floors more than occupied. It makes me angry now to think of all the times we would draw on the walls of the closets, or jump up and down on the beds, or ride the masterfully ornate banister all the way to the ground floor. How consumed with childish foolishness could we have been to so blatantly ruin something of such beauty? As the years have passed and they were all eventually beckoned away by higher education, or jobs, or spouses, I’ve found it impossible to miss them too terribly. As I pass the silent, empty rooms these days, the thought of anyone causing them harm fills me with pure dread. I, myself, was ripped away for several years as well. On the whims of a teenager, and at the demand of my parents, I enrolled at a nearby college with the hopes of studying English. To my surprise, I loved it there. I had interest then, in bettering the world, or at least in doing something that was important to other people. I had friends, not as many as some, but I was generally well-liked and was in no shortage of close confidantes. It was never difficult to find partners, either; I had a cool charisma and sense of wisdom that many found appealing. The world looked so different back then, it’s almost funny to think about it now. But college can’t last forever, and it didn’t. I moved back home shortly after graduation as a temporary place to live while I looked for jobs in the area. Even then, as I settled back in to the familiar walls of the house, some part of me knew that I would never be able to find a different home. I found work, some of it engaging, some of it not; in either case, I was unable to hold any position for more than a few years. How could I, with all the distraction that life imposed? My mother died, my brother married; my father
died, my sister got sick. I was frequently being called away by events of such magnitudes to an extent where I stopped work entirely and threw my life into more important things. I was the sole permanent resident of the house now, and upholding it consumed enough of my time anyways. My parents had left behind enough money with their deaths that it wasn’t an issue. Life didn’t stop throwing hurdles at me. The windows on the first floor needed replacement, my sister passed away, the carpet in the parlor had started to peel. I attacked these issues with as much strength as I could muster, but it was hard for some of it not to fade into background noise. It all became so much easier, I realized, when I could just think about my immediate problems and deal with them as they presented themselves. And my immediate problems, including the constant dusting that was needed on the upper floors and the annoying drip of the first-floor bathroom faucet, were more than enough to keep me completely occupied. It felt good to have such intense focus, such a basic sense of purpose to keep myself going. And even then, I wasn’t completely alone yet. My siblings, who had all moved into much more modest homes of their own, would stop by for holidays and whenever something important would happen in the family. These visits became my primary source of information regarding these issues, as I felt the need to go out and see them myself wane more and more with the time that passed. I also had a few partners of my own. I would meet them at the grocery store, or at the library, or a friend would send them my way. But no matter how much I liked them, or how much of a connection we had, I was simply too busy to devote myself to that sort of relationship. I had responsibilities, you know. The house wasn’t going to clean itself. We all got old, the visits from my family became less and less frequent. My partners would end things with me, or I would end it with them. None of it bothered me. I had my passion, my life’s purpose. The house was my companion, and what a glorious companion it was! Always there, never changing, as perfect as I had always known it to be. I knew exactly how to tend to its many needs, and it knew how to keep me so completely enamored with it. It was the relationship I had never had before in my life, the only thing I could trust to never let me down. I couldn’t tell you these days where my siblings are, or if they resent me for the choices I have made. It’s not a thought that pleases me, but it doesn’t keep me up at night, either. Today, it is bright and warm outside. Light filters in through the french doors at the front of the house and spills onto the maple flooring. It illuminates a patch of dust, I notice, that I must have missed this morning. I’ll get to it in a little bit. I make my way to the kitchen and carefully turn the knob on the gas stovetop, on which I place the same kettle I’ve used my entire life. I take a seat at the table in the kitchen, right where I would sit years ago waiting for my parents to finish making breakfast. Unexpectedly, the
thought hits me with a wave of some emotion I’m not used to feeling. Nostalgia, maybe? Regret? Either way, it’s a foolish thing to dwell on and I push it from my mind. I am happier now than I have ever been before, I tell myself, and the thought comforts me. Slightly embarrassed now, I turn the stove off and grab a broom and pan. I’d better get to that dusting before I forget.
Artist Statement: I was interested in stories in which people that live through difficult times focus their emotion into obsessions that replace everything else in their lives. Even if they are aware of their unhappiness, this provides an illusion of a purpose that keeps them going.