I pulled up to the house and as the garage door opened, I was met with a wave of devastation—the likes of which I had not experienced since the night I lost her 14 months ago. I pulled my car in and shut off the engine. Everything still looked the same. “Good,” I thought, “they haven’t changed anything yet.”
You see, when the house sold, all of its contents went with it. When I found that out it was like my most fear-inducing nightmare had been realized: Someone else was going to move into my home and live my life. I’d had the dream before, the one where I’m a ghost in my own home or maybe a I’m stuck in a parallel universe and everything is just as it is in my world except now different people are there. It’s not my Nonna walking down the hallway and it’s not the wheels of her buggy clicking against the cracks in the tile. It’s a different woman and a different man and different family using my kitchen sink, breakfast nook, TV, and backyard. It’s not my dog looking in through the window. And it’s not me reading at the counter.
In the dream, I’m standing in my kitchen and watching strangers go about their morning as if this is their life. But it’s not—its mine. They neither see me nor know me and I’m just trapped, watching it all happen. And now that dream has become a reality.
I got out of the car and closed the garage door behind me. I was about to unlock the door to go inside when I first noticed that something wasn’t quite right. There were paint cans on the work table and it was apparent that they’d been opened. The brushes looked to have been freshly cleaned and laid out as if to dry overnight in time for reuse in the morning. I figured it odd but continued into the house.
I had prepared myself to say goodbye to my grandmother’s house just as we had left it, with her paintings on the wall and dishes in the cabinet and big chair sitting in the middle of the room. But what I hadn’t prepared myself for was those paint cans and everything they brought with them.
Each room had been altered ever so slightly. The new owners, not set to officially be “owners” for another 24 hours, had already come in and begun to make themselves, well, at home. They had painted, moved furniture, and even brought in a few things of their own. The paint was all of one—maybe two—shades darker than the color currently on the walls and the furniture had been rearranged into a setting that we had tried a few years back and ultimately abandoned because it was absolutely ridiculous. And the items they had a brought in? There were three: A giant, horrendous painting of themselves (which now hung over the mantle in the great room), the ugliest recliner that I had ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot of ugly recliners… I lived in the Midwest for awhile, after all) and finally, the worst thing imaginable—a Tupperware container of gluten-free flour.
“Is this my Upside-Down,” I questioned as a chill ran down my spine and the tears welled up in my eyes. Why paint but not really paint? This middle aged couple whom I didn’t know and had only briefly met immediately became the enemy. I flew into a mad rage. Had I not been alone, I’m certain that whoever I was with would have gotten out of my way for fear of being pierced by the daggers that now flew from my eyes. Maniacally, I began pulling things off the wall, out of drawers, and from the cabinets. I imagined that I was rescuing the salt shakers from a cruel, totalitarian dictator whose most terrible exercise of power was in bad taste. These monsters didn’t deserve a malfunctioning tea kettle especially considering the fact that they were probably going to use it to warm up water for the atrocity that is instant coffee. And the cookie sheets… Oh, the cookie sheets. I had to keep them safe! How could I let such innocence be defiled by gluten-free baked goods?
It was well past midnight when my rampage finally ended. I must’ve looked crazy. How could I not with the hot tears of anger running down my cheeks as I occasionally muttered “Thanks, Obama” while stuffing large paintings of sailboats into the trunk of my Challenger in the middle of the night. This was clearly not Obama’s fault and I felt bad about dragging him into it but, you know, there we were.
Once my car had been sufficiently stuffed with my Nonna’s things, I returned to the house. “There,” I thought. “Now it doesn’t look like hers anymore. It doesn’t look like mine.” If I couldn’t leave it exactly as she did then the least I could do is leave it totally and completely void of her. So I did. I walked through each bedroom, including my own, for one last look around. I shut off the lights as I went and when I reached her bedroom, I walked over to where her bed used to sit; where she used to sleep and dream. They had begun painting that room as well and had thus moved everything out. I stood where I had stood a thousand times before, remembering how I used to help her into bed and kiss her on the head before saying goodnight. Sometimes, just as I would start to leave the room, she’d grab me by the hand and say, “I love you, kid. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” And I’d smile and assure her that she would never have to find out. And she never did.
For the last time, I walked away from her bedside and flipped off the light. “G’night, Non. Love you,” I said aloud. And standing there in that empty room, filled only with my imaginary life, I swear I heard her say it back.
Then I left. I made sure that all of the lights were off and the doors were locked and I told myself that time would take care of the feeling that was gutting me. I prayed not for relief or comfort or escape. No, I prayed for endurance. Because at that point, all that was left to do was endure and take the next thing that comes. So I grabbed a couple of wooden spoons that had been missed in my burglary, thought about how technically I might be a felon now (albeit a yet-to-be convicted felon) and I left.
With a car full of my grandmother’s things and the only regret I had ever felt regarding her being that I wasn’t able to take the area rugs, I left.
“Where did all of this come from?” my dad asked. It was early in the morning and my father and I stood in front of the open trunk of my car, both donning house slippers with coffee cups in hand. Steam rose from his mug as he leaned in to get a better look at my car’s contents.
“Uh, I stopped by Non’s last night.” He paused and looked at me—very obviously trying to decide what to do. I waited, expecting him to tell me to take everything back because this all definitely belongs to those new savage people. Instead, he pointed and drew my attention back to the trunk.
He gestured to the pile of obscure objects to the right, “Is that a lone salt shaker? Where’s the pepper?”
“Yeah. Couldn’t find it,” I said without taking my eyes off the trunk.
Then he nodded to the left, “Isn’t that kettle broken?”
“That’s a lot of throw blankets.”
“I get cold.”
“How did you fit those end tables in there?”
“A lot of shoving,” I said, this time looking down at my feet.
“Well,” he started. He sipped his coffee and nodded his head, accepting the fact that he was now complicit to my larceny. Then he closed the trunk. “Do you want some waffles?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said. “I could eat.”