This weekend Victor had to work so Hailey and I drove to my parent’s house where my sister and her kids were visiting from California. And it was lovely and funny and weird and exhausting and fabulous – all the things you want when you go home again.
My parents house was busting with eight people sleeping under one roof, but in a good sort of way where everywhere you turn you see people cooking or helping or playing or laughing, and every spare minute was filled with games and exploring caves or camping. My sister Lisa and I had gently laughed at Hailey exclaiming how much better the air was in the country (as we reminded her that we were within smelling distance of a pig farm, a taxidermy studio, and a rendering plant) but at night we’d go out and look at the stars in a sky that is never as big or bright as it is outside the home we grew up in, and we breathed in and reluctantly agreed that there was a sweetness to the air that didn’t exist anywhere else.
Coming back to the home I grew up in is a luxury most people don’t get. My parents are still alive. The land and house has changed over the years but the people in it are still the same. And at night when I stand on their porch and look up at the stars I feel a deep, physical healing. I suspect it’s like other people feel when they go to a spa or take a vacation, but the raw feeling of being there is like having my heart wrapped up in new, tight bandages…pulling back together the parts that have started to fall away.
My family knows that my mental and physical issues cause chronic exhaustion so often I’d have to go to bed just when the night got exciting, but that’s just a part of being me and I’ve come to accept that if I push myself too hard I might end up in a pit too deep to come out of. And it was fine. Disappointing, of course, but fine. Until Easter Sunday when I woke up and realized that I had no spoons left. Hailey and I got dressed in our new Easter dresses and I helped my nieces get ready but already I could tell that I could either go to my uncle’s for Easter and visit with a giant house full of dozens of people I love, or I could safely stay awake for the hours I would be driving back home that day. But not both. So as I helped my family load up into their cars I told them I had to leave. And they understood instantly and supported my decision as only people who truly love you can do. And I felt so lucky. And so unlucky. And sad for Hailey whose Easter dress would go to waste and who was so sad but so instantly understanding when I explained that I just didn’t have it in me to do something that normal people could do without thinking.
My family drove to my uncle’s and Hailey and I drove the opposite way, starting our long drive home. We stopped along the way so I could stay alert and awake. We stopped at family graves. We picked flowers at a rest stop. We ate Easter dinner at the Dairy Queen drive thru. And we stopped at an ancient farm house I’ve seen a million times. We always pass it on the way home and it’s been abandoned since before I was born. I’ve always wondered of its history, imagining the ghosts that cling to it and wondering if I’d lived there in a former life because it was the only way I could ever explain my intense fascination with it. It’s begun a steady decline in the past few years and now part of the roof has collapsed and the old windmill is teetering dangerously.
I realized that this might be the last time I see it so Hailey and I pulled over and stood silently in the shadow of the beautiful decay.
I was pleased to see that Hailey was just as drawn to the place, and although we couldn’t get too close (because it wasn’t stable enough to safely explore) we talked about how strange it was that a broken, ruined thing could be so beautiful. That sometimes ruin beckons you more than magnificence, telling a story more interesting and important and provocative than you could imagine. That sometimes broken can be lovely, and that the collapsed roof could be seen as ugly, but it also let the light in in such a fragile and brilliant way, allowing doves to build nests in the unexpected skylight.
I took a few pictures to capture it in case it’s gone the next time I pass it and I whispered a thanks to whoever had built it and to whoever still watches over it. It’s still important and breathtaking, even if it’s come undone. It’s just a shell, but with the right eyes it’s so much more.
I think we’re all that way sometimes.
We got back in the car and drove on, and I felt the familiar crack I always get in my chest when I’m driving away from my childhood town. It always hurts. It’s always the same. But the pain – while almost unbearable for a second – is less than the healing I get from returning. I wish I could do it backward…have the pain first and the healing after…but that’s not how life works, and I remind myself that I still leave with more than I came with.
I am broken. I am healed. I am ruined. I am beautiful. I am abandoned. I am beloved. I am a house that is no longer a house. I am better and worse all at the same time. I breathe deeply and smile at my daughter, who smiles back at me. She tells me that this is a very strange Easter, but she likes it.
A dove flies out of the collapsed roof and catches the sunlight, unaware that its home is anything other than perfect.