‘Does not your house dream?’ Kahlil Gibran
Houses are strange. We buy them. We think we own them. They make us feel safe and secure and sturdy and forever.
We’re wrong of course. Houses aren’t ours. Not really. My house was built in 1898. It will be standing, no doubt, long after I’m dead. It’s that kind of house. It was built to last.
When I walk down to write in the nearest decent coffee shop to my house, I often pass the home I grew up in. I put it in a book once, ‘The Reckoning’, which was a story about the souls of buildings. I guess it’s an idea that has always fascinated me. When I go past that house (that my parents sold about fifteen years ago), I wonder at all the lost memories inside it. I remember being so afraid of the attic that I would run under the hatch to get to my sister’s bedroom. I remember the awful green carpet up the stairs. I remember when the girl who lived next door got drunk at 15 and set her bedroom on fire with a cigarette and jumped from her window in an attempt to save herself. Fifteen seemed so grown up to me then. She died on the lawn before the ambulance got there, her small dog howling beside her. Apparently, all the skin from her back was burned away. That haunted me when I was a child. I wonder if anyone who lives there now is even aware of that story. Of course they’re not. They’ve imprinted the house with their own memories. Mine no longer exist there.
I’ve lived in my current house for eight years. It’s the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere. Last year I put my house on the market and am still trying to sell it (damn that recession). At the time, it was a practical decision – I spend a lot of time in London and it would make sense to live there. I still loved my house though. I found I’d formed an attachment to it. It was my comfort blanket. It was MINE.
It’s not of course. Recently, I’ve felt a shift. My house wants to regenerate. People don’t own houses. Houses own people and their memories. They hold lives for a while. They know secrets. But the lives pass and the people move on, and the houses wipe themselves clean and start again.
In the eight years I’ve lived in my house, lots of people have shared it with me. At first, there was the ex-boyfriend and his three children. Then, after we parted company, there were a few (cough) other men. Then my ex-father in law came to stay while he battled cancer. I remember him pointing out what a nice vibe my house had, (and it really does – My house is kind ) as he looked around each room and nook and cranny. After that there were ‘the boys’, two friends that rented rooms, and then when they moved out and bought their own place, my friend Liz and her cat Savannah moved in for a year. After they moved out, it was just me and Mr Fing, my old feline companion of forever, who moved on to the great cat playground in the sky a week or so ago.
Since Mr Fing died, things in the house have changed. I can feel a coolness in the bricks and mortar. To be fair, I haven’t always been the best house resident. I don’t do ‘stuff’. I don’t buy nick nacks. I like clear lines and spaces. When I’ve read a book it goes in the charity shop (yep, even the dedicated ones). Talking to @polarkoala at a party yesterday she commented that this was probably because I haven’t yet put down roots, and she may well be right, (and as I approach 40 I wonder if I ever will), but that aside, if I was my house, I wouldn’t be overly pleased with me as a current inhabitant. And yet still, my house has cared for me. It’s protected me. I’ve felt safe inside it.
But like I said, since Mr Fing left, I’ve felt something shift. I think my house is restless. I think it wants new blood. It wants the vigour of change. The walls and doors and shapes of it are suddenly slightly unfamiliar to me. I feel as if my house is shuffling from foot to foot. It’s not unkind, but if it could, it would edge me towards the door. Maybe this isn’t such a bad thing. I know I need change. I just didn’t realise that my house might too.
We often wonder if our houses are haunted. Recently I’ve decided that my house probably is.
The weird thing is, I think that the ghost is me.
August 1st, 2011 at 10:50 pm
Wonderful blog entry Sarah
August 2nd, 2011 at 8:29 am
Awesome writing as always.
– Neil. xx
August 2nd, 2011 at 8:35 am
August 2nd, 2011 at 8:41 am
I was pointed to your blog by a retweet from Steven Moffat and I’m so glad I clicked on the link. What a fabulous piece of writing – thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable. Thank you.
August 2nd, 2011 at 8:44 am
That just sent me a shiver. I counted up how many houses I have lived in: 21! I know the putting down roots is very strange to some of us.
Great writing. Xx
August 2nd, 2011 at 9:30 am
I also followed the retweet from Steven Moffat and am glad I did. I live in the house that my parents moved into when I was seven weeks old (I’m 45). This house has seen so much and I love it like a family member. It was built in 1987 and my dad even has a list of the people the builder bought the land off prior to building three back to back terraced rows of houses and building this one as a through house for himself. As you can see this house has a history and I love that!
August 2nd, 2011 at 9:31 am
Sorry the house was built in 1897 not 1987.
August 2nd, 2011 at 9:34 am
Thanks all for taking the time to read my ramblings..;-) houses are great, aren’t they? all full of forgotten stories…
August 2nd, 2011 at 9:49 am
Lovely post. I lost the first house I’d actually owned recently. I was surprised how different owning felt, but also how you do move on. My move was sudden and unexpected, the opposite of your drawn out sale, but I expect that you’ll find a new place to start memories in, just like I have (even though I’m now in the care of a rental house).
August 2nd, 2011 at 10:48 am
So true. Wonderful honest writing.
August 2nd, 2011 at 11:17 am
That is wonderful writing. 🙂
August 2nd, 2011 at 11:21 am
Lovely post. I agree with you on the personality of houses – and thankfully they’re not all like Shirley Jackson’s masterful creation! Long live magical thinking, eh? 🙂
August 2nd, 2011 at 12:45 pm
I also found the post via Steven Moffat’s retweet, just as I’m preparing to clear out the family home my father built 60 years ago. (My parents have just moved to a nursing facility.) Thanks for such extraordinary writing.
August 2nd, 2011 at 1:09 pm
August 2nd, 2011 at 4:50 pm
August 3rd, 2011 at 12:25 pm
Really enjoyed reading this Sarah. I’ve always been fascinated with the cultural significance of domestic space, and especially the idea of deteriorating domestic space and what we do to prevent or repair that. I will hang out here more often. I’ve added your blog to my blogroll at http://yellowblogroad.com with the description “poised, sensitive, visceral” which I think is apt of your writerly persona generally.
August 3rd, 2011 at 7:08 pm
Beautiful post. Just have to say, I’m jealous of you even being in the UK 🙂
(my creative writing blog)
August 4th, 2011 at 12:48 am
Wonderful. I will look at houses in a whole new way now….
August 7th, 2011 at 12:48 am
I absolutely loved this. I’m gonna try and work and tweak it into a story of my own, if that’s alright. 🙂
August 7th, 2011 at 7:43 am
Um… you can’t ‘tweak it’ or use my sentences etc, but you can certainly be inspired by it…;-)
August 13th, 2011 at 11:58 pm
Fantastic post. I know exactly what you mean. My last house was a wreck when I bought it, and I saved it from an evil builder, who wanted to demolish it and build flats. I repaired it, nurtured it, and it did the same for me. Then, earlier this year, I just knew it was time to go. So, the house went on the market. I moved into a rental until it was sold. Now, when I go back to the old house, I know I don’t belong there anymore. It doesn’t want me there either. Its time for both of us to form new relationships.
Spooky as hell, now I come to think about it.
March 17th, 2012 at 2:13 pm
Inspiring and interesting
March 10th, 2013 at 11:09 am
Definitely the very best story I’ve ever checked out