Friday, April 27, 2007
Haunting the open house
At some point during the past two years, I had to acknowledge that I was crossing a line. What I was doing fell somewhere between stalking and haunting. But certain magnetic forces are irresistible. And that's a shorthand way of explaining how I became the Ghost of Judy Farm Road.
Judy Farm Road was my address for the first sixteen years of my life. When I was a junior in high school, we moved across town to another part of Carlisle. Not long after that I went off to college and then started adulthood in a series of apartments and small houses in other zip codes.
Then my husband and I settled back in Carlisle in our own home, and Judy Farm Road was not a place where I ever expected to find myself. Until the owners of our old house decided to sell, and the realtor started holding open houses.
I had actually visited the house once before and wrote about it, a little over two years ago. The woman who was renting it before it went on the market heard from mutual friends of my interest in visiting my childhood homestead and invited me over. She was very generous to do so, but I was highly conscious of being a guest in the house. It was full of her family's furnishings and belongings; I couldn't bury my face in the dining room drapes while she made polite conversation with me.
But then that family moved out and the house was empty. And that's when I became the Ghost of Judy Farm Road, because at open houses, with small groups of people moving intermittently through the rooms while the realtor kept a discreet distance away in the kitchen, I could do almost anything without attracting attention. I could curl up in a fetal position in the farthest corner of the closet in my old bedroom, just like I used to do when I was five. I knew this because, in what I now think of as my Augusten Burroughs moments, I'd tried it.
Not only did I go to that first open house; I was the first person through the door, and brought my daughter with me. Of course everything looked smaller than I remembered. And naturally, things had changed somewhat, with the addition of a large new two-story room and an in-ground pool.
But it was so comforting to give material reality to my childhood memories. I touched the big rock in front of the house that I used to sit on while waiting for the school bus. I looked out the kitchen window to the grove of trees where my tree house once perched. To not only remember but take in the sensory reality of my old environment was astonishingly poignant.
When another open house was scheduled a few months later, I brought my husband and both children. By the time the third open-house date came up, my daughter was tired of the routine. "Do we hafta go back to that house where you used to live again?" she demanded.
So I went alone.
I'm not sure why I found it so compelling. I don't mean to glorify my memories of the past; no one's childhood is a nonstop carnival of happiness. But being at that house brought back all the good parts. I remembered holidays and cozy winter afternoons and the smell when we first walked in after returning from summer vacation. I remembered all the mornings I woke up on my birthday and the nights I lay awake before the first day of school. I remembered years' worth of houseguests, dinner parties my parents held, neighbors who dropped by.
It could have been just a little bit my fault that the house didn't sell faster. Maybe it didn't help that the other viewers who attended the open houses often found me lying on the playroom carpet staring through the skylight at the trees — which are taller now than they were 25 years ago, but otherwise in the same configuration — or running my fingers across the bathtub tiles. Maybe they weren't quite willing to believe that I wouldn't still show up and want to inhale the scent of the laundry room once they'd moved in.
So I decided it was time to stop stalking the house. I wanted to think my obsession with it increased the appeal for would-be buyers — surely your children will be just as happy in this house as I was! — but it's possible the effect was more like the ex-girlfriend who maintains a relationship with the guy that's just a little too affectionate for the new girlfriend's comfort level.
Last week, I learned that the house had sold, and I'm sincerely happy about that. Ultimately, I wanted all along for the house to find new owners who would be happy there. At least for a while. And then once they're ready to move on, they can put the house on the market again.
At which time, rest assured, I'll be back.
© 2007 The Carlisle Mosquito