The House

Addiction (2015 by Emma Bush)

You think I’m gone?
That makes me laugh.
You thing you’ve won!?
Keep thinking that.
I’m just waiting.
My time will come.
While you’re getting lazy,
I’m getting strong.
YOU THINK YOU LIVE HERE?
This is MY home.

 

Short story I wrote back in 2008, before I really knew what it was like to lose to addiction…but like a sour feeling in my stomach…I felt like I was beginning to…I was losing the function in functional…

I never doubted that the House existed even though I had yet to see it with my own eyes.  I didn’t need to see it to believe it was there.  It was like the wind.  Something you could feel; something that thickened the air.  You could read it on people’s faces, a knowledge, like a legend hardly spoken of for fear that words made it a reality. But it was as certain as the sunrise and sunset, like cloudy days and unexpected storms.  It just was.  A mystery, something my curious hands longed to inspect, a piece to a puzzle I had yet to put together hidden inside the thick of the woods on the outside of town.

In childhood my understanding of the House came in fragmented whispers of conversations I overheard the adults in my family talking about.  They were usually conversations making reference to my Uncle, who had never returned, and the conversation would dissipate as soon as they realized I was in earshot.  My Uncle had never come home from the House.  People who would go missing while visiting it became ghosts.  Their presence would be replaced by that sullen silence that comes in the aftermath of grief.

By the time I was a teenager, however, my peers began to explore the possibilities of the House for themselves.  I would listen to their stories, and try to make sense of their drastically varied versions of it.  I had heard it both described as a wonderland, and a hell.  I was told it was a playground and a curse, depending on who was sharing their knowledge with me.  I couldn’t make sense of it.  One person had told me it was a mansion, with everything they could ever want inside.  Another friend described it as hardly a shed, run down, overgrown, with broken windows and cobwebs in the corners.

However diverse people’s memories and stories of the House were, nothing was quite as frightening to me as those tales of the people who had never returned from it.  Those tales like that of my uncle.  His absence left a void in the family, a hole that couldn’t be filled.

The notion that someone had been consumed by the House was something that both haunted me and teased my curiosity…and I suppose it was only a matter of time before my curiosity would get the best of me.  By the time I reached young adulthood I was prepared for the adventures of things beyond my experience.  I longed to gain in order to gain relief from a life I had become disenchanted with.  Life had become burdensome, as was typical for people my age.  Even the most magical of childhoods are doomed to dissolve into the boredom of routine that comes with the responsibility of adulthood.

It was a conscious decision.  I needed to see it for myself.  I wanted to know the truth.  I wanted to see what it was that had been so appealing to my uncle that he would ultimately abandon us to it…

I waited until nightfall so that I could slip into the forest unseen, without worrying about neighbors spotting me and spreading rumors, or someone tailing me and watching me make a fool of myself.  It was a quiet town for the most part.  Once the sun fell, the stores closed, and everyone seemed to disappear until a new day would invite them back outside.  I mingled with the shadows until I was out of the center of town and standing on the border of the forest.  This forest.  The forest.  The one I had spent my life oddly infatuated with.

The foliage was thick and there was no direct trail that carved its way, which was something I found odd.  For something that seemed frequented by so many, I was surprised it wasn’t a paved pathway, but I suppose as is true with much in life, everyone has to forge their own path even if it’s to reach the same destination.  Just as every circumstance is different, so is every trail that led anyone to the House.

It took nearly ten minutes for me to forge my way blindly through the unlit, overgrown trail.  When I finally reached the House I hesitated in front of it.  The forest opened up into a beautiful, well manicured yard, with a garden to the left side, a fire pit next to a pond on the right side, and an orchard in the backyard.  The House itself was more glorious than I could have ever imagined it to be.  It was a Victorian style house, a light yellow that made it glow alongside the property it rested on in the moonlight.  Through the windows with red curtains came the warm glow of lamplight.  I had always known it was there, but this was the first time I was drinking it in with my own senses.

The door opened up into a receptive room with plush carpets and pillowy furniture.  My jaw dropped as I welcomed myself into the comfortable warmth that was emanating from the crackling fire in the fireplace.  I slipped out of my shoes and sat down next to the fireplace and allowed myself to become entranced by the whimsical dancing of the flames.  How had I not ventured to this place before, I thought to myself.

I went from room to room, eagerly exploring every nook and cranny and every mystery this house contained.  It smelled like freshly baked apple pies and pumpkin spice candles.  Why hadn’t I come here years ago?  It was like life was making sense to me for the first time.  Finding the House was like finding a pair of slippers I hadn’t realized I was missing.  I felt like I had arrived.  I felt as if I was finally where I belonged.

I had friends that would accompany to the House after I had proven to myself that it was safe.  I found myself sneaking off to the House anytime I felt overwhelmed with my life.  It was where I found relief from my stressors.  It’s where I went to make sense of the world and to escape it all in the same breath.  I discovered that I preferred to have the House all to myself.  I found myself craving it.

After several months, something shifted.  Something subtle changed.  When I was at the House it would be something insidious that you didn’t notice at first.  Less wood in the fire.  A definite drop of temperature.  And when I wasn’t at the House, it was in my behavior.  I was quicker to anger.  I started to isolate.  And these changes continued.  It was almost as if by the time I caught them it was too late.

Life became a juggling act.  I would go through the motions at work, and with friends and family of whom I was continuing to distance myself from.  I lived simply for the moment my obligations had been attended to and I was able to escape into those increasingly dark and overgrown woods to be alone at the House.

One day I whistled down the walkway to the House but noticed the pond had dried up.  The front yard had become overgrown.  The fruit was rotting off the trees in the orchard.  When I walked inside the fire was not lit at all.  It was rather curious as in the past it had always been burning upon my arrival.  There was more than that; something was off.  Something was different about the House now, markedly so, and I didn’t understand why.  The welcoming aroma of burning candles had faded away into a repugnant mixture of mildew and mold.

These changes alarmed me but didn’t deter me.  I continued to go to the House, each time hoping to find it under repair only to see it disintegrate in front of my eyes.  The carpets that used to massage my feet were becoming grimy with dirt and stained by water damage.  The wallpaper that had once added so much character was now bubbling at the surface and slumping off the walls.  Everything seemed to be affected.  Even the walls were shrinking, caving in on themselves so that before I knew it I was standing in a six by six box of a room with no place for a chair or TV.  How had this happened?  How had my illustrious House been reduced to such a bare bones piece of construction?   But I continued to visit the House, even though it was no longer warm or inviting, but because I remembered when it had been and decided that I could wait patiently for the day that it would be again.

It became evident to me through much denial and stubbornness that the House, in its current state of ill repair, was affecting all areas of my life.  When I was at home I stared in disbelief at my reflection in the bathroom mirror.  My skin had become pale and the circles under my eyes had become pronounced.  I looked sickly.  I had to blink several times to convince myself it truly was my reflection staring back at me as I was finding it difficult to recognize myself.  The whole business was frighteningly unsettling and it was at that moment I resolved to pick up my life where it had been before I had discovered the House.  I decided to no longer waste my hours there, waiting for it to be something that it clearly no longer was.  It was time I began to devote more of myself to the world in front of me; not the world of the House I longed to get lost in, but the one at my fingertips that had seemingly noticed my absence.

But it would seem that no matter how far I had strayed from it over the days that droned by, its arms were always reaching out for me, like branches from a tree, snagging my clothing and pulling me in.   After nearly a month of avoiding it I giddily set foot back into the forests on the edge of town to check its condition.  I was hoping that in the time I had been gone it would have reverted back to its original self.  I convinced myself that it wouldn’t hurt to check on it one last time.

I felt despair as the forest opened up to reveal what was now hardly a box slung together with flimsy slabs of plywood and rusted nails.  I felt my stomach sink and my hands shake with anticipation as I hoped against my better judgment that perhaps inside the House was in better standing.  All but one window had disappeared and I found myself longing for even the broken ones that had been there last time I had visited.

I opened the door and gently shut it behind me and stood, lonely the moment I walked through the threshold, in the single dilapidated room that my once magnificent House had been reduced to.  I was frustrated that I still felt it’s pull.  It was magnetic.  It was automatic.  I felt drawn to that room, even in its pathetic condition, I felt it worthwhile to sit and wait hoping that by some miracle it may burst into the splendid thing it had once been.  I sat there, shivering in the damp air, sitting on the floor with my knees to my chest, crying.  I felt sorry for myself.

When I looked up I felt an odd sense of doom as I realized that the door I had only hours ago passed through had disappeared.  I stood up, apprehensive, and went to the wall that had taken its place; felt the cold, jagged edge of the un-sanded wood with my palms.  Even though from the outside all things appeared flimsy, from the inside the construction was firm, and sturdy.  Impenetrable.

In my gut I knew I was running out of time.  If I wasn’t careful I would end up trapped inside it; an oversized coffin begging for me to occupy it.  I looked at the lone window, now the only way in or out. The time had come for me to leave the house once and for all, and I knocked loose the jagged pieces of protruding glass from the broken pane and lifted myself out of it, thudding onto the soft muddy forest floor that had only months ago been artfully landscaped.

My heart was pounding in my chest and the air was leaving my throat in jagged, nervous bursts that clouded up in front of my face.  I looked at the disgusting, run down shack that I had once loved so much and in my heart I let go of it.  It was time to leave it behind.  I had no other choice now.  That was clear to me.

But I had hardly begun to walk away when I heard it calling to me.  When I felt the familiar tapping on my shoulder, that inexplicable pull, and I hesitated, turned, and faced it head on.  It was like it was speaking to me, asking for another chance.

In this moment it occurred to me that, although it was currently in disrepair, the House had been ever-changing and who was I to say it would always stay in this condition? I took a step closer as I contemplated this possibility, as I felt the invisible tug that was drawing me toward it.  Who was I to say that it couldn’t go back to being the amazing place that it had been when I first discovered it?  Maybe I had been going about it all wrong; treating it like a playground and not like a place I respected.  Maybe I could try again.  My obsession with it was beyond my understanding.  The House’s appeal had long since been cunning, baffling, powerful.  Who was I to give up on that?  How was I to know that right then, at that moment, my favorite couch hadn’t popped back into its place and there wasn’t a fireplace with wood in it waiting to be lit?  Could I say that for sure?

One last time.  What would it really hurt, anyway, if I were to sit inside it one last time?  I needed to be certain.  If I could figure out a way to control the House somehow, then I would be able to go back to that place of enjoying it.

I climbed through the window and as soon as my feet landed on the dirt floor that had replaced my once lavish carpet, I was dissatisfied with what I saw.  If only my longing were enough to transform it back to what it had been.  As I stood there, resting my head against the mildewy walls, I took the time to remember all that I had ever heard of the house.  I recalled all of those stories that I had heard.  I realized that I too could now relate to the tales of cobwebs and creaky doors.  I realized that perhaps there had been knowledge in those cautionary tales, and that I would have been wise to heed them.  I thought of my Uncle.  About how he had never come back.  And suddenly with knowing and with acceptance, I looked up and realized that the window I had come through had now disappeared, and had also been replaced by wall.

That was the moment I realized I would never be coming home.  My one last time had been just that…the last time.

Leave a Reply