What’s a house got to do with it?

Most of us remember the nuances of the houses we grew up in. We know the nooks and crannies, and the sounds the house makes when it settles and groans. We know the clicking noise of the furnace kicking in, the whistling sound of the wind blowing through the windows, and how the gate slams as someone makes their way to the door. We can trust our way in the dark during power outages or to sneak food from the refrigerator at midnight because we know where the furniture is and where the stairs begin and end.

I lived in three different houses growing up, the first two in Michigan and the third in Minnesota. Each move brought more carpeting.  I lost the early warning system that wooden floors and creaky steps gave me as the carpet grew wall-to-wall.

The first nine years of my life I lived in Grant. I remember everything about that house. I could draw it in great detail; actually, I could draw all three houses in great detail. I liked this house the best, not only because the floors and stairs were wooden and creaky, but because I shared it with all my siblings at the same time. My parent’s attention was divided between the four of us children. When I was nine and we moved to the suburbs, the attention shifted away from my siblings and the spotlight fell directly on me.

Inside that first house, my bedroom was my refuge because of the windows. My sister and I had beds beneath the two windows looking out towards the front of the house. There was another window with a window-seat on the side of the room that faced the neighbor’s house. During the day, I would sit on the window-seat and read. Most nights as I lay in bed, I would turn my head towards that same window and imagine fire consuming the side of the neighbor’s house; intense bright orange flames licking high into the air. I was young but I was already finding ways to externalize the pain that was coursing through my body.

The living room was large and filled with gray furniture covered in thick plastic that you stuck to in the summer and froze on in the winter. The dining room had a fireplace along one wall, double glass doors leading to a porch, and a swinging door leading into the kitchen. That swinging door would make an earsplitting banging sound when an angry parent would smack it open when coming into or going out of the dining room. The kitchen had ugly dark green linoleum and two steps leading from it that either led you outside or if you turned right, led you down a steep set of stairs into the basement. The basement had a large room where the boys would use their wood burning sets and a corner where my father had his easel set up, a place where he would draw charcoal portraits of the family and neighbors.

Aside from the linoleum in the kitchen and the concrete of the basement, the rest of the house had hardwood floors and stairs. A few area rugs covered the center of the rooms but they did nothing to mask the sound of people walking or climbing the stairs.

The backyard seemed huge to me as a little girl.  We had a few apple trees, cattails growing behind the garage, and a round swimming pool. I remember the wild raspberries that grew against the chain link fence.

I played alone in that backyard for long periods of time. My refuge was behind the garage in a corner along the neighbor’s fence. There I stayed hidden, out of sight from all the windows on the back of the house and the porch. Standing behind the garage, hearing my heart beat like a hummingbird, I petted the cattails that grew by the fence. I picked the tiny purple violets to make bouquets that I would grip as tightly if they were my last friends in the world. I didn’t care that they wilted with the heat of my hands; I just wanted to look at the delicate petals and drink in their color. It was a solitary existence but solitary was far better than any kind of attention that I received inside of that house.

The energy inside our house was super-charged. Tension crackled in the air like electricity, no matter how many of us were inside. If there wasn’t some kind of abuse going on, there was a silence that hung so thick and heavy that I would find myself looking down at the floor, or fidgeting, not knowing what to do with your hands. Opera or classical music sometimes blared from the stereo, a macabre contrast to the silence. At other times the volume of the music would alert us to what was going to happen next; the rising crescendo seemed to egg my parents on and steel us for explosive abuse.

excerpt from, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph


Thank you for reading Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph



9 thoughts on “What’s a house got to do with it?

  1. dbest1ishere

    I try not to think about the house where I grew up because it is all too painful. I will never go back to see it, but I too can visualisse it all in my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I did find some relief, yes. It was a place where I was incarcerated for the longest two years of my life, from age 14 – 16. The place I am talking about is the massive state insane asylum in Nevada, Missouri, where my abusive parents put me, against my doctor’s advice, in the late 1960s.

    Their abuse drove me to a post traumatic breakdown at the age of 14. But PTSD was not an official psychiatric diagnosis until many years later, in 1980. So back in those days, when I was a young teenager, although my behavior was never threatening or out of control in any way, I was considered “crazy.” And that was what our society did back then with the mentally challenged people — they locked you up and threw away the key.

    A couple of years ago, my husband and I drove more than 700 miles each way to visit the big empty field where the huge gothic style building used to be. It was the largest building in the state at the time of its construction, more than a mile in circumference.

    Standing in the spot where I had been locked up as a young girl was surreal. The place was crowded to overflowing during my time there. I kept thinking: Where did all the people go? The place where the building stood is a huge park-like field of grass. But it still exists, real and solid, in my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is so evocative. When I read this passage in your book, and again when I read it here, my mind flashed back to those childhood places that I haven’t seen in decades — and yet, those places have never left me, and I have never completely left them.

    The place that haunts me the most was torn down years ago. But the walls, the ceilings, the floors, the doors, the windows, the beds, the dishes, the chairs, live on in my memory.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. And I think of you often as well, Nancy. I wish I could track down the people who out you in the position to contract your illness and the side-effects from it. Im always rooting for you, and dance with you in your dreams. You are such an inspiration to me. 💕💕💕 A.


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