[Draft from 2009, updated for 2013 and pushed to the front. There’ll be an update entry in the future, likely a bit longer. This particular piece, which maps closely to memories of dreams and the actual encounter, has haunted me for some time.]
They say you can never go back home.
So not true.
At night, in dreams, I’ve gone back to my childhood home a half a dozen-hundred times. The original house was a small, flat-roofed two bedroom on 20 acres in the western foothills of Mt. Hood. On nocturnal replay, it’s gained vast tracts of open or forested land, secret rooms, extra stories and half stories, escape hatches to rooftop solariums, and back staircases designed to foil burglars by leading upward into the basement. It’s been a rambling overgrown mansion in a rainforest–like a gothic Mayan temple. It once had a room next to the chimney for a giraffe who never slept at home because of the coyotes. Our big black lab Cinder is always there and ever dependable and my dad is almost never a son of a bitch, and when he is I remember that I can fly. Or use the escape hatch. In my dreams, these mods were exactly as they should be and I remembered them.
You dream something often enough, you feel compelled to check reality.
Ten years ago, on the way back from a wedding near Mt. Hood, I convinced Deborah that we should swing by the homestead and check that the house had remained one story and had not become the rambling hideout to a worldwide crime organization or been dozed and replaced with a log castle.
We took the left off US 26 W onto McCabe road, left on Dowling road, still gravel, and down the bent hairpin towards our old drive, formerly end of the road for city traffic (and now 22800 SE 476th Ave–Ave!**). I saw the familiar farms and creek and woods. I saw new mini mansions but wasn’t surprised–the view goes all the way to Mt. Rainer on a good day and Mt. St. Helens on the average day. Time has made it a rich man’s view.
And then, as the cutbank above the road smoothed out I saw 20 acres that had turned its back on the view and the neighbors. Alder and fir had reclaimed the berry fields and hid the house. The driveway entrance was gated and locked and partly bound up in goldenrod and Scotch broom.
We just sat for a bit. I pointed out that the place had Please Trespass written all over it. Very pregnant with soon-be-Sophie, Debby propped her feet up and told me to take the hammer from under the driver’s seat.
I jumped the gate and almost onto a red ant fortress–unchallenged, they had built three trembling, waist-high mounds with border patrols that I considered stomping then, thinking of Debby, skipped over. I lingered past the old apple tree that once held our tire swing and our best apples, collapsed but still in bloom (like a murdered bride I think now). Those changes didn’t set me back. They seemed like normal symptoms of age and abandonment. It was the shadowy tunnel of fir trees where there’d been none, too damn tall and knit together. Hungry trees that had eaten the strawberry field and now swallowed the crunch of gravel under my feet, right up to the dark mouth of the old garage that had been our robber’s haunt and now felt more like Shelob’s lair. Well, Shelob’s a fictional character. I used a stick to whip down the biggest webs, peered through the brown streaked window in the back, and saw part of a porch. I knocked out the window and wall underneath and squeezed through.
The house was on its way to becoming a hillock. Small trees grew out of the roof. Blackberry and moss clung to the walls which had been painted or faded to a flat grey. The big ash–old when I was young–had snapped and crushed the front steps. Someone had pushed a refrigerator through the floor of the front porch. There was no front door. Well, it was still my old home. I skittered up the trunk and over the fridge, stuck my head in the doorway, and called out a pretty gutsy hello.
My next memory is standing just inside my old bedroom, where fir and ash limbs had broken in and dropped seeds that sprouted between the floorboards and become the most magical page in Where the Wild Things Are–all I needed was a wolf suit.
For about 10 seconds. Then I saw how blackberry vines had pulled the big picture window off the living room wall and pushed up through the fireplace hearth where we used to lay on cold evenings. A moldy overstuffed chair piled with newspaper faced out of the hole. [Needs more here…]
I could hear spiders skitter, and saw no spiders. An old white range had sunk partway into the kitchen floor. My parents’ bedroom doorway was a dark blank rectangle. I’d have to pass it to reach Dad’s old workroom in the back with his reloading bench (a favorite entry point in my dreams to secret areas of the house) .
Surreal dreams of familiar places are one thing. When dream and reality cuddle, two choices came to mind: split (psychosis) or skeedaddle. Mildly freaked, I skeedaddled. At the bottom of driveway I told Debby there was no reason to come back. Ever.
Now I wish I’d stayed a little longer. I wish I’d brought a camera. I would have taken photos, pasted them in a book, and written long captions of memories from my childhood about each location (where we ran through the foaming mud when they dug our well; where my dad hit my mom with his fist and she bounced a kettle off his head; where we faced down a pack of feral dogs; where my brother, my dad and I lay stargazing on summer nights while coyotes prowled at the edge of the yard); then added fractured memories from my Return Home dreams. Because the house I broke into was devoid of memory, devoid of anything but a forest that was much quieter than any I remember. I don’t think I’ve dreamt of it since then. I think I need one more trip, with the camera. I already have the captions. It’s worth it to go back, so that I can see more clearly going forward.
I also wish I had $200k and a bulldozer.
** On a map that now resembles no childhood memory or photo, or adult dream, and is barely a memory of that visit but is just close enough in terrain and house placement for me to identify. So you can go back, just not in Google Earth.