I was back in New York and I wanted to be busy. It was not easy. I did have yoga classes to sample. And I had the three college friends. Sometimes there was Thea. My parents and two sisters took up some of the remaining space.
My mother and father were selling the house they had owned since I was three years old, a house that though we had not always lived in it – moving in and out several times – had always defined us as a family. It was a part of us.
I remembered the house from when I was little and it was the very beginning. My mother spackled the walls of the kitchen and painted them white. Workmen sat around in a circle at the bottom of the hill and ate thick sandwiches of meat and cheese. There was glass in the dirt near the house.
It was an old house, my parents said, and my mother showed me how a road used to go right by the house, a road that was now just a grassy open passage, cutting through woods. The house – white clapboard – stood on a slope overlooking the new road. There was always something ragged about it, more rough-edged than the smooth suburban homes where other people lived.
By the time I finished high school and we had returned to the house for the last time, my father had refined some of the rough edges so that when you drew up to the front door now the house looked more luxurious than it actually was, a rose trellis leading to a two-car garage. He left the huge spreading maple from which my mother had hung a swing for me in the early years. By the end, the swing was long gone, but a path of white gravel led you to the front door.
And now they had to sell the house. I knew it was because my father could not pay his bills. He was declaring bankruptcy. I received the news as lightly as if he were mentioning that he was getting a tooth removed. We did not react to things. Feelings were embarrassing. We left each other’s inner worlds very much alone.
The house was within easy commuting distance from the city, easy to get on a train at Grand Central and get there in less than an hour. I was glad to have a place to go to on a warm Spring weekend.
My sisters were at the house that weekend – Basil had come down from Boston, and Esther was still in high school, living at home. It was the first time in years that all five of us – two parents, three daughters – had been together, and here, in this house.
It was exhilaratingly summery. The dandelions were blooming. My sisters and I – all between 15 and 23 – played music loudly from the stereo inside, loud enough so that we could hear it outside on the grass.
Our spread of grass was too irregularly shaped to be called a lawn. It sloped downhill and faded into woods on two sides. I remembered doing my first somersaults on this grass, demanding that my father watch as he passed by, pushing a weekend wheelbarrow. I remembered my mother and grandmother carrying the body of our German Shepherd, each of them holding two paws while his body dangled between, across the grass one morning to the hole they had dug. I remembered the blow-up wading pool on this grass and the game of red-light/green-light that a woman, the wife of a businessman who had come for dinner, generously played with us. The big lilac had always bloomed purple.
On this Saturday my sisters and I blasted reggae or Van Morrison and we danced, the three of us, on the grass. We had never done this when we all lived here. We had stayed alone in our rooms, reading, listening to radio privately.
But there was a new freedom that morning, a sense of power, and we danced almost as if we were taking over now. I felt it, a sense of flaunting – our beautiful flexible bodies that could do anything.
My mother prepared lunch in the kitchen. My father watched from a picnic table as he waited for the real estate agent who had said she would drop by. I put a dandelion behind my ear.