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Nonfiction

Rebecca Eckland


A house: a structural arrangement of space, geometrically laid out to provide what are called rooms, these divided from one another by verticals and horizontals called walls, ceilings, floors. The house contains the home but it is not identical with it. The house anticipates the home and will very likely survive it, reverting again simply house when home (that is, life) departs. For only where there is life can there be home.
— Joyce Carol Oates, “They All Just Went Away.”

1.

I can’t see the opposite side of the living room on Mayberry Lane in my memory, but I can see the living room of an old estate called Bowers Mansion as though I’m standing there, now, and not sitting here alone, writing. It’s a disconnection of time and place, a fundamental detail pointing to my cold heart, perhaps; how I can remember a past I wasn’t a part of, but I can’t remember the house my mother and me shared for nearly three years after her first marriage to my father ended and before the second marriage to my stepfather began.

I can’t imagine my mother, as she was, then; the couch we had, the beds we slept in, the plates we ate off of, or even the way the place would have smelled. What I do know: the house was—and is—small compared to the vastness of Nevada. Those walls of that little house limited the way the eye could roam for miles. And then, as now, my mother strongly objected to dust or clutter; and me (as a child of two or three years old) was a skilled producer of both. 

I do know that the maple-wood floor in the Mayberry house was dazzling clean; reflecting the sunlight when it slanted through the narrow window panes. Maple-wood in straight-lined planks which I believe had—and, have—an affinity with the world outside. So, for me, the wooden floors are one and the same as the forests of Sierra Nevada and has (since) connected in my mind to any ground under my feet (wood, tile, clay, dirt or otherwise) since I now live in the same town in a space not so far away. 

Or, no matter where I live there is always that: the same ground. Similar ground that all families have—always—trod upon. There are too many parallels between intimate spaces or maybe not ever enough when you live alone.

Anyway, my mother believes she is old (at sixty-one) and close to dying. She’s neither, of course, but I think about those walls in the Mayberry house and wonder what versions of ourselves lived within them and where they’ve gone.

2.

I stand before the large single-paned window in my living room and gaze out at the empty street far below, a road which connects me to my childhood home. Now—as an adult—I can let the dust accumulate until I’m swimming in it. My mom hardly visits (the drive is too long and her eyes aren’t as good in the dark) and I’ve got no one else to come here and check in on me, but I clean as often as I can. It’s not because I’m afraid of what awaits me as a single thirty-something woman or because filth means there’s something wrong with me. Instead, it’s because I want to keep the memories I hardly have of her. Maybe so that I can understand something of myself, who I’ll be, after loss and the learning to live with it in the years to come.

3.

There were two of us in that tiny house on Mayberry Lane: my mom and I. It was our first house together after the divorce which I don’t remember since I was so young (not quite two years old). 

Mayberry Lane consists (mostly) of old brick houses built in the 1930s. I was only four when we lived there and now, when I drive by the house my mom and I occupied I’m amazed at how empty my memory is. Empty like the lack of dust on those maple-wood floors or the kitchen cabinets, a metallic—and mellow—yellow. The living room with the old brick wood-burning fireplace where she had a Christmas party, once, with coworkers who came wearing argyle sweaters and polyester slacks on a cold December night in 1986. Those big, multi-colored bubble lights on the Christmas tree. 

4.

I’m having a Christmas party this year. It’s 2013 and I’m thirty-one years old. I dress up in some short black number with sequins (something Mom would never wear) and serve up a bowl of nuts in their shells (like Mom used to do) and worry that my living space will somehow reveal the worst parts about me. My lack of a Christmas tree, for instance; or the 600 feet of white lights I’ve strung through the exposed rafters with ornaments dangling from the green wire. Every ornament but mistletoe.

I can’t stand the thought of it.

 

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