Monday, September 14, 2015

The OddHouse

Some days, life hurts my ears.

Due to the echo-y dwelling I've lived in since June, there is not one spot within the four walls to find silence. I've closed multiple doors, have turned on fans, ran the dryer. The backyard is no real sanctuary, since the windows are usually open, and noise bleeds right through.

Over the past several years, there have been multiple tenants in this strange house we've owned, about eight groups in varied formation who've moved in, and then moved out. The track record hasn't been great: Two renters had to be hospitalized for depression, several suffered mysterious health problems, at least one miscarried, and multiple couples divorced.

Only one, the longest-staying, seemed unscathed by the place. I think the toughness gained from their having been in the military might have had something to do with that.

"The place should've never been built," said the last tenant, a feisty senior citizen with a distinct Chicago accent who moved out with his wife before the syndrome could set in. I was surprised at his comment. Someone was finally saying out loud what I'd thought all along.

"It's an afterthought," he'd gone on, "Look at the shape of the yard and this unusually long driveway. The builder wanted to make an extra buck, and cut space off the yards of the houses on either side."

I looked to my left and to my right, and it was undeniable.

I truly used to think that maybe the place was haunted, had some weird vibes, and swore I'd never live here, yet life's sort of I am. These days, I'm not sure about any hauntings...I now think the root of the other tenants' problems was simply the bizzaro floor plan. Rooms right on top of one another, narrow hallways, off-centered windows and walls that create mental noise on top of physical noise. The place is just kind of off, and adding volume to the mix doesn't help.

I don't blame the others for going a little bonkers, lacking the option of being alone with themselves; most souls need solitude. When souls don't get that, the human body tends to rebel.

Gagging the chief offender is probably all kinds of illegal, but in weaker moments I've thought about that, while whispering strong suggestions to "cut it" without being heard. (Door closed, yelling into a pillow).

"I can't stand a quiet house," several friends who've grown up in big families have said.

Well, I grew up in a big family, too, and I can stand the quiet just fine. I can stand it so well that when I house and God-dog sat for my youngest sister for ten days, I hardly went outdoors. The absolute, uninterrupted peace was what I'd been craving since birth.

"C'mon, Ame! Don't just sit there!" my older sister used to say, "Let's go do something!"

Yet being away from what I viewed as an insane, useless scuffle in the common area of our growing-up house was my version of doing something. I was actively avoiding the over-activity.

That didn't mean that I was antisocial, boring, or unimaginative. That didn't mean that I was lazy or lacked ambition. In those cases, I'm recharging my batteries so I can dive back in with renewed energy. I'm more than happy to be around people. I'm usually one of the last to leave a good party, I've been known to unknowingly close restaurants with small groups of friends, and I love encountering new and interesting personalities. But I need my downtime, too, and if I don't get it, I don't function.

Honestly, I'm wary of people who have to be "on" all the time, and who have a serious aversion to being alone with their thoughts. It takes a whole heckuva lot more energy to try to outrun yourself than to just take some time and sort stuff out. And, not news: that plan won't work.

So, for now, I'm thinking of those who've bravely gone before at this super-wonky "OddHouse", not even wanting to ponder what the winter hibernation months will bring. And I'm praying for peace on earth, which in turn will nurture goodwill towards men.

And...I'm ear-plugging it.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The True Meaning of Station Wagons

I knew my friend Susan was getting ready to leave this world when I met her.

Being around someone who is terminal can be awkward, and I'm the Queen of Awkward sometimes. Case in point: out of pure habit, I walked into her home for the first time, and greeting Susan with the words, "Hi, how are you?"

She was sitting weakly in a recliner, hairless and pale. She pointed to her head and said, "Well...there's this."

We talked about all kinds of things. When I told her about the station wagon I'd been hauled to Idaho against my will in, an auto with lovely faux wooden panels, she laughed and said she'd had to endure riding in one of those, too.

"Who are we kidding," I told Susan, "a lot of the SUVs these days are nothing more than glorified station wagons."

To prove my point, I started taking photos of current SUVs and texted them over to her. She got a kick out of that, and I got a kick out of being right. One blissful day, I found the piece de resistance out in the grocery store parking lot: A 1970s, faded brown number with faux wooden panels. I quickly took a photo and sent it to Susan.

We were both familiar with the classic olive green wreck that sat along Highway 55 in Cascade, and talked about it often. I almost took a photo of it many times, but for some reason never did.

I went to see Susan one last time. She was exhausted, and hadn't talked much, but managed to tell the woman caring for her, "This is the station wagon friend I told you about."

I was okay with that title.

The day Susan passed to the other side, I saw station wagons everywhere I looked. I'd wanted to ask her for some sort of sign when she got to heaven that it was all real, that she was okay, that there was a God that loved me more than I could imagine. Since she was a dancer, I thought maybe I'd ask her to put some dancing in my life...then I'd know. I never gathered the nerve to ask anything like that of her, though.

But I think the station wagons are my signs.
I keep seeing them.

Walking out of Susan's celebration of life into the sunlit parking lot, I stopped short when seeing the shiny hearse that would take her body to its resting place. I shook my head. No wonder neither of us liked station wagons. Deep inside we must've known what they really looked of those babies. And...(crap!) matter how hard we might try to avoid it, we're going to end up in one of those, anyway.  She was getting ready to ride in one, and so was I, someday. The irony.

I can't get the station wagons out of my head lately. In honor of Susan, and to purge some of the emotions wrapped up in all of that, I began to paint myself a station wagon. Its odd salmon color unexpected, the poignant sunset sky in the background and even the trees were a surprise. The setting looked like somewhere I might want to be.

It occurred to me that although station wagons were ugly, not sleek, just functional, really...that they usually took me to places that wound up being good for me. As a child, I had no control over where the driver decided my destination was, and I'd resented that, not having a say. But an ugly old red 1970s station wagon with faux wooden panels took me to Idaho, where I grew, became a mother, and met people like my friend Susan. It was all for the good.
I'm looking at getting another SUV, and darned if the ones that are growing on me don't look just like another "guess what". If I do get something like that, I'm sure Susan will get a laugh out of it.

I'm going to welcome the station wagons of life, and of the next life. And I'm going to trust the driver.

And every time I see a station wagon, or even an SUV that looks like one, I'll think of what I've been taught about trust, about the adventure of the unknown, and I'll be okay with it all.

I hope I see one today.

*Prints of this painting, done in memory of Susan (Lee) Ellis, are available. Message me here.