I tried to go home last night. My vision was to visit my split-level, childhood home, sold by my parents some 30 years ago. I was in the general area for the holidays so I thought I’d walk up to that front door and ring the doorbell to see what would happen.
I knew showing up on a stranger’s doorstep came with some risk: These people didn’t know me from Adam, and they might be a little creeped out by the middle-aged woman dropping in and asking to look around. But I wanted to try.
So I parked my car in my old spot in the driveway, drew a deep breath and touched my finger to the doorbell. I was greeted by an older woman, a look of curiosity forming across her face. Asking if she could help me.
I explained to her who I was and why I was there. She asked if I was Vaughn’s daughter. I was and I said so. Turns out she and her husband purchased the home from my parents all those years ago and were still there. It felt like the slightest connection that she remembered my dad and hope took hold in the pit of my stomach that she might let me in.
She was sick, she informed me, and her husband was just getting over that same virus. They wouldn’t want to expose me to it. I was welcome to take a peek from the threshold, though, if I wanted.
We chatted for a few minutes as my eyes scanned the foyer and sought out as much of the interior as they could from the outside in. It was chilly as I stood on the concrete porch, staring past the old wooden door she held open. Most of what I could see looked somewhat familiar, if not slightly altered in the color of the walls and type of carpeting on the floors.
Soon it became a bit awkward to remain there at the door, at least for me, so I said my goodbyes and walked back to my car, past the living room’s picture window, the same one I through which I had gazed so many comings and goings over the years.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, if anything. But I know what I wanted.
I had hoped to walk into that house and revisit the living room where our Christmas tree had sat in the corner every year since I remembered the holidays. To see all the family gatherings in that room, or times when friends and relatives had come for dinner and stayed on to chat over drinks perched on the heavy, rectangular coffee table.
Or to wander upstairs and look into the bedrooms. Would my brother’s room still sport the bicentennial wallpaper and red shag carpeting? Would the windowsills in my bedroom still show my initials, which I carved in with a paper clip? How about the hall bathroom — could it still possibly be home to a pink tub and Formica countertops?
I wanted to walk down the stairs and look into the office my parents had shared, the headquarters of their own business. All these years later, I marvel at the fact that they so peacefully worked side by side, day after day. I don’t think it’s something my husband and I could sustain.
Had I peered into the laundry/utility room, would I have been able to envision my Siamese cat, curled up on a pile of shirts thrown down through the chute? Would I be able to smell the abrasive, industrial bar of soap we kept on that utility sink? Did the new family keep their various board games and kids’ instruments on the shelves for rainy day play as we had?
I wished to step into the long kitchen and look through its windows into the back yard, to know if the old A-frame playhouse my dad built us still stood at the edge of the lawn. To open the door into the garage and see if it still contained any remnants of the clutter my brother and I so expertly scattered around its perimeters. A deflated football, a red paint chip from our old wagon, or perhaps an old piece of pottery scavenged from the adjacent vacant lot.
Not having the opportunity to do any of the above — and knowing in my heart that the home had to be different — I realized my memories would have to suffice. The warm, cozy feelings of a secure, wonderful childhood would need to sustain me.
That’s probably a good thing, I guess. Reality is, everything in that house had to be different because it was no longer ours. No matter the color of the bathroom tile or the placement of board games, it was just the container my family used to make a life. The warm, cozy feelings of a secure, wonderful childhood—that’s what would have to sustain me.
Apparently, you can’t go home again.
Amanda Loudin is a freelance writer with a focus on health and fitness. You can find more of her work on her website.