I used to be scared of every house that wasn’t the one I lived in. Now I’m only scared of the ones that make me sad.
I can’t live alone. It’s disgusting, I know, but it’s something I can’t do. For me at least to occupy the domestic space alone is to wander pointlessly before a crowd. (This is without looking outside- if I looked outside I would certainly die). When I eat by myself, I know that there is a presence opposite me, and behind and above me, and in the next room too. Later when it is dark I can’t sleep alone because when I get up in the morning I’m well aware that I’ve spent six or so hours with my eyes closed, being watched. I can’t acknowledge the thing or things watching me when I’m in bed because I’m afraid of what will happen if I do- I comply and play the role of sleeper. When I am not alone my belongings become one with their purpose, and in doing so force the walls and ceilings to themselves become compliant, to frame the potential for ordinary human life. When no one else is there these things become symbolic, words in a language acknowledged but never used, the debris of someone dead and gone.
We can never erase ourselves from a space because we were never there in a way that was agreeable with the timekeeping of the house. We were always being remembered, we knew it from the moment we walked in. Houses contain traces of everyone who ever lived in them, an infinity of thoughtless, repeated gestures signifying nothing but homeliness or loneliness or love or despair. Lines traced in enduring space twirl only to become knotted, a cacophony of ghosts, begging to be forgotten or at least to be seen as the one who was alive. The one who was real, the one who was really really there. We can trace back our actions and see them in the stains and echoed objects of another, of every other, of every person who lived and breathed and left, cut from us and them and into the walls of the house. The scarification is two-way: memory is cutting along the wound, or grasping for that thing that’s missing and should never have been there. It was never yours.
I keep thinking back to a house I viewed with my mother when I was a kid and how we could never afford it but went any way and how the paint cracked on the stairs and the railing grazed my eyes and how it was so tall and tucked away behind the oaks and bamboo with the muddy grass and mosquitoes. It was one of those places that was in the space of a second either so cold and damp that it rejected you, or so warm and familiar with rich dusty light that it asked you to stay forever, to lay down and sleep. Time moves slower in either case, but what you do in that time regained alters your relationship with both the place and the passage of time itself. Memory was repelled from it, like oil from water. Although I was afraid of it I found myself in the sunroom and couldn’t figure out how I got there. I must have walked in my sleep. All the walls were looking at me- they’d been watching me for what felt like years although it had only been a few minutes. Out the window toward the pond I thought I know that I will die here.
We left of course, in the heat of the day, but I knew that the house would never leave me. It took something from me, something important, and the dull hole I still now feel in my shoulder is a sign of the bargain to which I was from that day irreversibly bound. It still beckons, asking me to return, and I can feel its dust lining my soul, watching my thoughts, my fingernails dirty with its discoloured walls and thick beige carpet.