A Reflection Revision #1

By Marissa


Revised: 10-Feb-2011
Added: 10-Feb-2011

Average rating: 10
Identity Symbolism Houses Water Fire

A little story of identity.

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A Reflection

What is it about a house that makes it a home? Is it the way in which we embrace it, instinctively linking such spaces to the memories of our past? Or is it the way in which we imagine a potential future beneath its roof? I am not the one with the answers to these questions and in fact, they remain to be mysteries of my own. These are merely the deeply philosophical questions that haunt my mind as I kneel, with a paintbrush in my hand, beneath the merciless summer sun.

“Don’t saturate your brush so much,” a hired painter advises me. “It will make for less even strokes.”

I pause a moment to watch his own flawless brush strokes, effortlessly concealing the cracked and ancient paint that peels lifelessly upon the wooden siding. I wish that it were that easy, but for my shaky and unpractised hand a much greater effort seems to be demanded. So I dip the tip of my wide brush into the liquid color and persist to try, this time ignoring the sweat that beads upon my brow and focusing upon the careful application of this new coat.

I’ve always marvelled at the lengths people take to perfect the spaces in which they live, from the shade of hardwood upon the floors to the type of the flowers that perfume the air. Every house has a story - whether it be the communal accomplishment of raising its wooden beams from a pile of dirt or the diverse character of its new inhabitants.

Evidence of a past life can be found in the minute details of every home. Some may not be physical, but purely tokens of emotional value that can only be noticed through the eyes of their peer. These fragments of lives are not my own, but I can recognize them as someone who has had their own trail of memories, scattered like jagged pit stops upon a map.

My father is a freelance journalist. He is a slave to the chase, traveling from hotspot to yet another hotspot in search of the perfect story, his million dollar break and the answer to all of our financial troubles. Although I’m happy that he’s able to harbour such passion in his career, I resent it for the sacrifices that I’ve had to make. I never even had a choice in the matter, being only eleven years old when it first began to infiltrate my life. This wild pursuit of idealized stories has so far led no where but through a tiresome marathon of cities and towns. In this way, I can’t help but feel like a slave to it myself and that’s not supposed to be my role in the family. You see, we’ve spent all these years in search of stories that we’ve forgot all about writing our own.

“How’s the color?”

I bring myself back into the sunlight, blinking as though I’d never seen it before, and step back to admire our work. The new color is bolder than before, taking that familiar shade of tan into a whole new realm, like the bronzing of burnt sugar.

“It’s different,” I reply to the painter beside me.

He glances at me quizzically, as if sensing the underlying significance of my words and unsure how to treat them. “Is that a good thing?”

I throw him a small smile. “It could be.” For now, that would have to do. When it comes to change, on most days I feel as though I could survive in a hurricane - just stand my ground and feel the wind. However, this house that we are sanding, roofing, hammering, painting and polishing has the power to reduce me to my most vulnerable.

It’s the lakehouse.

My original house, the first place I came to after being born at the hospital. These walls standing loyally at my hands are the very same walls that I grew up within, the walls that kept me safe from the howling winds and warm from the bitter cold. It is the roof which kept me dry throughout the most violent of rainstorms and shaded from the scorching heat of August draughts, through eleven years of summer, fall, winter, and spring. It is the only place, amidst all six of the houses that I’ve lived in, that I can call home. I say this wholeheartedly, despite not having lived here for eight long years. It is a truth that resonates within my very bones - the only honest explanation for who I am today. Who exactly is that? I am a girl who’s attended six different schools in her eighteen years, lived in six different towns, driven along uncountable roads with the entirety of my possessions, packed and unpacked my life enough times that it became a dangerously natural task, and has finally graduated from that pathless, seemingly infinite journey without any sense of where I’m headed.

I was once a girl, however, who knew exactly what she wanted. I was young, albeit naïve, but at least I stomped the pavement of my neighbourhood with the confidence of someone who knew where she was going. I was a girl who knew the sounds of the summer wind through the lakeside reeds like she knew her mother’s lullaby. I can still feel the warm grains of sand between my toes and recall that if you dug a little deeper, curling your feet into the earth, that it would be cool beneath the sun kissed surface. I can still smell the rich aroma of fresh cut hay, burrowing itself into the crevices of my home.

Most prominently, I can still see the peaks of white capped waves outside my bedroom window, as the lake frothed and heaved, protesting it’s rocky restraints on a stormy day. Sitting upon the edge of our dock, listening to the whisper and hiss of raindrops upon the lake’s broken surface and letting my toes be submerged in the silvery touch of water, I had no reason to doubt my childish identity. I would dive beneath the blue, into the watery depths and swim down as deep into the all-consuming darkness as my lungs would allow, simply because I could. When they began to scream their violent protest, burning for oxygen, I would rise to the surface and savour the taste of air. That water, that air - it was free for the taking and I was determined to make it my own. Every evening my mother would call me in for dinner, her voice echoing across the water, as I lost my sense of time creating ripples in the indigo reflection of the sky.

“How was your day, Fin?” My dad would ask at the table, affectionately nicknaming me after a fish. I would simply smile back at him, unable to speak through my mouthfuls of food, wrapped in a towel and content with fatigue.

I was a girl with a dream, to be an athlete and one day swim my way to the Olympics. Then we moved away from that childhood haven and slowly the memories that I’ve for so long clung to began fading away, lost in the haze of houses, each one with it’s own potential that came and went like footprints upon our old beloved beach.

Now I drop my paintbrush into the tin can and collapse back against the sundeck, feeling the splinters of warm wood beneath my palms and letting my skin drink in the last of the rays. For so long, this was my own patch of sky. This has been my only home, lost for eight years, and finally then reunited. Ironic that it’s simply for the sake of selling it, as my family cannot afford to save it as a summer getaway any longer. For my successful and ambitious parents, my education is absolute priority amongst all other post high school desires, but despite that they cannot afford to pay for university. So the proposition is that if I can travel back to the lakehouse, fix it up and sell it, I can keep a portion of the profit and thus attend the school of my dreams. The only catch being that I have no university in my dreams, no dreams at all to speak of. They were abandoned somewhere, maybe along a dusty stretch of highway somewhere between homes.

Stretching my aching limbs, muscles stiff from a week of hard labour, I can finally admire what is about to be a finished product. My lakehouse, though different from the shining beacon of my memories, has truly never look better. I hate to sell it, to part with it at all. The setting September sun glazes the elegant eaves and tall window panes in hues of ochre. Quietly, I murmur to myself, “Nothing gold can stay.”

I sit there for a long while, much too long for the exhausted painters to await my permission to leave the day’s work as it is. I simply nod and smile while the owner of the independent business stops to gather some equipment.

“Tomorrow should finish it, I think. Until then, goodnight.” He says with a wave, before rounding the corner.

Then there is silence, but for the distant waves lapping at the shore, so close and yet still so torturously far away. I stand up and walk over to the railings, folding my arms upon their sturdy expanse of wood, and stare out into the mountains. This view of the world has been saved solely for my eyes, I know it. Everything that I see - from the silhouette of the mountains to the dreamy sway of the waves - is what raised me.

Then there is that one, haunting question. That piercing, potent possibility that I’ve carried with me every single day since we left, back and forth from town to city, house to house, always arriving nowhere. It has endured and outlasted all other wounds, keenly beating beneath my skin with a pulse of its own. There is this fire within my blood, raging quietly and almost imperceptibly, hushed for only I to hear. A dormant ember, waiting to set flame.

What if we had never left the lakehouse those eight years ago? What if my mother had never came all the way down to the dock, to wrap her gentle fingers around my wrists and pull me out from the safe depths of my watery sanctuary? Intrinsically speaking, right down to the root of this angst and into the depths of my dry heart, would I be the same person that I am now?

It’s an intriguing thought, knowing how very achingly I miss even the littlest details of that past or at least what remains to be remembered. There was a time, when they were such a vital part of my being that I couldn’t comprehend ever forgetting them. Now, I am to share them with strangers. The new inhabitants of my former home.

I step back from the railing, watching the sun sink towards the horizon line like a ticking clock. There is still time.

I kick off my shoes, peel off my sweaty t-shirt and shorts. Removing the pins from my hair and feeling the wind take hold of those vagabond strands, I made my way down the brand new staircase, so sturdy in comparison to its previous liability. Stepping down into the dewy grass, seconds slow into one prolonged moment as the lawn reacquaints itself with the bare soles of my feet. The dock, bleached to the color of sandalwood, beckoning me forward with the temptation of memories. Though fleetingly short in this great journey of ours, this hallowed path is the only one where I know each step as my heart knows each beat.

There I stand, alight in the fiery colors of the sunset. Looking down into the serene water, with my toes curling over the edge of the dock, I’m transported back eight years ago. The lake is like a bottomless mirror, the only reflection that I’ve ever known. Then I bend my knees in the flashest of moments, bringing my hands together above my head, and dive like an arrow into the abyss. Water ebbs and flows, ever changing and always flowing, unable to be confined to a certain state for long and always finding a way out.

The following morning I awake with the slightest sense of premonition for what the day is to bring. The house is peaceful. I can almost feel the intake of breath through each doorway, as it braces itself for change. We are both no strangers to change.

It was a knock at the door that awoke me. Unable to steal any more minutes of undisturbed sleep, I step down the stairs with a displaced energy. My body sings, awake and vibrant with anticipation. Unlocking the deadbolt, I swing open the door.

The real estate agent stands upon the porch steps, looking far too much like business for this early hour of the day.

“Good morning,” I say, trying to appear convincingly friendly. It is a ceaselessly daunting challenge in light of what she signifies. Every morning I awake, dreading that this will be the day that I’ll be forced to part with my treasure. With another, more perceptive look at her proud and successful smile, I know that day is today.

She brings forth a stack of significant papers and smiles at me. “We did it.”

My heart slows. I feel within my chest the beating of a heavy, desperate, aching drum. Each violent stroke is sodden with loss, keenly piercing my being with the permanence of a tattoo, and it hasn’t even happened yet.

The day passes as if the realtor never even stopped by. The painters laugh and joke beneath the consistent autumn sun, as it makes its reliable voyage across the sky. We finish just after noon. The renovation is complete and in their eyes and those of the new homeowners, the house is born anew. I, however, know differently.

Shaking the hands of my fellow workers and thanking each and every one, we part ways for good. Then I step back and await the nightfall, meanwhile soaking in as much of the lakehouse as I possibly can, preparing myself to part with the past and begin again. I had my barest fragment of a childhood, I survived high school and the empty ache of an absent home, I graduated with straight A’s and a modest scholarship, and I am finally ready to begin writing my own story.

When night falls, the inky black sky spreading its opaque expanse into the shadows of the land, I pack my truck with my possessions once again. I bring out the tanks of heavy gasoline, hearing the slosh of liquid so similar in sound to that of my lake and yet so terribly different. With the eager spark of a single match, dancing blue and yellow at the tip of my trembling fingers, I set fire to the lakehouse. That flame within my blood had grown too hot. It was time to let it free before I was consumed entirely. By the time the sun rose, all that remained was a skeleton of scorched framework and blackened beams, all smoking softly in the dawn light, ready to be consumed by the earth and forever forgotten.

With the house gone, the sale fell through. My parents were distraught, but I was liberated. With the meagre existing money that I had, I packed a single backpack and bought a one way plane ticket to travel across the world. If I had no house to call my own, I would make the world my home.


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February 13, 2011 at 12:45 PM PST

Your use of words is amazing. So sad. What happens next? There MUST be a continuation to this.