I am sifting through a pile of debris. Broken glass crunches underfoot as I crouch to turn over a crumpled photo. My sisters and I smile up at me, gap-toothed inside our wide grins. We wear matching flannel dresses and white tights, tucked into our shiny patent leather mary janes. We must be about 5, 6, and 7 years old, respectively. I add the picture to a rapidly growing pile of photographs, and continue sifting.
This is my parents’ house. I grew up here. Until I left for college it was the only home I had ever known. I am intimately acquainted with its many nooks and crannies, excellent places to win a game of hide and seek. I know that the light switch in the kitchen is improperly wired, so that a complicated ballet of dashing between it and its companion switch on the opposite wall must occur in order to illuminate the room. I know the chipped linoleum of that kitchen’s countertop, a tiny mountain-scape that I have traced so many times with the edge of a finger. I know the bathtub upstairs is the best, because hot water is always plentiful, and it is deep enough to float for hours with a pile of books and chocolate. That bathtub will forever be what I think of, when I think about being completely at ease. I even know the particular scent and thickness of air in the attic, the way that ascending each wooden step leads you into a miasma of heat, the way that dust motes furl in the light that streams in from the tiny windows. The way you feel so far above it all when you bend and peer out the window at the street below.
I am cleaning this house as best I can, so that my parents can leave it behind. Soon, I think, I will have a new home. I won’t know it very well. Its particular nooks and crannies will be mysteries that I may never discover, no longer being of an age to spend my days seeking out such magical spaces. Those are best left for children to find, so that they might feel that it is a place they alone have discovered, and may think of it as their very own. Still, I will create new memories. New photographs will capture the walls of this house, my family comfortably ensconced on a new couch, around new chairs at a new table. When I think of being at ease, I will picture a new tub, in a new room, in a new house.
Still, it occurs to me that it does not matter where I am. I do not need to replace these old memories with new ones, for there is room enough for them to co-exist within my memory. Old house, new house, it’s all the same. It’s all part of a tidy, warm little place in my brain labeled “Family,” and I will have that no matter where I am.