In Memory of a Home
September 13, 2011 § 7 Comments
I’m very sorry for the recent dearth of posts. It’s been an exhausting week.
Most of you have heard of the terrible floods that took place in Pennsylvania this weekend. If you haven’t, WNEP.com has had very good coverage the whole time. My boyfriend Danny’s house had at least a foot of water in the living room. Worse, his parents’ home was filled with at least 6 feet. Their first floor is a disaster. I wish I were a better writer; I wish I could accurately describe my feelings as I waded through muddy water and oil-filmed debris to arrive at a house I’d grown to love.
Built in 1870, his parents’ home was a stately Victorian matron, tall, thin, with elegant angles and muted tones. The interior was warm and friendly, especially to a girl in the first days of her first serious relationship. Danny’s family always made me feel welcome in their home and my earliest memories of dating him are from that house. On our second date, we watched The Lord of the Rings in the living room, and when he didn’t make fun of the way I clapped my hands and grew starry-eyed at the romance between Eowyn and Faramir, I knew I liked him. Now that living room has mud three inches deep on everything, furniture overturned and heaved aside. I see books strewn on the floor, bloated and blurry, and I want to clutch them to myself, mourning over the loss of miniature worlds within. We had walked hand-in-hand down the streets of West Pittston under ancient, spreading oaks and maple, and scuffed up the fallen leaves with our sneakers; Danny would always tell me about the homes, how old each one was, who had lived there when he was a kid, about the coal barons who built ornamental mansions on Susquehanna Ave. West Pittston is known as the Garden Village, now the landscape has piles of sloppy mud, uprooted bushes, and the reek of fuel. We’re pressure-washing the sidewalks just to keep the mud from caking into brick. The pumps and generators run constantly, a droning background noise that will forever remind me of sweat and the stink of gas, wet feet squishing through endless puddles. Rubber gloves and a mask over my nose and mouth. We walk through the streets, greeting friends with weary smiles and updates on homes. The fire department drives around, offering bottled water and tips on safety. People I don’t even know offer us sandwiches and pizza. What we really want is a cold beer. Debris from the river is cluttered wherever it came to land when the floodwater receded. The normally serene town has been swept from a child-friendly, All American neighborhood into a FEMA-declared national disaster. There aren’t any kids cutting through the neighbor’s backyard because it’s still got two feet of standing water in it.
I find myself falling back on the simple phrases, clichéd but true in their meaning. No one was killed, everyone is healthy and alive. All the pets, the family photos, simple keepsakes were rescued. Danny managed to grab the framed, autographed Achewood comic I gave him three Christmases ago. We can rebuild, remove, begin again. It doesn’t help the lump in my throat, though, when I remember the first time I visited Danny’s apartment and found him and his cousin Matt engrossed in an episode of Gossip Girl. We went to the Donut Connection after that and Danny told me I was beautiful, sitting in the plastic booth with glazed sugar on my chin. It doesn’t stop the tears that form at the sight of the water line a foot up on that couch (that stupid, ugly couch!) that Ryan and Danny found in front of a neighbor’s house and wheeled home through the streets on a dolly with their fathers, and Steve, and Jon. Why am I crying when I see the (gross, terrible) couch tossed outside, stacked up with the rest of the belongings of the first floor? Our border collie Abby loved to sprawl on that couch, gazing at us with her big brown eyes as we watched TV. I know we’ll get her another couch, maybe a softer one. We can replace the kitchen table that no one ever used and the lamps that didn’t work half the time and the rug that actually looked cleaner when the flood mud made it one ubiquitous brown color. But if Danny gets a new house, will there be a front porch to drink beer on when the summer nights turn hot and lazy? Will there be another fenced-in backyard where Abby can run laps and chase squirrels? I’ll miss those things. I’ll miss Danny’s parents’ home being only a block away, close enough to run over for a wine-opener, or ice cream, or just to chat. I’ll miss the big back deck and Bailey’s niche behind the couch and the creepy old attic with children’s handwriting on the walls.
Life will settle down for most people in the Valley soon enough. Work has started again, classes will resume, the mud-line will be washed from the trees during the coming autumn storms. But Danny? And his parents? His cousins and neighbors and friends? For them, how long will it be until a return to normalcy? To lose a house sounds like one thing, a large thing, but a thing for all that. To lose a home is something much more tragic.
(photos by Danny, Matt Golden, WNEP.com)