Monday, September 02, 2013

The Faint (but Pretty) Smell of Vanilla

There was an old white farmhouse along the main road to my home.

Two stories with a big black door and white columns hunched like a crone's shoulders. No real driveway, per se, just an indent in the raised curb wide enough for a car and warped piece of metal that may have, at some point, been a gate. The house was weedy and overgrown, brick chips littering the yard and streaks of brown along the walls where the paint had dried and chipped away. It was, in a single word, ramshackle.

And I loved it from the first time I saw it.

It was the kind of house that kids discover in movies, that warrants ouija boards and salt lines. It looked like behind it's slowly-sagging garage there might be a secret garden, or perhaps a long-rotted body; that was the kind of intriguing enigmity it had. Sometimes I saw bikes sprawled out along the faint impression of a maybe-driveway, and once or twice there was a big gray truck. But I ignored it and simply wondered what it would be like inside, what back door I could slip through, what abandoned memorabilia might lay scattered within. I kept thinking that once my bike was fixed, once it's disused tires were re-pumped, I could bike out there by myself one day and hide the bike behind the garage, bring my camera and best boots and just wander up and down the stairs.

My love of the house was no real secret- I'm a bit rubbish at concealing what I find interesting or lovely. And almost every time we passed it, I'd mention it to whomever was driving. Once or twice I even talked to my aunt or mom about going to visit it together in an attempt to lessen their concerns- but they inevitably clammed up once I mentioned going inside or, heaven forbid, going upstairs.
So after a while I let it be and stopped bringing it up. But whenever we were driving home I would always look up from my book or pause the conversation to just watch as it flicked past, it's distant glass windows full of secret rooms and mysteries.

Was it childish? Yeah, I know it was. But with a house like that, who couldn't be childish?

Today, however, on a ride home from an impromptu breakfast run, I saw something odd behind the copse of trees that ringed the wild yard. I saw a flash of fresh wood, of bright wood, the young underbelly that you can always find within a splintered board. And, mid-sentence, I gasped (yes, I actually gasped) because it was gone. The house was little more than a pile of brick and wood chips, shattered glass and brass nails. And there, to the side of the still-standing garage, was the gray truck. And besides that, a bright orange excavator.

My mom cut off from the conversation as we drove past. She didn't necessarily get how enchanted I was with the concept of the house, but she knew I was enchanted.
My eyes watered a little.

But then, we were back to picking and choosing from our plethora of menial topics and the house was behind us. And then we were home, and I showered, and forgot about it.
I realized, suddenly, that I had no pictures of it. I'd never taken any, not even a blurry drive-by, and it was unlikely I would ever find one online or in the papers.

That was when I sat down and wrote this.

I'm still surprised at how easily I forgot about it. How the eradication of something that I was fascinated by for such a long a time could be so effortlessly dismissed. And it made me sad about how I never took the initiative with the house, how I took it's continued presence for granted, how I'll never be able to climb the creaking stair or peek through the stained windows. And I know, of course, that it wouldn't be that enchanted- that I was more likely to find beer bottles than decades-old mysteries. But the house was so effortlessly romantic that I probably would've loved it just as much if it had nothing but peeling walls and floors plastered with old dirty magazines.

I mean, I probably would've scooted the magazines to the side a bit. But I don't think it would have diminished any less in my appraisal of it.

But my dismissal of it, how easily I would forget to prioritize it's exploration, how someone must've forgotten about the house in the first place to let it achieve it's state of disrepair- despite how grand it must've once been, how elegant it must've once seen, sitting stately by the road. How does one forget about a whole house?

And as I thought about that I remembered a line from my most recent addiction, a podcast called Welcome to Night Vale (which is just fantastic and everyone should listen to at least once):

"[But then] you move on. And the event is behind you. And you may find that, as time passes, you remember it less and less—or not at all, in my case. And you are left with nothing but a powerful wonder at the fleeting nature of even the most important things in life— and the faint, but pretty, smell of vanilla."

And the line struck me as freakishly accurate, scarily resonant, And it brought to mind another, better known quote, by the graffiti artist Banksy- "-they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.”

And both those lines made me sad. Because I know that time passes and memories, thoughts and priorities fade. People come and go, "home" can turn into a condo or a mansion or the back of your car. Nothing is truly concrete in life, and everything will crumble in the tsunami of time. But coming to terms with the inevitable destruction and second death of this world, of this life, is a lot different than accepting it. Which isn't to say I'll attempt to defy a force so infallible as time- better people than I have attempted, and Lord knows that way lay madness. I'm just not entirely comfortable with it, not just yet.

That's okay, though. I'm only a teenager. I've got years and years for people to come and go, for home to change it's definition another dozen times, to find more old houses and forget to explore them until it is again too late.
I've got years to grow accustomed to that faint, but pretty, smell of vanilla.

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