I had a dream again about the old house. It was the first house we bought after we were married. It was the house we brought the boys home from the hospital after their births. An old dutch colonial that was previously a barn back in the 1850's. It was cut horizontally and moved across the street in the 1920's and made into a home. We bought it in 1996 and lived there for eight years, replacing windows, a boiler, a water heater, the roof, plumbing and God knows what else. We had an invasion of digger bees one summer and worried about flooding after the grassy lot across the street was filled in with expensive town homes.
In my dreams of the house I am sneaking in the side dutch door, swinging open the top window and unlocking the door from the inside. I move about the house, the hickory floors scuffed but shiny, past the knotty pine walls and the built in maple shelves. I creep up the old staircase and down the hall to the baby room, the walls still a tender celery green, the wicker rocker chair facing out but there is no crib. The boys have grown and moved on. I am sad for a moment but then out the window I see the current owners coming in the front door. My heart races and I am in a panic and when I move down the hallway the floorboards creek and I shrug into a closet. "I shouldn't have come back," I think to myself and then I wake up.
It's not surprising I had the dream again. I had been back home and our first house was a mere ten minutes from where I grew up. I drove past the house. The new owners pulled out the evergreens and shrubs in the front and put in an above-ground pool in the small backyard. They kept the wooden blinds, the front door green and added only tiny improvements to the screened in porch. I felt strange driving past it, sneaking looks like I was casing the place. It was an old house sold "As Is" and I didn't want to meet the new owners and be regaled with the improvements they needed to make. I also wanted to keep the memory of it frozen like I had remembered it. A simple, loving home where my two boys spent their earliest years.
I drove past it twice and then went past the train tracks, the commuters waiting for the 7:25 a.m. to Chicago, newspapers folded under arms, briefcases slung over shoulders and coffee balanced in hands. I had done that commute for years. I couldn't help thinking where did all the time go?
I often think how little we knew back then. We had the world at the tips of our fingers. We had two healthy boys within a 19 month span. I had quit my job and my husband had started his own business. I had so much to be grateful for. I had no idea that there was anything wrong with Sean. He was strong and handsome. He walked early, moving nimbly around the old house. His huge eyes always met me before the rest of his taut little body caught up. My boys posed for Christmas card pictures in the front room sofa, my oldest hugging his little brother, their smiles wide and beautiful. They tumbled in the silver maple leaves in the fall, piled snow from the driveway into forts during the winter and followed me to the train station to see their dad come home from work during warm summer nights.
The house holds all that for me. The early days before life got complicated, before needing to learn so much about autism, before knowing how our lives would forever change. By the time we had put our house on the market, I had known, deep in the belly of my soul, that my son had changed. He was no longer the happy, engaged, laughing baby. He had become a more serious, less flexible and easily agitated toddler.
The year prior to our move he qualified for early intervention under the developmental delay category -- his speech was behind and his social skills were impaired. He had done a year of special education and a summer camp for children with delays. I had known what was to come. I wanted to come to terms with it all privately, to absorb the impact without neighbors, friends and family with me. I wanted to leave Illinois and to start over with what I knew was to come. I had to say good-bye to the home that held such hope and dreams and promise for us. I had to walk away to a wider, open space where I could start from scratch.
I have always known that I was to live here in Portland. Maybe not forever, but at least for part of my life. The first time I came to the Northwest it was like walking into the arms of a lovely, good friend who I had missed for too long. Strangely, I felt I had come home.
The hardest part was leaving my family and friends behind, saying good-bye and moving forward. And saying good-bye to the innocence of that life, to the bliss that moved like purposeful and easy breezes, in and out of our daily lives.
So I dream about the old house on Center Street. The silver maples and birch trees dotting the street, the lawns shaved into green postage stamps and the baskets of petunias swaying on the light posts. And the winters where the snow caked like creamy frosting on the roofs, the paper lanterns burned peacefully on the front porches during Christmas night and the mournful whistle of the last train out of the city echoing through the bare arms of cold trees. I keep my baby boys there, remembering their sweet red cheeks and pale eyes peering out at me through the crib bars, the old floors creaking as I walked toward their outreached little arms, pulling them into me, safe and warm.
Sam Smiles Project
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