Fading Memories

January 27, 2011
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The pretty white and blue house welcomes me as I enter through the back door, treading on the familiar path. The mudroom is on my left, where, after a long day of skiing, we used to hang up our dripping wet garments to dry and fling our boots across the snow-soaked floor. The mirror facing me shows a girl of eleven, her face mixed with relief at being here and sadness at leaving. We’re visiting the old house for the last time before heading up the steep Vermont mountain to the new house. We had known Gaga and Poppy were selling it for a while, but the reality of it hits me as I ascend the stairs and see furniture and rugs already missing.

I turn left first, into the big open room of this vacation house that we’d grown up in. The big table that we eat around is not there, already in use at the new house. I’m six and we’re playing telephone around the big table. “Peppered pickles in a jar,” Jordan whispers in my ear, which I find out a minute later is very different from the “Merry Christmas” the telephone started out as. I’m eight and eating apple sauce at that table as my aunt Cara comes in with Steve, and they announce that they’ve just gotten engaged. I notice that the couches and rugs are gone as well, making the room seem bigger than usual. I close my eyes and think back to when the room was alive with light and sound. I’m seven, and I think building a fort with Gus is the best way to spend the day. I’m eight and I’m doing the macarena with my aunt and cousins to celebrate Rory’s twelfth birthday party. I’m nine and my cousins and I have written a play and performed it for our family. Now I see only bare space where our footprints once tread on the carpets, and empty silence where our shouts and laughter used to ring.

I see the stairs leading down my grandparents room. I’m six and we’ve slid down those carpeted stairs so many times that our stomachs and backs turn red. “Go under me, Hannah!” my brothers say, allowing me to slide through their legs on the way down the stairs. I’m eight and we’re playing the penny game on those stairs. “Which hand?” Sayre asks. I point to her right one and she opens it, revealing a shiny copper penny. I move up a step. I stay at the top of the stairs, which look bare without the carpeting, picturing the room below. I’m four and I’m in the giant bathtub with three of my cousins, but there’s probably room for more. Water is sloshing everywhere as we play in the soap suds and the hot, bubbling water.

I turn and leave; the memories spilling out of that empty room send tears to the corners of my eyes. The bunk room is where I always slept with my cousins and siblings. The twin bunk beds still stand there, although there are no colorful covers inviting us onto the beds. I’m ten, and we think the bedtime our parents set for us is way too early. We wait until their retreating footsteps die, then we turn the lights on again and resume our games and talking. Our favorite thing is spying on the grownups as they sit talking in the living room, or our older cousins watching a movie. We call it “yps,” because if we speak in code, they won’t know what we’re talking about.

I move past the room with the pool table and into the TV room. I’m nine, and Rory puts sparkly eye shadow and deep blush on Kate. “I’m next!” I shout, impatiently waiting for it to be my turn. I’m trying on all the different clip-on earrings, yearning to indulge in the wonder that is makeup. The sunlight streaming in from the window casts shadows on the bare floor, and I blink back tears as the flood of memories increases. I’m five and I’m jumping on the couch with my cousins, throwing pillows at each other. I’m seven and we’re fighting over the morning cartoons so loudly that our parents can’t sleep. I look out onto the porch once I reach the front hall, watching the cars go by, my mind lost in thought. I’m seven and we’re singing Christmas carols on the porch. Luke shines a laser pointer into the window of a house across the street, and we bolt back inside as a woman in a nightgown comes to the front door and looks around. Tears spill over my eyes as I tear them from the window.

I climb the stairs and go into the first of three bedrooms, where my aunt Megan and uncle Steve always used to sleep. It’s empty except for the dust on the floor. The closet where we hid in so many hide-and-seek games stands desolate. I’m seven and I’m playing in the small room off the bedroom with Kate, making furniture and people out of felt, styrofoam and cardboard pieces, spending hours in our own world. I go into the end bedroom, staring around at the empty room. I’m nine and I’m sleeping on the floor of this bedroom with my three brothers. I see the big, green walk-in closet that’s always cold and that nobody ever puts clothes in. I’m eight and we want nothing more than to be able to play with our older cousins. They hide in the closet, away from us annoying younger cousins who idolize them. “Where’s Rory?” we ask, knocking on the door. “Who’s Rory?” Luke and Timmy answer, “there’s no one named Rory here.” We keep asking until we give up and play on our own. I slip out of the bare room, wiping the tears streaming from my eyes, and go downstairs, joining the rest of my family for a final goodbye. I’m eleven and I don’t understand why Gaga and Poppy had to sell this house.

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