UnReturned

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This is a photo of a three-story house where I spent many days of my youth.

Or rather, it’s a photo of the space that house once occupied.

I took a drive to snap a few photographs of spring arriving in Connecticut and on a whim turned down Depot Road, where the little white building had spent many decades reclining on the shore of Millbrook Pond. I knew that it had been abandoned some eight years ago: I was there to pack the boxes, haul the refuse, sweep the brick patio beneath the mulberry tree one last time.

We had held a tag sale. Together with my old friends, I removed the steel bathtub, the fine crystal, the antique Frigidaire; I helped remove its vital organs and put them on card tables. We sealed the septic system that emptied into the pond, and with a final twist of the key in the door we made a mummy of our home.

I knew the house had died a long time ago. I expected shattered glass, rain gutters enlaced with ivy; I expected a derelict. I did not anticipate negative space.

One hot July weekend in 1993, four of us gathered to perform our artist’s rituals. Barbara, matron of the house she’d acquired through divorce, spread her acrylics across the living room floor. I swiped a broad brush across stretched canvas and streaks of daisy yellow appeared. Bob plied his field with refined dabs, as painfully chosen and achingly sparing as his words. Justin released his psychedelic fever and sprinkled the easel with misty pastels.

I finished my painting with four parallel lines – blue, crimson, emerald, and orange, tucked away to the bottom left of the painting. I titled it “Oasis.”

I don’t recall the full agenda of the day. But I’m sure we withdrew to the pond to swim in the afternoon sun, as almost every weekend we did. We hiked the railroad tracks past the shit pits where Kelly’s Septic dumped their harvest. We asked each other earnest questions about love, the soul, and god – the kind of painfully optimistic inquiries that only the young can entertain.

I have no doubt that, as evening came, we dined on something Barbara had whipped up with chicken, garlic, garden herbs, and an ingenuity born of poverty. I bet we watched Jesus Christ Superstar or The Emerald Forest. Around midnight, as Barbara smoked cigarettes and read books in a warm glow by the grand picture window that overlooked the water, we three friends departed for the cemetery nearby. Upon a sarcophagus we declared that, no, we weren’t afraid of zombies or ghosts or getting old.

In the middle of a hellish adolescence, the little abode astride a pine forest and beside an industrial watershed welcomed my wild ideas and erratic brush. I was free to cry and rage, to gaze at nebulae, where stars are born, from a graveyard. To adumbrate a better me.

The house is gone, and I cannot go back to it. The friends have long drifted away.

That house worked magic in us. The earth and the water and the austerity of our accommodations (would we have ever done so much dreaming with video games or cell phones?) kept us grounded in the vital things of life. And that little space, that jiffy of time, seemed only to ask that we go out and announce our insights on living fully loved and loving fully to anyone willing to listen.

I wish that I could give back to this lonely little spot, where a grand mansion once stood, a little of the sorcery of those days. I hope, as more buildings fall, to send some of that magic to the world.

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