8: The Red Brick House

8: The Red Brick House

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home

The Red Brick House

You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it’s all right.

~Maya Angelou

I was cleaning out my bureau drawer when I found a photograph underneath my sweaters. It was a picture of the house in which I grew up — a big fourteen-room red brick house in Maryland.

Whether our upbringing was good or bad, we usually have vivid memories of our original homes. They are the back drop of our lives. Like most adults, I remember the yard as at least twice the size that it was in the picture. Maybe that’s an emotional metaphor. Where we grew up was truly, in our minds, larger than life.

I remember we had two dining rooms. One for everyday with bright red bunches of cherries on the wallpaper. And one for company that had dark walnut panels and a crystal chandelier. The porch, with green and white canvas awnings, was in the back of the house and private, so I could hold onto the awning pole and gleefully spin around it, singing as loud as I wanted. I adored our magical house.

One summer, when I was eleven, I went to a camp about an hour away. But I couldn’t wait to be home again. I so much missed the security of my red brick house, where I knew all the nooks and crannies.

I loved the familiarity of the imperfect details. There was a tiny circle of torn wallpaper by my bed, inside of which were little specks of plaster that resembled the man in the moon.

At the end of that summer, when my parents picked me up at camp, I distinctly remember my mother turning around in the passenger seat and reaching to touch my arm as I sat in the back. “There’s something we need to tell you,” she said.

I put my hands on either side of me on the seat, literally bracing myself. I could tell from her tone this was going to be bad.

“Honey, the house was just too much for your dad and me and I’m afraid… we had to sell it,” she said.

“You mean we’re not going home?”

I can still see the pained expression on her face. “We have a new home right nearby. A modern condominium.”

In shock I said, “When did you sell it?”

“About a month ago.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because we didn’t want to ruin your summer.” This was all so terribly hard for her to say to me.

“Who’s living there now?”

She took a deep sigh and said, “There’s more to tell you.” How could there be more? “We sold it to a man who’s going to build an apartment complex on the land and the house has been — ”

I interrupted her. “It’s been torn down?”

She nodded yes. I was furious. We didn’t drive past the wreckage, thank goodness. We went straight to our little condo.

Responding dramatically like most kids would, I felt that my life had been torn apart along with the house. I went to my bedroom, which my mother had furnished with lovely light blue wicker, and slammed the door. I cried the rest of the afternoon, only pausing to scream at her, “How could you do this to me?”

And so, as I looked at the photograph I had found in my bureau, I had the same little girl’s reaction that I did on that day long ago. And it startled me that I could be so self-centered, even at age eleven. “But now I’m no longer a little girl,” I said to myself. “I’m certainly old enough to see things from my mother’s point of view.” And that’s when I experienced a profound healing change.

I took the photograph to my bed and sat down with it in my hands. I envisioned my mother in my mind as if she were alive today and I pretended I was in that very back seat on the day that she told me the news.

I spoke from my heart to my mother’s heart. “Mom,” I said aloud with my eyes closed, “I can only imagine how hard it was for you to tell me about the house. And now I can see that at that stage of your lives, it was a struggle to keep it up. The gardens were so much work and the housecleaning was endless. You must have been so relieved to move to a condo.”

I felt tears in my eyes but they were tears of comfort in bonding with my mom this way. “I wish that I hadn’t reacted so horribly.”

At that very moment, I realized that she’d probably say, “You never meant to hurt me. You were just eleven. I understood you’d feel betrayed and your life would seem shattered. You didn’t react horribly at all. You reacted the way any little girl would.”

I continued to speak, feeling soothed by the connection. “I remember you surprised me that night over dinner when we heard the sound of a telephone ringing from my new bedroom,” I said quietly. “You had your friend call the number of the Princess phone you bought me as a present. I can still see us running into my room and finding the pink telephone under my bed. I know you did your best to make it better for me. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s time to stop doing this to yourself,” I could almost hear her say. “You have nothing to be sorry for.”

“Mom, I want you to know that I have the very same crystals from the chandelier. They’re hanging in my windows as sun catchers. In the mornings, the prisms of glass cast dancing rainbows all around my living room. The wallpaper in my kitchen even has bunches of bright red cherries on it.”

“I love you,” I heard her whisper, “and I know that you love me too.” In my mind, my mother forgave me, just as she probably did so many years ago on that day in the car.

I got up and safely tucked the photograph back under my sweaters. Then I closed the drawer and said, “The house where I grew up is still a part of me today, the way my mother and my father are still a part of me… and always will be.”

I knew that the next time I cleaned out my drawer and came across the photo, I’d feel happy instead of sad. With this newly found compassion for my mother and her compassion for me, I had turned a corner I didn’t think was possible, opening doors for a lifetime of healing.

~Saralee Perel

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