I often write about home. To me, that conjures up images of where I am from, not where I currently live. But I’m being unfair and shortchanging this little place. If I had never lived here, I might not have ever figured out just how much more I love living in the country.
For the past 8 years, I have lived in this tiny white house in the middle of a medium sized college town. The first time I stepped a foot inside it and saw the bedroom with a wall that was one huge bookshelf, I knew I would live here. I felt it deep down inside that this was a place where I would breathe and sleep and eat and read and grow.
More big things have happened to me since I moved into this house than any of my previous homes. I cried, I cooked, I had roommates, I fell in love, I got married, I cried more. I found and left jobs. Late nights I spent writing and reading, finishing my English degree. Getting up going to class and then to work and…I became an adult here.
It was the first place I lived alone. Where I shut the door behind me and I was the only one left inside.
I started this a different way and then went back and began again, even though that’s not what this is all about. Some stories are not ready to be told.
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On the other side of that window was a desk and that is where some of my most important thoughts — which to me were enormous life events — happened. Now the house stands abandoned, paint chipping away, having exhaled all the life it once held many years ago.
I watched a documentary about abandoned places once. A builder walked through the halls of a college somewhere in the northeast. There was no longer any funding from the state to keep the school opened, so they closed it, sold off all that could be salvaged, and left it a shell. He walked through, trying to determine whether or not something could be done with the building or if it would have to be demolished.
He said something that has stayed with me, about how when human life leaves a place, when there are no more people in a house or a store or an institution, something happens. It doesn’t take long for the place to start to fall down. I don’t know whether it will be by nature or by man’s intervention, but I don’t think it will be long before the house I grew up in falls to the ground.
The first time I shared this photo was in March of 2008. I called it “My Piece of Sky” in reference to the song from Yentl. The view from the other side of that window is limited. In the summer, leafy trees block much of the view, but in the winter when all the leaves are gone, you can look past their dark skeletons and see a tiny group of hills that lie to the north.
That room was my favorite place to be. If I wasn’t outdoors with my brothers, I could be found there, reading. Almost always reading. Or listening to music or writing. Sometimes a combination.
The room changed over the years. Coats of paint, new curtains, a different configuration of furniture. But there was always that vanity table turned desk sitting right there in front of that north facing window.
First it was those marbled composition notebooks. Filled to the brim with poems and stories and words I would never share with another soul. How many novels did I start in those things? Somewhere there is a Kool-Aid stained manuscript that I was awfully proud of at the time. Then a computer and floppy disks. And finally…the Internet. It was the first week of May 2000 and I was getting over pneumonia.
In The Time Traveler’s Wife, there is this theme of returning to one place. Henry (the time traveler) circles around through time landing in the field near Clare’s house in different years. You get a sense of why he shows up in certain places over the years, but it’s almost the end before you understand why this one place is so important. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the ending of this for you, so I will leave you with my impression of the whole thing.
For some people, there is a center of the universe — the axis upon which their world turns — the place where some of the most important moments happened. I think mine is that room, that desk, that chair. I know not everyone has the luxury of knowing a place like this. This room only saw my Act I. I don’t know where the next place is.
Here is an exercise for you — think of the one place in the world where you could stand and get the best view of your life. Where is it? Why is this the place? What are the things you can witness from this vantage point?
(This piece of music plays a big part in the film.)
You will never have an opportunity to ask me questions, but my voice will reach you through my letters, and I know that you will read them. How do I know? I can offer no explanation, other than what I am about to tell you: For as long as I can remember I have been searching for you. I knew that you existed, but I didn’t know where… I didn’t know if I would ever meet you. And now, now that we have met, it’s too late. There has been a mistake, some sort of discrepancy in birth dates, in passports.
The yellowed volume has a special place on the shelf in the very middle of my wall of books. It was old when I bought it from someone on eBay back in college. Like many books I own I was made aware of its existence when I saw the film adaptation. Looking back, the film is not really that spectacular. The acting is fine, but not stellar. The story was modernized for film, something I did not find out until reading the book. There are elements of the movie that I think improve the story and a few that take something away. I’m getting ahead of myself.
Unhappy man, my poor tortured man,
… Why do you remain silent? Please don’t die, I beg you. Let me into your secret; I might want to go with you. I might want to leave you and tear up your letters. You can’t treat me like this. I am not an office. I am a woman approaching her twenty-sixth-year. Why do you demand so much of me?
I do not doubt your love, but I am not equal to love like this. It is as if I am your widow. You have no right to die and you have no right to remain silent. Tell me what I am to do.
He is a secret agent. She is a student. It starts when she is young, around seventeen, I believe. He is much older and must keep his distance for many reasons. You know, like having to assassinate people and not wanting her to get in the middle.
She spends a good deal of her young life searching for him in a way. Not on a real search as he has warned her against this, but every time someone comes into her life she wonders, Is it him? Because she has never seen his face. It’s not until he is wounded and his cover is blown that he is able to send her a picture of himself. At that point he has already had reconstructive surgery and no longer looks like the man he once was.
It is beautiful. I wish I knew Hebrew so I could read the original translation. I’m sure I’m losing bits here and there. At its heart, this is a story of forbidden love — forbidden by distance, age, everything. I don’t want to sell this to you and lead you into it thinking it is a happy love story. It’s not. The story is tragic. (Most of my favorites are and someone can analyze that if they want.) You can’t help cheering these two on though. He is devoted, to an obsessive degree, and she is intrigued and enraptured at the thought that someone like him could love someone like her for such a long time.
He read through her letter again and again and for the first time considered the possibility that they might meet, and thus the last card would be laid on the table, and with the final victory, as far as was possible to tell, would also come the final blow. There was no doubt in his heart that [she] was ready to fall into his arms, but he also knew that he would have nothing to offer her apart from the initial giddiness. In the dance–which he was ready to join–he would be tottering to his end.