The downstairs bathroom was the most unique room in our home. Its walls were decoupaged with pages of poetry and fiction by the previous owner. I showed it off whenever friends came to visit—it’s even where my bio pic was taken. Then, the day before leaving for my first MFA residency, it flooded. We had gone to the water park and returned to discover my son had left the upstairs bathroom sink running with the drain plugged. The walls were ruined.
This past week we moved out of that house after eight years. I’ve been listening to The Mountain Goats song “Genesis 3:23” during this transition. This song details the experience of returning to a former home—I tend to get sentimental well in advance. In it, the narrator revisits his old house to “see how the people here live now.” New pictures abound on the walls, but the rooms are still “familiar and warm.” There is also the reminder of the “hours we spent starving within these walls/ Sounds of a distant storm” and the need to “dodge the ghosts in the hallways/ Duck and weave.”
Of all the crafted lines in this song though, I am intrigued most by the opening lyric “Picked the lock on the front door/ And felt it give.” In order to explore the former home, the narrator has to force his way in. I think that’s the nature of revisiting some memories. I have to force myself into those locked-away places. And doing so puts me at risk.
I’ve been re-reading T.S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets lately, too—the first book read for that first MFA residency. Sometimes I am loath to pick up a book I’ve already read, especially one that’s changed me in some way. Not even a year later, I cringed noticing the author—my favorite at the time—we’d used to paste over the wet spots on the bathroom walls. Revisiting a book or a work of art threatens me because of how often my perspective shifts, so will the book still give? But, there was the clarion assurance of “Little Gidding”:
And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.
Exploration of my past may change my understanding. Like the Mountain Goats’ narrator, we may encounter risk in returning and have to “break the lock on my own garden gate”. A nod, perhaps, to the next lines in Little Gidding:
Through the unknown, unremembered gate When the last of earth left to discover Is that which was the beginning;
We brought our three kids home to that house. We endured several career changes. I’m not yet fully aware how our present life was woven from the hard choices and the days when laughter overflowed inside those walls. But I realize, when the house sells, I will have to hand over my keys.