Monday, June 20, 2011

Homeward Bound

I recently was back in Iowa for a few days, having flown up to meet up with some friends and road trip to Tennessee for Bonnaroo,  a music festival that involves tent camping and high temperatures.  I only had a few days in Iowa, not enough time to see all the friends and family I wanted, but still enough to squeeze a lot in, and boy did I!

I landed in Des Moines on a Sunday morning and my friend Joy picked me up and drove me to southeast Iowa, where Brian and I are from, where our parents still live, and where he is buried.  We visited the cemetery first, bearing a pot of flowers sent along by Jenny and Justin, friends in Des Moines.  Next, we went to my in-laws' house for lunch -- a quasi-gourmet affair with salmon, ribs, strawberry soup, fried ice cream, wine, and more.  I had worn a dress on the plane, wanting to look nice when I went to the cemetery and for lunch.  I put in my contact lenses and did my make-up in the car on the way home from the airport, having skipped those steps when getting ready at 4-something that morning.  Visiting the cemetery is never easy, and by the time I arrived at my in-laws' house, the make-up was a disaster.  It only got worse at the next stop, my parents' house, where I started experiencing problems with my contacts and was liberally using eyedrops.  I was at my parents' house for about 5 hours and got to see about half the relatives on my mom's side of the family, which was a pleasant surprise.  Eventually, I took off for Des Moines again, this time in my parents' purple minivan, the vehicle of choice for a camping trip to Tennessee for my group of friends.

The sun had already set when I arrived in Des Moines that night just after 10 pm, bleary-eyed from having been awake for 18 hours and exhausted from traveling between and around Texas and Iowa by plane and car.  I was supposed to stop by Jenny & Justin's house, then stay at Kristine & Bobby's house, that night.  I called Jenny; she still wanted to see me, even that late.  She threw in a frozen pizza for us to share and had a glass of red wine waiting for me when I arrived.  After a couple glasses of wine and a few pieces of pizza, with my glasses back on and my contacts now soaking in saline solution, I decided it would not be wise to try to drive over to Kristine & Bobby's, locate the key they'd hidden for me, and try to get into the house in the middle of the night.  (They were out of town, and live in a very safe, very elderly neighborhood where I have to assume any disturbance or unusual behavior in the middle of the night -- especially one that looks like a break-in -- would not go unnoticed or unreported.)

The next morning, I headed to my "home base" house in Des Moines, ready to use the hidden key to get in, feed the cats, and take a shower.  I hadn't showered in over 36 hours and hadn't washed my face either -- my hair was greasy and unkempt, I had mascara streaks all over my face, and I looked and felt awful.  As I approached the house, I saw a truck parked out front with two men standing next to it.  They looked like painters, perhaps, waiting to start a job.  I'm not generally the paranoid type, but I just didn't get a good vibe from them.  The truck they were standing near was unmarked, so I couldn't be sure they were contractors.  They stared just a bit too hard when I drove by, so I just didn't want to pull into the driveway and fumble around with a key in front of them, making it known that I was a female alone in the house.  I decided to drive right on by, find something to kill a little time, and return when there were either more or fewer people around. 

To kill some time, I decided to drive out to the suburb where Brian and I had lived, about an 8 mile drive from Kristine &  Bobby's house, and take a look at our house.  I had debated whether I would do that, and now this sudden need to fill 15 minutes of time had decided that for me.  I had wondered whether it would be inflicting more pain, whether looking at the house would keep me in the past, or whether it would trigger something painful in me and cause a breakdown during a time when I was trying to squeeze in maximum enjoyment by spending every waking hour with my Iowa friends, family, and co-workers.  I worried about how I would react if it wasn't being maintained well enough.  Now that I found myself driving toward the house, I rationalized that this would be good for me -- that seeing it and getting that over with would help me "normalize" this so it wasn't an issue every time I came to Des Moines.  It was time to just rip that bandage off, so to speak.

I headed west on Hickman Road toward our old house -- our first and only house, something we never would have anticipated when we bought it as giddy first-time homeowners 6 years ago this August.  I called my boyfriend, "Antonio" on the way for some moral support, knowing I'd be more prepared if I announced my intention to someone.  We talked until I was about two miles away; then I hung up so I could take everything in.  I've only been gone about 5 months, so things hadn't changed that much.  A few new buildings -- dental and medical clinics -- nearby have been completed, the tenants of the strip mall down the road have changed a bit, etc.  Our old house was on Melrose Drive, but easily visible from the perpendicular road, Laurel Street, due to a drainage area across the street.  Luckily, this gave me an opportunity to "case the joint" before turning down the road -- that is to say, I scoped our front yard and those of the neighbors to make sure there were no former neighbors who might spot me and want to engage me in some "how are you doing?" conversation.  Normally, I'd love to catch up with any of these folks, but simply didn't want to be seen because of how I looked and felt!  Luckily, the course was clear, so I took a left turn on Melrose and headed toward our old house, the fifth one on the right.

Our house, for sale last fall
I drove slowly down the road, taking in the nearby houses as I went, thinking about the neighbors that had lived in each of those homes, including some that had been sold and purchased by new residents since I moved.  Finally, I reached my old house -- our old house.  The house we were proud and happy to have as our own, the house we had parties in, the house we celebrated holidays in, the house where Brian died.  It looked good.  The peeling, aging green trim had been scraped off and painted white.  The green door was now red.  The green shutters were now black.  What had looked quaint, cute, and a little aged before now looked fresh, modern, and (most importantly) well-kept.  In place of the "Boka" rock along the walkway was a banner declaring allegiance to Kansas State athletics.  I smiled to see that, imagining that the old Boka Bear Den (our Chicago Bears bar in the basement) might now serve as a collegiate sports bar.  I drove away, smiling, then drove through the old part of our town, past the town triangle (instead of a town square, our town had a triangle), the grain elevator, the co-op where we had our cars fixed (I was even afraid of being spotted by our mechanic, who continues to ask about me to my friend Joy, who gets her car serviced there), etc. 

Driving back to Kristine & Bobby's house, I called "Antonio" amidst tears of joy.  I was genuinely happy to see the house look so good -- it looked better than when I left it, which is the most I could possibly hope.  He summed it up perfectly, saying, "A new start for that house, huh?"  Yes, it was very much a new start for that house, and I was happy to see it.  It was nice to see that the house is getting a new beginning, a new story, just like I am.

No comments:

Post a Comment