The bedrooms aren’t actually white. The upstairs one has hot pink trim and its ceiling is striped diagonally with black and white, an ode to Elena’s pseudo punk rock stage. The downstairs room, mine, has a chalkboard corner that, up until the primer, had never been erased since its inception that weekend mom went out of town.
If you walk too violently, run or sneeze while on the suspended bridge, the picture frames on the glass table in the front hall will rattle. That bridge serves as the perfect platform to whip the UFO-shaped chandelier with dad’s belts or dangle little sisters from. While you’re up there, the dribble on the wooden beam I’m sure you’ve written off to imperfect staining technique is actually Native American spit, proof that our house is built on a burial ground and as a result, most definitely haunted.
The kitchen, updated for modern conveniences, once had a pebbled linoleum floor and dropped light panels that, despite mom’s insistence otherwise, were undeniably a worm’s eye view of a marijuana plantation.
The basement, which now sports only simple plush couches and an outdated and over-sized glamour shot of Johnny Depp, has shape-shifted from ceramics classroom to artist’s cave to music den to dance studio while somehow always remaining the perfect location for slumber parties.
The driveway was once lined with lilacs, hard on the allergies but easy on the eyes. The swimming pool, before being remodeled with brickwork, was a simple cement hole in the ground. One summer, it became so overridden with frog eggs that we let them claim the territory as their own. Instead of spending the summer playing Categories and Marco Polo, we scooped out a sample population and relocated to a retired baby pool. We watched the frogs evolve from tadpole to frogs the size of our thumbnails. That would account for all the ribbits you’ll hear on muggy summer nights.
The backyard used to have the perfect swing set, which urban legend says may or may not have built with grandpa’s own two hands. The summer they mistreated the lake, the monkey bars proved vital as an escape from the stench that traveled through the Wallkill. Sitting up high with Popsicles in our nostrils, we could almost escape the smell of decay and algae that seeped into the hot summer air.
Walk past the kissing tree, continue back about 257 steps and you’ll hit the backwards flowing Walkill River. Don’t be alarmed by the remains of a lawn chair and an easel. This was the site of countless art lessons, aqua life explorations and mosquito bites referred to as “The Island.” Whenever we couldn’t find dad, we take those 257 steps and undoubtedly he’d be there with a sketchpad, telling tales of a new beaver’s dam or turtle friend, until the embankment washed away during Hurricane Floyd and the classes were cancelled indefinitely.
You won’t know any of these things. You won’t know where Sunny the bird was buried only to be dug up by Cloud the cat, or which tree Charlie the terrier chased the bear up. You won’t know where Denise used to read in the hammock or remember the homegrown plays Elena used to bully the neighbor kids into being in, or the spot in the river the fisherman pulled me out of that day my snack pack turned out to be heavier than I thought.
But I’m not worried about you. You’ll find your own hiding places for Manhunt, catch your own amphibians, scare away your own bears and paint your bedroom your own assortment of unfortunate colors. This house is a Mecca for making memories. It’s a greenhouse for creativity and imagination. Fill it with your own books, your own family, your own art and it will fill you with a sense of happiness and adventure for as long as you inhabit it.
If you enter through the next-door neighbor’s woods, right before the slope plateaus through the weeds and high grass, you’ll find the jewel of the neighborhood: the rope swing. Take that rope as far back up the hill as you can go before gravity threatens you, stick your foot in that loop and jump. It’s the closest thing to flying you’ll ever feel. The neighbors said they took it down, fearing for our safety. Don’t tell mom, but we know they never did.