When we bought this house we sighed. We had tried so hard. So hard to get out, so hard to get away.
When I was 19, everything that was important to me resided on this block. The kids who would flock to the church on the corner where Rich grew up on Friday nights to play basketball, eat a brownie and suffer through a story about an upside-down kingdom they didn’t understand. I didn’t really understand either. All I knew was that I loved them. These kids with attitudes and records and babies and drop-outs and drug problems and ego trips. These kids with smiles and sweetness and sometimes, cloying neediness. They anchored us here, on this block. Rich went away to college and came back here, to this block. To me. To them. We all waited for him to return.
He ran basketball leagues, he coached late into the night. We slept in the basement of the church on the corner in order to be nearer to them when they needed a place to stay. We held broken hearts on this block. We held bleeding wounds and broken noses and police phone calls on this block. We fell in love on this block- not the love at-first-sight-when-we-were-15 kind of love (we did that, too) but the cementing of hearts together in a thing that is bigger than you love. To watch him lead and love a group of boys without Fathers was to see him as he is now, Ellie’s Papa.
This street, here, the one we are on, has our history in every crack and vein. Every uneven sidewalk has our footprint. Every bending branch.
We tried to get out of here, we tried so hard. We had moved on. Our kids with their sneakers and swagger had grown up to be men and women. The neighborhood was changing- the town was changing. It was time to go somewhere else to raise a family.
And then we sat on the floor of this empty house after we signed the papers and looked at each other in disbelief. We bid on 9 houses- not a single one of them stuck. None except this one. This house. On this block.
Our house was full today. Full of kids, now grown, at my kitchen table telling stories about college, eating my bags of chips. They just walk in through the backdoor as though it’s theirs- because it is. They sit on our couches and braid my daughter’s hair.
It was full at dinner time when the kitchen was steaming with frying pork chops and goat cheese smashed potatoes, and friends were coming in and out through the backdoor as though it was theirs- because it is. Sitting around the table while the candles burn puddles onto the mantle, playing guitars way passed Ellie’s bedtime singing Uncle John’s Band with full bellies.
Our bedrooms have held lives who’ve needed a home base for a while until they found their own.
We wanted to be the change on this block, we wanted to be the difference, and then, after a while of struggle and sacrifice, we just wanted to get out. But it has changed us. Each broken sidewalk, each rubbled asphalt, each cry for help, each shout of victory. It’s part of the fabric of who we are. When we breathe in, it’s here, on this block, with this community. In our garden among the heirloom eggplants cowering beneath the imposing billboards. All of life is one big dichotomy.