i grew up in my grandmother and aunt’s house. my mother and i lived with them from a little before i was one year old till grade 7. in their house, there’s this big room—twice as big as any other room in the house, easy—that we call “the store”, because many years ago they actually did run a store out of that room. by my day, it was essentially a giant closet; unfurnished, cold, musty, and absolutely jammed with everything we didn’t have anywhere else to put—old books, records, clothes, christmas decorations, boxes (some empty, some with contents that were left untouched for years). also, because it was so cold, we kept some food in there (there was a freezer, plus shelves, counters and a table that we could put whatever else on). it was a perpetual mess. every couple of years we’d do a bit of a clean-up, but more always stayed than was gotten rid of and really there was just so much that no clean-up short of a razing would make much difference.
but about (it’s weird, it doesn’t feel this long at all) 2 years ago, my grandmother had a heart attack, and while she came out of it okay, it was a bit of a wake-up call and she decided that she wanted to move out of the house (it being quite a large house, with only her and my aunt living in it). so we set about cleaning up proper. the store, of course, was the most obvious target. and it was indeed cleaned up—up and out. two of my other aunts took most of the work upon themselves, and it was actually kind of incredible just how much clutter - decades worth, probably - they cut a swath through in a matter of weeks. a lot was outright thrown out, and we had a rummage sale with the more salvageable of the leftovers. then came the weird part: seeing this room, cast in my memory as far back as i could remember as this sprawling mess—but our mess, one that i too had a part in, and a comfortable, familiar one—bare, suddenly alarmingly spacious. i’m always sentimental about this kind of stuff. i’ve felt sad at the passing of less—the removal of one piece of furniture from a room, or even a change in the arrangement—but this, this really was something. i knew it was sensible, that it had to be done; and that, really, it was inevitable. and that’s the part that so unsettled me.
i grew up in that house, and all those years, it stayed essentially the same. a few couches came and went, a repainting or two, but the structure, the basics—the essence remained unchanged. even after we moved out, i was there often enough that it still felt as much home as our own house, and still, not much changed. “familiar” doesn’t seem like an adequate word—it was like a part of me, and it was as if i thought it would remain just so forever, or at least for the length of my conscious life. this made it explicit that, of course, it couldn’t and wouldn’t. people pass, and eventually the spaces pass too—or they pass out of your earthly ties to them, anyway. the earthly ties: that’s what it comes to. sometimes i feel shallow for this—”you’ll always have the memories, etc” they say—but it’s not the same, not nearly. it’s hard to dissect it: the physical space itself is not the thing here, but my feelings are tethered to it in a very concrete sense. the feelings need the actual thing as a subject, the same way clothes need someone to wear them. and memories fade. already, my memories of feeling wistful at seeing the store cleaned out are much clearer than my image of the old store that i was missing. in fact, i really can hardly conjure up an image at all. i could describe it decently, i think, but the details don’t resolve into a cogent picture in my mind. the missing, though, i still feel. they didn’t end up moving out, so thus far the house is still intact for me, and i’ve been there enough since to get familiar and comfortable with its changed form. but it hangs ominous, somewhere indefinite in the future: what happens when it’s really gone? when i can no longer go back and be with the same people under the same roof? when it becomes history, its relation to me entirely immaterial? i can’t even imagine. i wish i had more photos of it.