we shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.
There’s a snoozy, snoring puppy curled up like a donut next to me on the couch. It’s too warm for a fire, otherwise I’d have one in the fireplace that anchors this beautiful, open space. Moths are beating their wings at the windows, and in the morning their bodies will litter the floor and doorways. Tonight these sounds and quiet stillness are especially echoey in my mind.
I’ve been living in the house my grandfather built for the last few months. It’s not the house it was when I grew up—my father lightened and lifted it with more windows, better lighting, an open kitchen, and less shag carpeting—but the bones of giant wooden beams, exposed brick and that central fireplace are the same. It’s different enough that it felt strange when I first arrived, and the same enough that some deeply unconscious part of me takes over sometimes when I shut the garage door and the creak that has creaked the same way for my 32 years pulls me back until I am six and bounding into the house.
I’d walk in unannounced all the time, and it’s only been recently that I’ve wondered if my grandparents were ever annoyed by the fact that their grandkids were forever popping up, running in through the garage to snag Velveeta slices and cinnamon gum and a few backyard hula hoops twirls or a random book off the shelf or maybe we were just rollerblading in the driveway and wanted to say hi! I don’t remember any particular distinction between our house and theirs, really, except the aforementioned processed cheese. It was Grandma and Poppa’s, yes, but it felt like home.
It was, in a way. Or perhaps that was just a particular gift my grandparents had: that we never questioned our welcome. I can’t remember a single time I wasn’t met with a smile, a booming “hoHO it’s Marissa!” from Poppa, and Grandma reaching out her hands to hold my face while she kissed my cheek.
One morning, after I’d been here a few weeks, wondering if I’d made the right choice in coming back to Denver and feeling a little strange in a house that felt so different from the one I grew up with, the madeleine de proust was the sound of the garage door closing with some distinct clang that echoed unconsciously somewhere in my gut. I was convinced, for an eighth of a second, that as I rounded the corner into the kitchen I’d see yellow linoleum and white patent leather chairs and the powdery and sweet smell of Grandma’s perfume blazed through my nose and I missed them with the sharpest of aches.
It hasn’t happened that way again, or at least not so strongly. But at least once a day, over these last few months, a sound or a smell or a hint of memory has met up with a kind of memory twin in my mind. And it could be so horribly haunting, if the circumstances were different, if my memories were different. Instead it is a gift that my grandparents smiled every single time I bounded in, that this is perhaps one place on earth I have always been sure of a welcome.
So thank you, Poppa, and thank you, Dad, for the ways this beautiful place has shaped me. I hope I’ve lived here well.