This is a house in Hardy, Arkansas I spent some time convincing myself I might buy back in 2012.
It seemed like the perfect getaway at the time – not just because it was in Hardy, where my grandmother lived and died, but because it felt like “that place”, the kind where I could get a lot done and not be bothered unless I chose to be.
It has three bedrooms, two dens (one with an old stone fireplace typical of the area), a screened porch, an open air deck, a carport, and a garage. The rear looks out onto a small lake. It isn’t a very nice house, and the lake is probably riddled with snakes (The dock has caved in, if I remember correctly) but it looks like the places I remember from childhood summer vacations in Hardy.
One of the bedrooms has paneled walls, bright blood red patterned carpet, and a quality of light that makes you feel you’ve crossed the threshold back into the seventies. My childhood was largely intolerable – I can chart it through pinpointed moments of letdown, rejection, and sustained dread – but I enter into a space that seems trapped in that era and immediately feel a familiar sadness that settles me in some narcotic way I can’t seem to get enough of.
Walking through the house with the realtor I kept trying to ditch him. I wanted to be alone with my childhood. I figured if I could see what it felt like to be there by myself without someone selling the shit out of it to me and killing it dead I could imagine really being there and get back to the business of remembering.
This all went on for several months; maybe six or seven. I went back and forth, visiting, asking questions that showed how serious I was: “Now, I’ll want to get it inspected, right, because don’t they shut off the…pipes?…when a house has been sitting there for a while like this one I’m thinking I’ll probably buy?” Pipes and wiring sounded like I knew what I was talking about. I told myself I could afford the house because, aside from it being pretty inexpensive as far as houses go, a window was closing soon, and if I didn’t take this opportunity to prop it open no amount of money would gain me access to it again.
I pictured bringing all of my friends there, one on one and in various combinations. I never imagine people in the house where I live now. I rarely have people over. Here’s that thing you called to come over and get. That’s me having people over. They get as far as the front room. I don’t know what to do with them. Will they be bored but pretend not to be? If they’re pretending, how will I know? Will they want to watch TV or will we just talk? What happens when I want them to leave and they aren’t going anywhere? What if I decide in the middle of all this that I finally want to finish that book TV keeps distracting me from? What if being in my house they see me as if for the first time and they’re like, Who the hell are you?
The house in Hardy made the prospect of being with people – in a house – totally uncomplicated. It was like sitting in front of my sister’s doll house when I was a kid, moving around all the furniture and the Madame Alexander dolls she’d arranged in the rooms. I could make the one from Gone With the Wind wear Little Bo Peep’s bonnet and move her from the den to the kitchen and the story still felt legible to me.
I will bring my friends here and we will talk and stare out at the lake, I told myself. We’ll wake up in the morning and like me they will want to sit first in this room admiring the stone fireplace, then in the little dining room where the yellow basket weave Linoleum makes us think of scrambled eggs and the cabinets, though meant to be white but faded to a weird yellowy cream from time, wouldn’t make sense to us any other way. I realize now that I wanted to bring them back to the seventies with me. I think the seventies make sense of other people for me and cut down on a lot of preliminaries. It seems ridiculous to me now that I imagined sitting around staring at stone and cabinets this way.
I thought they’d come down on the price. I thought, I can do this. I can make this work. Everything was stressful in my life at that point but it had been for a long time and I was tired but I was used to it.
But I let the idea die out for some reason. I stopped answering the realtor’s calls. I shut down my imagination. All for the best, because a year later the bottom fell out, and I saw that I didn’t know tired half as well as I thought.
A friend killed herself. Another friend spiraled into what I guess must have been a hard core mid life crisis. He almost took me down with him. He’s only recently started resurfacing. You can finally see the crown of his head emerging from the crap of it now. I spent so much time prone on my couch during this period of death and derailment that I started to worry I might be ruining it. I got self conscious, thinking people could look at my couch and see the wreck I was.
Maybe it was the friend dying. Maybe the mid life crisis. I’d been going for a long time, doing one thing after another. Up until then these things had all felt to me like sequential steps headed in the right direction. I didn’t know the direction but felt by moving in this straight line I was getting somewhere.
People always start these sentences with “Suddenly”, but that’s how it felt when things changed. I couldn’t see the point anymore. It all felt like walking in place. My friend was gone and Hardy was too. There was no window. You have to beat the happy ending syndrome out of yourself and you start with the idea of the window being a real thing. At some point it’s like traveling with your teddy bear at 40 years old.
Anyway, Hardy isn’t the place I remember. Every summer people come in droves to drink on the river and every year there are reports of some stupid death by drunken drowning. It’s like drowning in your bathtub; this is the kind of squalid death we’re talking about. Maybe people died much more meaningful deaths more often in the past but that seems to be over. People seem to be racing faster toward dying in ever more senselessly banal ways. You can’t even count on death being huge any more.
There was such a thing as gone and it was just a matter of me getting used to the idea.
Visiting Hardy last weekend, I asked my mom to drive me over to the house. Was the place still for sale? She thought someone was living in it. Maybe someone is, but there’s still a sign out front. I had little moments, standing there with my camera, where my imagination started going again. I could, I will, might, maybe. But I reined it all in.