Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Home Drive By - Some Self Soothing

Since my parents died and their house was sold by their trustees, I've had moments where I have driven up their street as if to verify, this was my home.  It's a slight compulsion, and not one that happens all the time.  But since their death, just two and a half years apart from each other, I've done just that five or six times; maybe more.  

Just a couple of weeks ago, my girlfriend was out of town and I felt a little bit alone.  With her absence, there was a vacuum and I started thinking about my former life with my parents, which doesn't seem all that long ago, but in retrospect, was eight, ten, twelve years in the past.  My memories of my mom planting bulbs in the front yard flower beds, and of my dad sitting at the family room table, carving out a slab or grapefruit while watching a baseball or football game, are based during a time during which they were still healthy.  It was before the period when they were diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer's disease.  And I realize that these memories I have a from further back than my emotions would lead me to believe. 

And so just recently, after getting myself some dinner, I had one of those inklings to drive over to my old neighborhood.  It was about 8:30pm when I parked my Jeep just down the street from our old house and got out to feel and smell my old street.  Most of the same houses are there from when I grew up, but many have been extended upwards, backwards or both, to increase their square footage, and many yards have had a fair amount of light-scaping added to them for evening ambiance. 

I walked up the street from my car, noticing the rural type of curbing that I played on so many years; that is, no curbs.  The asphalt just ends at people's lawns, probably similar to how many streets were first laid out in the early San Fernando Valley.  Unlike other times that I have executed these visits, I asked myself to note how I would feel before, during, and after, this time. 

Beforehand, it felt like a sort of need in myself.  The idea of a drive by seemed a way that I could be closer to my parents and my earlier life because that neighborhood reeks of all of it to me.  It felt like I could satisfy the desire to be near my parents again by being on their street. I felt that I could maintain some sort of connection with the neighborhood which is, in a way, still supposed to be mine; like getting back a piece of something that I had lost. 

I walked up nearing the frontage of their house, which is segmented with a flower garden against the street separated from the asphalt by railroad ties that the owner before us had installed in 1974.  Then about five feet back on the other side of the garden, I supposed where the legal set back from what is actually city owned, is a wooden ranch fence that extends the entire width of the property, followed in back by our green lawn populated with birch trees that I didn't want them to plant.  I felt that a wide open lawn would have been better and easier to maintain rather than planting new trees.  Also, given that an old tree had once fallen onto our roof in a storm, I didn't feel the need to test the gods again.  But, my have those trees grown in this short time!  Following the lawn, more flower beds and then the front edge of our house. 

I looked at all of this in the still of the night.  The new owner had put up brighter flood lights than we had, and had also painted our brown ranch style cape cod home with a light whitewash.  I am guessing the new owners didn't ask me because I wouldn't have approved.  It's too trendy a paint job in my opinion.  Still though, as I was now directly in front of the property, everything else was still set up the way my parents had it.  The location of the trash cans, the hose, the flowers, the security company stickers on the front door window panes.  I can readily imagine pulling into the driveway, opening the front door with my key, and finding my mom in her den doing some paperwork, and my dad sitting at our round family room table with a spoon scraping out the last bit of orange Sherbet ice cream from a small bowl.  But there were two new model SUV's parked in the driveway that I've seen a few times as I have driven by.  "Someone must be visiting my parents," viscerally echoes through my head.  "Nope Fred, they belong to the owners," says the same voice in response. 

"And how do I feel now?"  I miss this house, and I miss my parents.  It's not entirely painful to stand in front of it on this pleasant summer evening.  And I'm not sure that I'd want to still be living in the house that we bought when I was ten years old, but I wish I still owned it.  It feels like it's mine, and it does tug on my heartstrings a little.  And it somehow soothes me to see it. 

Up the street by just a few houses, on either side, are two huge box type homes that have been newly built from the ground up.  They are both much too big a footprint for their respective lots and are imposing to the other, smaller, more elegant homes on the street.  Someone asked me recently after I told him about my occasional visits, "What would happen if your parents' house was razed and a new home built there?"  And I hesitated.  "I would indeed have a problem with it for a little while because of this need I sometimes have to validate my life with my parents by seeing our old house on our old street," I answered.  

I've been lucky in this respect because all of the homes that have been significant to me in my life are still there.  The places I lived in with, first, both my natural mother and father, then later with my father are still there.  The house that I was adopted into near the Mulholland Tennis Club in the Skyline development is still there.  All of the apartments I've lived in around Los Angeles (with the exception of one on Brockton Avenue in West L.A.) are still there.  So I haven't much dealt with having a house disappear and not being able to see it for myself again.  Obviously my goal is to just accept and integrate my past life with my present Fred without having to see these places, but I'm not totally there yet. 

And so after walking up past my parents' house a little, I turned around for another view of the well lit front yard.  I could just slightly see into the front entry from the street.  I was sure that the owners were on the phone or watching television as I passed by.  As I walked back to my car, I asked myself, "How do I feel now?"  I feel okay.  I feel like I got it out of my system for now, for this month.  I know it's not my last time coming by, but I don't feel ashamed of needing to see my childhood home as maybe I might have supposed before I made my visit.  I feel like I miss my parents, and I still mourn their passing because I am a human being.  And at this time in my life, this is my way to mourn and to remember them.  And now, I feel like it's time to get into my Jeep and drive home.