We bought the dark, ugly house. I agreed to this because the day we came for a second look, a blue heron swooped down over the pond, which seemed like a message, a thing I don’t believe in.
We bought it because the children spilled out of the car, ran across the open grass, found the meadow behind the pond, and it felt like happiness.
Our third house in the three years we’ve searched for home in Virginia.
I don’t think I am someone who believes that a house has “energy” the way people who believe in that sort of thing say it does. Houses give off a feeling, absolutely, but does a house actually soak up and then hold the energy of the people who inhabited it before? In the case of this ugly house we bought, the answer is yes. The house has energy.
The air reeks of fighting and emotional confusion. It’s not just that a sloppy hand sliced “fuck” into the doors and wood paneled walls that cover every square inch of this house, even the ceiling in some rooms. It’s not that “RJ” took a Sharpie to some of the walls and scrawled his initials, which must have been an act of defiance, or at least confusion about the function of a home. It’s not just the beer cans in the woods, the cigarette burns on the toilet seat, the deep claw marks on every window sill made by an animal desperate to get out, or the stories the neighbors have told us in their relief to have “a normal family” move in. But, yes, it is those things too.
There are smells that are odorless. There are sounds that you cannot hear.
I opened windows, lit sage, and stood inside the empty house with its dark hallways and sad linoleum and felt that I was being handed a stray dog, one so unloved and covered in dreadlocks that even the eyes hardly show. We have lived in funky. We have found home despite smells of mildew, cracks in a window, floors that sag, but I have not yet faced such heavy, animal air that could not be released with a thorough sponge-down and some decorative throw pillows.
We fell in love with the woods and the pond right away. But maybe we also found here something that we could put our hands to and fix. Maybe we needed this palpably wounded thing because there is healing to be found in the nursing of it.
A paintbrush became an instrument of love, cans of paint with names like “touch of vanilla” and “ballroom slippers” became the balm. Long stretches of day have been given purpose as we scrub, sand, and massage these walls, then stroke after stroke, cover what was broken in glossy, bright lappings of the brush. We took down walls with our hands and hammers and let the light in.
I sing quiet songs to my son before bed, and surely this softness is absorbed into the spongy air, stored inside the freshly painted walls. I thank my husband for putting up another shelf and let my hand run across his back as I walk by. My daughter shimmies up the door frames, planting her joyful feet here and there. It will take time to lift the thickness, and it will take our own resolve not to feed this house with our own dark walls and silent aches.
Outside the pond is dark and still, but on occasion the heron returns to the edge with its ancient stare and makes ripples where its ankles touch the water. If I were someone who believed in omens or symbols I might say that its presence means something, but mostly I just believe in its effortless beauty.