I’ve been driving by our old house a lot lately. Work takes me south, sometimes to Boston, sometimes to the Cape, sometimes even farther. But I usually find myself driving past Haverhill on 495 and, without thinking, pulling off the exit. After weeks and days and hours of exploring new places and sleeping in an apartment I still haven’t settled into, it is nice to feel comfortable. Even if it is just for a moment, sitting on the porch reading a book, locked out and watching my old neighbors walk by.
I have a strange sense of familiarity when I see signs for the surrounding towns: Methuen, Salem, Plaistow, Lawrence, Lowell. The funny thing is, I hardly spent time in those cities when I lived nearby. Now that I live an hour away, I explore them. I try to pick out the good things in each place, try to see what makes people want to live there. I still haven’t figured out why these invisible town lines dictate different cultures, different ways of life, but they do. I'm determined to not isolate myself: I don't want to see the same side of every city. I know there’s more than coffee shops and arguing couples and trash buildup and art walks.
Catching the train
When I fall asleep late at night in my new bedroom, I can hear the train whistling somewhere far away. There’s something inexplicably compelling about trains, something beautiful and melancholy. I could hear the train from Haverhill, too. I remember discovering the train tracks behind the cemetery with my cousin. It was like we had stumbled upon this long-forgotten secret. The tracks ran along the river and we walked on them for a couple miles. It was just a day in September, back when he was secretly planning on running away to Argentina and I was secretly missing him already.
I wake up to the sound of neighbors all around me. Quiet, private sounds: water running, breakfast-making, good mornings and good byes. Waking up in Haverhill was different. The dog across the street was chained up outside and would howl without fail every morning. Our bed was up against this beautiful window alcove and we’d leave the windows open on warm nights. In the morning the air would be perfect. The room would be dark except for the glow coming in under the closet door. There was a small window in there, I’m not sure why, but it guaranteed us a little bit of light, always.
Ghosts & possibilites
I thought it was weird when my family took pictures of my grandmother in her casket after the wake. After we broke the receiving line, after they turned off the music and dimmed the lights, my aunts and cousins snuck up to the altar and snapped a couple photos. She hasn’t looked this good in a long time, they said. I disagreed, because I was 19 and still trying to figure out where social norms and familial norms intersected. But the truth was, Grandma hadn’t looked like herself in years: she had looked like Diabetes; Cancer; Alzheimer’s; Emphysema. She’d been sick a long time. But the point was, in the end, in that casket, she wasn’t sick anymore.
Walking around the house (it used to be our house) feels like looking at those pictures of grandma. It’s familiar, and in an intangible way it’s still mine, but it’s different now. It’s a skeleton of a home and its emptiness is full of possibility. I feel nostalgic and eerie. Not like I’m trespassing, but like I’m the ghost that haunts the place now.