Last night I dreamed of a party in a hurricane.
A bonfire on the beach. A band with a fiddle player. My mom was there. The sky darkened and the winds picked up. We gathered our toys and beach balls and a shoe belonging to my nephew. Everyone seemed quite calm about the approaching storm. The fiddle player stopped right in the middle of a song, unable to see because her hair whipped wildly around her face. The band packed up and we all headed to our cars.
Mom and I set out for home. As I steered the car through the driving rain, I marveled at my steadiness. Awake on some level, my semi-conscious brain observed, Wow, I am really confident about driving this old Corolla through a hurricane.
… I know the house intimately, every nook and cranny, every great hiding place, every quiet space where an introverted girl can spend an afternoon lost in a book.”
In the dream, home was my grandparents’ house, built in the late 1930s for $5000. They lived there together until my grandfather died in 2004. My grandmother lived there alone for a decade until she died of heart failure at 99 years old. It has stood empty and silent for over a year.
I practically grew up there, and I know the house intimately, every nook and cranny, every great hiding place, every quiet space where an introverted girl can spend an afternoon lost in a book. I know every story, like the time my grandfather stepped through the attic floor, his foot crashing through the ceiling below. The swinging doors in the bathroom where my brother and I acted out Westerns. The long-repaired rail on the white fence that I split when I drove a go-cart through it. That house quietly holds the entirely of my history, my childhood in four walls and a quarter acre.
In my dreams, this is the house that always represents home. And in one month, someone else will live there. It has finally been sold. Next weekend, I’ll say goodbye to her. I fall wordless when I consider what I might say, how I’ll thank her, during my last visit.
I’ll walk through empty rooms, noticing the way the light moves through the den as the sun passes through the sky. I’ll remember all the Sundays I sat, bored and restless, while my grandparents told endless stories about their childhoods. How I let the stories slip away from my memory effortlessly, assuming I’d hear them again, into forever.
I’ll pause in the attic, decorated in 1970s yellow wood paneling and shag carpet. I’ll listen for the lonely whistle of the train that passes on the edge of town. When I heard it as a child, I dreamed of far away places, of travel
and adventure. Of being somewhere else.
I’ll stand in the kitchen and imagine my diminutive grandmother hoisting her heavy cast iron skillet to cook us scrambled eggs in the morning. She prepped meals from memory and never wrote down her recipes for corn, green beans, or biscuits. Our genealogy of food, lost.
In the dim bedroom where my grandfather died, I’ll remember the last time I saw him, riddled with cancer, tiny and weak like a baby bird. How he woke up from a morphine-induced sleep for just a minute to smile at me, to say my name, to let me know I mattered. He was like that. He was a man who made people feel they mattered.
In the sunny living room once furnished in 1950s formal best, I’ll remember the time my cousin chastised me after I complained about my grandparents’ ordinary life. How I wanted something different, freer, more adventurous. “Remember,” my cousin said, “You’re able to fly as you do because of this strong tether.”
It’s no random neural firing that led me to dream about quietly escaping a hurricane to this house. This is how it’s always been. No matter the texture or condition of my life, this place and the people in it sheltered me. Sometimes, I felt bored and restless. Sometimes home feels that way. This very place I rebelled against so many times over the years was also the place I was most unconditionally loved and accepted. It took the vast emptiness of loss for me to see it.
Soon, the only place I’ll visit this house is in my dreams. We’ll find each other through the darkness, in the middle of the night, even as the tempest howls.
Cynthia Briggs is a teacher, writer, and documentarian in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She is the creative non-fiction editor of Snapdragon Journal (snapdragonjournal.com) and can be found at waywardsister.com.
Photo by Cynthia Briggs.