The Walls That Held a Life

By Roxana Robinson

For years I lived in an old white clapboard farmhouse on a dirt road. It was set on the side of a wooded hill, and across the lawn was the huge red barn where our horses lived. Above the grass an enormous ash tree spread its long, graceful, curving limbs. In the fall the leaves turned gold and bronze.
The house was large but not grand, built around 1856, never altered. All the floors were on a slant, none of the corners were square, the closets and doors were at odd angles.
How shall I say what that house was? It was where my life was embedded. Each time I drove around the corner of our road and saw the house, standing sound and beautiful on the broad green lawn, my heart lifted.
We moved there when my daughter entered first grade. We left after her wedding, which was on the lawn, beneath the ash.
When my daughter was small, my husband was often away, and I lay awake at night, rehearsing my plan for intruders. I’d slip across the hall for my daughter, then we’d slither out onto the porch roof, drop to the lawn and run to the barn. In the dark, we’d bridle our horses, swing up bareback and escape, the hoof beats thudding up the hillside. Safe.
This was where I became a gardener. Outside the back door were old stone walls, a brick walk, a wisteria-laden pergola, flower beds. On summer mornings I sat on the back step, drinking my coffee, my two big black poodles beside me. The air was cool and fresh. In front of me were roses and clematis, iris and phlox. Behind me was the meandering kitchen: wooden counters, painted windowsills. An old maple table stood beneath the windows, and in the summer we ate dinner with the windows open. When the lilies bloomed the scent drifted inside, so powerful that we stopped talking.
The house encompassed every part of my life. In its rooms we had fights, raging up and down the stairs, slamming doors. The house was where we yelled at each other, and wept. It was where we made up, leaning over the table, turning from the sink, rising from a chair to reach for one another. It was where we held each other, tightly, ardently, gratefully. It was where we surprised each other. Early one spring morning I opened my bedroom door to find a basket of fresh flowers, still dewy, with my daughter’s note: Happy May Day. It was the home my daughter left for boarding school; it is where my dogs are buried.
Five years ago, reluctantly, we sold it, to buyers who said they loved old houses and would not change it. I’ve heard now it’s unrecognizable: doubled in size, the gardens gone. I don’t want to see it. I’ll never drive up that dirt road again, rounding the corner to find it standing on the broad green lawn, white and beautiful, its nineteenth-century self intact. It isn’t there anymore.
I’ll never see it again. But I know where it lives. It’s mine.

Roxana Robinson’s latest novel is Cost.

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