Home Alone 7: An elegy in prose
Charlie Ducey | Monday, January 18, 2016
You are at your parents’ house. It is the last week of winter break. Perhaps you live in the Chicagoland area, or perhaps you live somewhere else entirely. Somehow, it is invariably cold.
Class has started again for the K-8 kids. The usual yellow buses load lines of shuffling students and depart like trains on pre-aligned paths. You see them out your window. With them go younger siblings, neighborhood kids — no one left to babysit now.
Work has reconvened for employees of both private and public firms. Caravans of coupes and SUVs pack highways and boulevards, lurching forward like the interior gears of a clock. You see them on TV. Fathers, mothers, older siblings, even the gray-haired man down the block are all called into action.
State schools are back in session, and collegiate bowl season is largely over by now. Translation: Friends from grade school and high school are away, and there is little left for entertainment. So you sit at your kitchen table, or in bed or on the living room sofa, looking through a screen at the lives of others.
You are, for the moment, alone.
Perhaps you watch reruns of old sitcoms. Perhaps you browse popular websites and are unwillingly confronted with the steamiest of celebrity news. These are not lives that matter to you. They do not strike close to home.
At first glance, not much has changed here. The coats are on their hooks. The books are on their shelves. The fridge yields nothing new when repeatedly checked.
Yet, the house is not as you left it. In your absence, the space has taken on a different hue. Only in solitude do you realize these things: maybe a wall has been repainted, a childhood toy discarded, a painting hung slightly askew … how a few months can change a world.
Another house might be going up in your neighborhood. Perhaps a store has changed names. And what became of that robin’s nest in the tree out back or the anthill in the cracks of the sidewalk? But such difference in appearance does not perturb you as much as your own difference in perception does. Something seems off about this house. It could be some awkward photograph that no longer amuses you or a favorite cereal that, while physically unaltered, now tastes dull. You’re experiencing it differently. It doesn’t seem like your home anymore. It’s just the house where your parents live.
A deep estrangement rises from this change of ownership, gradually, steadily — a kind of letting-go. The toys in the attic belong to a younger child who lives nowhere now. Years ago, in all likelihood, this space was someone else’s home. In half a century, a new owner will move in, hang the keys by the door and repurpose your old bedroom as a private study.
You are watching a movie on your parents’ TV. It’s getting late. The movie is older than you are. A young blonde boy is rigging his home with improvised traps and gags, protecting it from what is foreign and profane. You do not fashion a minefield out of micromachines and Christmas ornaments. You have no burglars to fend off. Your family has not left you for Paris in a rush. No sensational heist broods here. Yet this house without doubt needs safeguarding. All about, the woodwork creaks with the footfalls of a stranger.
Soon your family will be home. You’ll exchange stories from your day’s hours out in all that cold. Perhaps a fire will be lit. The place will come alive with significances. Say your father has his classic lounge chair. Say your mother has her nightly ice cream. Then, in a few days’ time, you’ll leave, off to snow-covered horizons — set to return to a place that cannot fail to change.
And you will come to learn the elegy does not lament aloneness but the discovery in that aloneness of your eventual and more permanent exodus, in which home will be peeled from the house’s wall like worn paint, following you out into the world like the migrant you are.
Charlie Ducey waxes poetic without warrant, but who needs a warrant to write poetry? He studies English and German and is in his final year at Notre Dame. Please direct fan art and gripes to firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.