I have a tendency to romanticize spaces. I tear back old wallpaper and wonder who's bedroom this was, who grew up here, and if there's anyone who might drive down the street one day, just to have a peek at their childhood home. Would they knock on the door and ask me for a look around the place?
What kind of dreams were dreamed in this bedroom? Did any of them come true? What sort of dinners were cooked in this kitchen? Did they eat at a dining room table, or in front of a television? Was this place a nest for newlyweds? Did they raise children here? Did anyone die in this home? I cannot separate a house, no matter how dilapidated, from the notions of home, family, birth and death. Perhaps that's why I do the work that I do. Maybe I feed off of the imagined memories.
The house I'm working on now was a foreclosure. As I primed the drywall today, I found myself imagining the previous owner. He never lived there, I assume. I guess this by the fact that when I bought the place, it was partially rehabbed with supplies and equipment laying around in all the rooms. I suspect that he was a handyman, who picked this house up with an eye toward flipping it. At some point, something happened, and he disappeared, leaving chemicals, a paint sprayer, antique furniture, and loads of bills behind. I wonder where he is now, and if he thinks about what he lost.
Before him, however, this was a home. Somebody's home.
In the past I owned a four-unit, brick and stucco craftsman building on Park Avenue. It was a stately building, with hardwood floors, stained glass and built-in buffets and bookcases in every unit. I learned that the penultimate owner had been there for many years, and had taken great pride in his building, remodeling two of the units and landscaping the exterior with unusual flowering shrubs and ornamental trees. (As opposed to the owner just before me, who let things get run down.) This man's name was John. It was in that house that he lost a lengthy battle with AIDS. He had no heirs, and the building slogged through a lengthy probate until his brother finally took possession and sold it.
I often thought about John when I was pruning his three different varieties of lilacs, dividing his spring bulbs, or fertilizing the apple tree he planted. I imagined that he approved of the work I was doing, and I felt warmed by his memory, even though it was actually just a construction of various facts I had gleaned.
I have a sense of reverence for houses, I guess. No matter how many times I tell myself “I'm just going to fix this one up quick and flip it,” I cannot stop myself from developing an affection; an emotional attachment, not simply to the work I have done but to the structure as a whole, and what it represents to me: home, family, security, and memories.