Three houses are for sale in my hometown in West Virginia. One is the mirror image of the house I grew up in. Without going inside I know the rooms, the location of the stairs, the rattle of the doorknobs, the view from the kitchen sink.
Compelled to browse the photos online, I see the spot where Dad’s brown chair sat in our house, the window where we used to watch the church traffic in our pajamas. There is the corner where we had the TV, and the stairs; my old bedroom. I study the position of each cabinet and piece of furniture as though the future of humanity depends on it. I briefly consider buying this home, which costs more than the one I’m living in now, just to capture it.
I have no desire to live in a rural town now. I can’t mow the lawn and wouldn’t have the budget to redecorate. My friends are gone. Most important of all, my childhood there was filled with terrible moments. Mom drank. My brother and I can tell stories that would keep you up at night. So, the question I ask repeatedly is: Why am I drawn to the look-alike house? What is this urge that pulls me toward a town and a time from the past? What am I searching for when I imagine going inside our house again, seeing the textured Spanish plaster on the walls, running my hands over the window frames, finding again the secret note I hid behind the woodwork in my closet fifty-two years ago?
Joe and I have had this conversation: Why do we care about a place that brought us misery, a house where both of us suffered as children and subsequently waged lifelong battles for self-esteem?
Is there something irresistible about home, no matter what? I’ve known grown-ups who visited their childhood homes. Some were disappointed to see them in disrepair. Some knocked and were invited in to step once more through rooms they had been holding in their minds. I do that, too; I hold the past in my mind, and maybe it becomes distorted there.
If I knew how to have an out-of-body experience, I would transport my silver-corded self to Glen Ferris and walk through our old house. I half-tried to see it in person once. I had gone back for a funeral, and on the way out of town I turned into our alley, now labeled a private drive. I pulled around to the back walk and saw a woman on the deck that had replaced our little porch off the kitchen. She looked up as if to ask what I thought I was doing there.
“I’m Mrs. Barnett’s daughter,” I said from the car, referencing the seller of twenty years ago. I had taken the detour hoping she would ask me in, but now her manner suggested otherwise, and I drove on.
Which might be why I Google “Glen Ferris real estate” every now and then, scrolling through pictures that tug at my heart. It’s hard to understand; living there was often a nightmare and moving back, a fantasy. Maybe I want to conquer that house after all these years—just walk through it peacefully. Whatever the reason, I continue to feel the pull of home.