The House that Built Lilly


I hadn’t seen the house since I left for Italy four years ago.

It’s funny the weight of a place can hold.

Except it’s not funny.

Usually the places that hold the most weight are because of the pain that occurred there.

I met my husband in Tuscany. He was traveling through Europe in an attempt to recover from a broken heart, and I was studying abroad. We both had an underlying sense of adventure. He was quite a bit older than me – my senior by 14 years – but he didn’t treat me in a way that older men have a tendency to treat younger women. To him, I was his partner, and his equal.

Some women would be uncomfortable by the idea of marrying a man who they met when on the rebound.

Not me.

John’s first wife died of Leukemia – she was lovely. Her name was Avery. She was lightness, class, beauty, and kindness – and I am glad that John had someone so wonderful to love him for the time that she did. I realize that if she never died, we wouldn’t be together, and that’s okay – I would have met another man that would be just as extraordinary in a different way, and all of us would have lived wonderful lives – never knowing what would have been otherwise.

There is no sense competing with a memory.

I ended up studying in Italy from both an intrinsic need for adventure, as well as a much required change of scenery. The house I grew up in was being foreclosed on, and my parents were in the midst of a bitter divorce.

As the marriage fell into disrepair, so did the house.

They stopped showing affection – the gardens stopped getting weeded.

They were too tired to talk things out – the siding blew off in a windstorm, and stayed off.

They didn’t agree on where their future should lead – the foundation cracked, and when it did, my father said, “it’s just too expensive to fix.”

She got an apartment. He handed the keys over to the bank.

I got a postcard in the mail for studying abroad. I went.

John and I came back after I finished my degree. I accepted a position at a publishing house in New York, and he was offered a column with The Post.

We rented an apartment outside of the city but far enough away from my roots that I didn’t need to hear the echoes of cries from that house. If walls could talk, would the house tell stories of the laughter that happened there in the early years?  Or would it cry, remembering the last days? Did it feel a pang run through the pipes and up the walls when the moving van pulled in?

These are the reasons I can’t go there.

But curiosity won the best of me. I heard through the grapevine that a new family finally moved in. I left work early and drove across the GWB, counting the mile markers as I made the almost two-hour trek alone.

The highways turned into exits, the exits turned into main streets and the main streets flowed into back country roads. The mountains kissed the skyline, the gravel kicked up into the undercarriage, and the smell of wood burning stoves carried through the open windows.

I got closer and closer – there was the field I got my first kiss in. There was the creek I used to swim in on July days. There was the stable I bailed hay in.

A tear rolled down my cheek and kissed me on the side of my lips – sometimes I forgot that all of this still existed when I stayed away long enough.

I turned right onto that narrow one lane road and crossed the bridge I used to jump from into the swimming hole, and up the hill I dreaded walking up after the bus dropped me at the bottom – and there she was. Sitting at the top of the hill, overlooking the mountains. Her front door was painted a boring forest green. The swing that overlooked her wasn’t in the garden anymore. The basketball hoop that sat beside her, the one that I perfected my three pointer on, was on the side of the road for bulk pick up.

At first, I only stopped in front of her – I was only going to pause for a few seconds – but I couldn’t contain myself. I had to pull into her driveway once more.

I pulled in, only a few feet, and got out of the car. I couldn’t contain the flow of tears that erupted from my big brown eyes. I held my hands to my face and let out the kind of cry that we rarely allow ourselves to – the kind of cry that only comes from a broken heart – I looked at her, blurry from tears. The windows had cheap, draw string shades. There were no flowers in the gardens. She was a shell – and I think she knew it too.

I saw a shadow move passed the living room window, and with that, got in my car, pulled out of the driveway, and never saw her again.