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You Can’t Go Home Again

You Can’t Go Home Again

February 2009

I nearly break my ankle on my nephew’s robot dog as I walk in. Its eyes are glassy, and I shouldn’t see anything in them at all, but I feel like they’re sizing me up. I hear heavy footsteps from the kitchen, and then my sister emerges, “Hey.”


There’s an uncomfortable silence. I wish she’d just take the initiative. She knows what I want, but with Alice, it’s always about control. She gets a thrill from suppliants.

“So Mom said there was some stuff here for me I needed to pick up.”

She smiles, but it’s not a friendly one. “Oh yeah, in the basement. It’s good you showed up. I was about to throw it away.”

I seriously doubt it, but I force a laugh, my way of clearing the air. We know our roles. I’m the jester.

She just stands there. She always makes you ask, a smug obstruction.

“Can I go down there?” I ask.

“Yeah, whatever,” she replies. As I’m heading off to the cellar, she walks towards the sun room.

“Aren’t you coming?” I ask. After all, it’s her house I’m rummaging through.

“You’re a big girl. You’ll be fine.” She says.

Walking down the cellar steps, I hear her admonishing my niece, “If you can shut your trap for 2 seconds, maybe you can watch the princess movie again.” I know nothing about parenting, but her voice is flinty and sends chills down my spine.

The cellar smells damp, redolent of things I don’t quite know the names for, pulp, mulch, words I associate with my father. He had his workshop down here before they sold my sister the house. Even now fumbling for the pull cord, I find myself tripping over odds and ends of lumber. There’s no telling how long they’ve been down here. I yank hard on the cord, and the cellar’s flooded with soft light. The table saw is gone; they’ve moved that, but the floor where it once stood bears its imprint like a watermark. At the far end, I see a fleet of Sterilite tubs pushed against the wall. These are mine.

In the decade since I’ve graduated from high school, I’ve moved from place to place, rent to rent, forced a parade of couches through thin door frames, and given away, lost, or sold more possessions than some people ever have — and yet, through all of that, my parents have held these for me. Maybe it was a deposit so that I’d always come back, a way of drawing me in if I ever wandered away for good.

The floor is as damp as the air is musty. Somehow even inside my shoes, my socks have gotten wet. It hits me suddenly that I don’t even know what’s in the tubs.

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