Side of Things
've been on the side of things all my life. I was just left of my older brother, just right of my younger brother. After twenty years, I've been on all of my husband's sides. I used to sit on the right side of the main aisle for Sunday-evening mass. I've always lived on the side of the road, and I've tried to live on the right side of the law. Standing next to things kinda makes one come to depend upon the security of a bond, something that is always there. Things you need to trust. A good man. Good God. Good food. Good friends, school. Being next to all of these things makes it look like you're from a good home. A place you can depend upon being. A good time.
I guess that's why I love homes in the South—those big structures with presence. The homes that just seem to draw you into them—into the family. Like the one I drive by on my way to school on the corner of Park and Oak. I like to pull up on the street, park my car under the shade of the great trees in the yard—Magnolia, Pine, Dogwood, Red Maple, Pin Oak. They're huge. Their limbs stretch out to the pavement as if protecting the family's boundaries. It is clearly the territory staked out by someone with vision, someone who knew to plant them far enough away from the house to prevent the roots from breaking the foundations from which the home sprung. The person who planted these trees wanted them to grow old and die, naturally. The grass under these trees is thinning, an old man's head, slowly creeping to the curb, ears pressed down on streets through which the leaves, changing colors, and dead blossoms blow across. These trees, this house have stood alongside each other for a long time—there's security in the bond.
The white columns that extend across the veranda, evenly spaced sentinels, frame long and lean windows, reflecting the sun and my visions of life passing by. Inside, the floor plan is evident by the window treatments hanging, sleepy eyelids, mostly half-mast. The valences gathered at corners create droopy accordion-pleated domes and fine-dining living areas. The half-window reveals a sink area and kitchen. The upstairs windows, their half-valences like women's slips, hang—white Battenberg lace, revealing just enough of a bedroom. Miniblinds, open at an angle, reveal the masculine tones of an office shut off from everyone. I can see each family member standing in the rooms they love, hand on the cord, trying to decide whether to pull down, block the sun, or pull back—retreat to the other side of the house.
But my romantic image of security of place being people is a fantasy. Even this house bathed in a tan glow is deceptive. The skin is wrinkled cracking, paint peeling. It needs new white trim. Everything needs to be sanded down, restored to its original condition. What's really on the other side of the walls stands away from the image of home. There are people working in the rooms, not side by side like man and wife, mother and child, sisters and brothers.
Inside, one young woman greets people when they enter, but she's nervous, doesn't feel comfortable standing with the door pulled open in her hands. She admits the visitors but knows she really doesn't have the authority to let them in or send them away. The other woman is buried behind one of the heavy oak doors, and she emerges only when visitors take the stairs. Though the downstairs rooms are dressed with the kinds of things one would expect in a home, there are no finishing touches, no personal articles lying around, no clutter of life, no impressions of people in the chairs—just dust. Upstairs, heavy white doors are closed—locked tight. The beautiful stained wood banister promising a trip to heaven really is an end, not a beginning. No one stands in a doorframe looking in, window frame looking out. There is no room to rest. No one lay next to anyone else, hands intertwined, four feet side-by-side. The heads of lovers aren't pressed into the walls, don't rest on sills. So visitors leave. Run their fingers down the balustrade. Look for traces of wear on the varnished steps. And the woman who emerged from the dark considers the visitor standing in the middle of the doorway, framed by the double door. The visitor's just looking, just wondering what's holding up the home front, just wanting to see what's on the other side of the wall onto which she projects her desire.
Closing the glass-paned door behind her as she walks out, it vibrates in her hand. The seals have loosened over time. Every change of season, rise and fall of the barometer, every opening and closing, this door has released the things that were once at home. She feels them rustling in the leaves.
On the veranda, dust lies lazy in the heat of noon, too lazy to stir in the wind. It's been here so long it's hanging on for life. Down the steps, the old-Chicago bricks are dull with oil and rubber. These bricks are testaments to all the life that has come and gone here. Algae clings to the concrete curb, argues, like the lawyers who inhabit the upstairs, the life that lives in this house now. Sitting down, running her hand over the curb, the visitor looks at those bricks, stamped with dates they were baked, 1927. She knows others like her would dig these bricks up and cart them home if they were available. People would love to stand side-by-side, arm-in-arm with their spouses, their children, their parents, and look down at patterns, symbols of the strength of their families being around planted in the ground. Trust the mortar into which they've been laid, forever side by side.