This is a story for those who remember the old place and the old names. If walls could talk, if the same walls were still there, I had a chance to listen yesterday.
I’m not sure if it’s common knowledge that I still have a friendship with Duke. I don’t talk about him here, but I still talk to him at least weekly, often daily, via email. We see each other very rarely. In 2011, we had lunch a couple of times and he came to my birthday party and I checked on the house once when a bad storm came through while he was away.
Our lunches are usually on his days off. I go to the house, he gives me a tour of what has changed since the last time, we go down the street to the bar and grill we used to frequent together. We ask about each other’s family, friends, work. Our answers trail off, never going very deep. I wouldn’t describe it as awkward, but it is disconnected in a way that feels so unnatural to me, and then I remember that it was always a little bit like that.
Yesterday, we met at the bar, had lunch, and then did the tour of the house. The hardscaping of the backyard is torn apart, the garage is closer to finished. We stood on the deck and he said “it’s almost done!” and I said “Isn’t that what you say every time I’m here?” He pointed out what changed, what was left. Oh yes, I remember now.
The kitchen is mostly untouched from when I left. The hallway between the bedrooms and main bathroom is demolished. The closet is ripped out, a new closet built, the bathroom reconfigured quite a bit, a wall where there used to be a door, doors where there used to be walls. I stood there trying to figure out what was going on with the framed but not yet drywalled new wall in the bathroom. Duke jumped in to explain the little recessed lighting nook areas. It was very him. A work of art built into a wall.
I don’t think that people often get to truly look at what their life could have been or would have been, to view that road not taken, but I did. I looked through a hole that used to be a closet that will someday be a hallway and I saw myself on the other side of it, without Ada, expressing opinions about drywall and having conversations that never go too deep, watching the walls fall down around me and be rebuilt over and over and over again.
A giant lump formed in my throat as I looked at the house, marking it against the house the way I will always remember it, on Closing Day, when we sat on the dirty blue carpeted floor of the third bedroom eating Chinese takeout and gesturing to the walls around us and describing the things that are now reality. That was December of 2006.
I feel like a completely different person in a completely different world than those memories. I look at the house, the beauty that he is building, the steadfast adherence to the plan. I want to reach over and touch his arm and say “Are you happy?” I don’t.
We hug goodbye when we part, though I don’t think we would if I didn’t lean in first. It is disconnected in a way that feels so unnatural to me, and then I remember that it was always a little bit like that.