After attending a party, we found ourselves near the house we lived in when we were first married. Both being so sentimental, we drove past it.
‘Wouldn’t you love,’ she said, ‘to buy all the houses you ever lived in? So you could have them forever.’
And I felt excited she said this, because it was one of those times when someone articulates something in my head that I thought unarticulatable or simply too unformed or silly to say.
Sometimes it’s an unbearable thought, all the houses I ever lived in still existing in their own ways, inhabited by someone else who now has more claim on them than me. But it’s less unbearable than the thought of the houses no longer existing, of their being chewed up by bulldozers and a different buildilng existing in the same space. On a long enough timescale, I suppose this is the fate of all the houses I ever lived in. If I could imagine a future for them or for the Earth one million, one billion years hence. But in human timescale, at least one of them will, in all likelihood, outlast me.
The two families that merged to form me – the Winnings and the Hobbys – are wanderers. My parents each lived in maybe ten houses over their childhood. Perhaps this made them want stability when they had their own children; and thus I lived at Lot 105 Railway Parade in Allanson for thirteen years.
In my dreams, this house is always home. I haven’t lived in it since 1996, but I keep returning to it. It sits at the top of a hill on three acres with a gravel driveway which seemed so very long as a child. The brown donkey shed, the rainwater tank, the trees which I knew so well. But usually it’s the inside of it I dream about. I wonder how I know that it’s this house when I wake up? Perhaps I see the orange kitchen. (A childhood friend, reading my novel The Fur remarked that she noticed the kitchen she remembered so well too.) But it’s more than colours or a physical geography, it’s a spiritual knowledge that it’s the same house.
I once started a writing project where I intended to decribe, exhaustively, each room of that house and the memories associated with them. I started with the laundry, of all places, and its first aid cabinet full of icecream containers of aging treatments, expired ointments.
Since that house, I have lived in fourteen houses, returning to the wandering roots of my family tree. Now I’m exiled from each one; I can only hope to drive past and see what it has become from the outside. And being so pathologically fearful of what people might think, hating to think of them saying, ‘What’s that car doing out there,’ I’m scared to stop.
My wife’s family is good at staying put; I visited the house her mum grew up in a few years ago, still in the family. I could feel all the memories and family history in that house, it was the pantina of so many decades.
I felt sad hearing this year that, just weeks after its sale, the new owners demolished it. Such disregard for the beauty of a house, the years of life poured into each one.
What about you? Do you long to own all the houses you ever lived in? Do you drive past when you find yourself in the area?