Domestic Intimacy

By alison July 22, 2014 6 Comments 3 Min Read

I have said before, that to me,  my relationship with this one hundred and sixty year old cottage is akin to a marriage. A marriage of two highly compatible souls that just like any other relationship, ebbs and flows but is retained by an intimate bond forged throughout the years.

In this house there are memories on every surface. In the skirting boards chipped by Finley’s scooter. In all the furniture Mark built from nothing, the kitchen Richard brought to life. There is where I brought my new born baby home and the place where I sobbed when life fell apart. There’s the bathroom floor I slipped and fell on, bashing my face and knocking myself unconscious (ouch!), the garden in which I have grown tomatoes, strawberries and a soul. Look there, behind the bannister and you will see a tiny slither of the frightening green and gold flocked landing wallpaper I chose when I was pregnant. In the bathroom a collection of floral paintings I have hunted in car boot sales across the land and on close inspection, the track of little feline paws that trotted across the painted floor too soon.

I know this house. I know who lived in it before I did, and the purpose it served before it was purely the dwelling place of those lucky enough to occupy it. I sometimes dream of those who must have queued up at the door to buy bread or other daily necessities.  Each and every day I walk across the original wide planks on the dining room floor, tracing the route all those who live as ghosts here, used to tread. I know how it creaks at night. The gap between the roof tiles no-one seems able to fix. The trace of green paint the last occupant covered the house in. I know this house and it knows me.

And yet and yet and yet. There are periods of time in which we lose each other, this house and I. When the intimate secrets we share seem lost under clutter and the debris of a busy life. This always happens in Summer.

It happens when I am trying too hard to balance work with the demands and needs of a ten year old boy.

It happens when the air is stifling and the house is oppressed by windows that cannot be opened too wide in case our silly cat jumps out and decided to play chicken in the lane.

It happens and each and every time I resent it. I blame the house. I call it names. I declare living in such a tiny space is unmanageable. That a new house wouldn’t be so darn dusty. That I want to leave it, to call the divorce lawyers, throw in the key and run away to a space so pure and white and fresh and new that I would not have to deal with the horrors of watching something we love try to wear the indignities of  the ageing process. Would not have to deal with memories stuffed in every corner.

What we need is some alone time when there is none to be had for at least a few weeks. Time to wander around these rooms reminding myself how good it feels when this house and I are in harmony. When  it is mine again. No longer the preserve of children on sleepovers, or busy, buzzy bees whizzing around my head as I try to sleep, but mine again. So I can feel it almost smiling. So that I have the time to hug the house so it will hug us back.

This then is what is wrong.  Like the man who wears the same face but seems to have replaced everything else that he was, the house feels lost to me, and I need to devote myself to it again, so we can both feel at home again.

This too shall pass. It is in fact a feeling, as fleeting as a hot Summer day.

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6 Comments

  1. Margaret says:

    I could not agree more with your feelings about your house. We have lived here for 37 years. When we bought the house (a small semi-detached) it was a wreck and stayed that way for some time as with a toddler, a baby and no money things were beyond tight. Well, babies are all grown up and flown the nest now (although the eldest did take his time as he didn’t move out until he had found “Miss Right” and by that time he was 34!) and I have grown to love our houses more and more each day. Being retired and able to spend time here is wonderful.

  2. lp says:

    This is so very true…after only 17 years in our home moving from it has caused such pain I was not expecting. I would trade back to my home in an instant from this temporary rental..house. Too bad its 350 miles away.

  3. Ali says:

    Well! I thought perhaps the ex had finally worn you down and you were going to start fresh elsewhere. I’m glad you aren’t moving. I have this little album in my mind that shows me each room in your cottage. I can’t voucher for the accuracy, but it doesn’t matter. It’s Brocante and starts way back when I first started following you. I can’t imagine trying to modernise the album now.
    Ali x

  4. Annemarie says:

    So true!
    I almost divorced my house this week. My house, in which I have lived for almost 30 years, in which 5 generations of my family have lived (and, like yours, left trace of their presence…such as the marks where my grandpa as a boy tried to burn the place down.)
    My poor house, it has rot. And the workmen have come to scrape out the rot, and replace the gutters that cause the rot. And caulk, and rebuild, and repaint. At the moment I really want to move to a ten-year-old rotless house somewhere in Arizona where all you have to worry about are wildfires and drought.

  5. Mary R. says:

    Alison, I know EXACTLY how you feel. I have often dreamt of a sterile, all-white condo 30 floors up without children, grandchildren, dogs and/or husbands.. It would stay clean but think of what I would miss! So I will take my dusty little cabin and I shall Brocante my way through it. You inspire all of us so!

  6. JacquiG says:

    I too know what you mean. There are times when an old house can wear you down, as mine has recently. Our 150 year old house had a 50 year old dug well that went dry in February, right in the the middle of a frigid Canadian winter 🙁 . New well, new furnace, new paint job … this old house has been wearing on the spirit and the wallet this year. But she has such a soul …

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