by Catherine Jarrell

That first week in the new house
we sat in lawn chairs in the living room
and slept on a stiff blow-up mattress
that exuded an industrial latex smell
as it hissed its way to limp emptiness each morning.
We sweated on our temporary bed during the first few
unseasonably warm June nights, in that sweltering,
strange bedroom made even more oppressive
by the gray-mustard paint on the ceiling,
of all places, a dreadful decorating misfire
that failed to reach the heights of edginess
and instead simply petered out at the perimeter of ugly.
Restless sleep slowly overtook pillow talk calculations of
how many gallons of ceiling white we’d need
and speculation about the race of giants who’d built this place,
where shower heads and towel bars were set at lofty heights.

And the following June, when we had finally found
the post office and a new dentist and shortcuts,
and we had season tickets to the symphony,
and our new address was in our family members’ nav systems,
which they no longer needed to find us,
and, heartbroken, we had buried one pet and then another in the backyard,
the house was still “theirs” and not quite home.

And another June later,
after gallons of paint upstairs
and a finished basement downstairs,
and the careful positioning and re-positioning of
memory-laden curios and paintings,
and after a family reunion, new carpeting,
and ripping out the old landscaping by the roots
and planting our favorite flowers and trees,
the house was still “theirs” and not quite home.

Putting the grandfather clock my dad built in the hall didn’t do it,
Nor did hanging my grandmother’s favorite painting
I remembered from childhood,
nor using the familiar stoneware we received
as a wedding present decades ago.

And other Junes went by,
and we had finally lived here
much longer than “they” had (the giants)
when one day I walked into the living room,
where the lawn chairs had been,
and suddenly remembered my mother’s first visit and how
we sat close to each other on the ottoman,
and the fresh green beans and early summer new potatoes
I served her two weeks after we’d moved in,
and the time when my sister and I sat on the couch
with our arms around one another,
and how my stepfather and I had watched the deer
from the kitchen window,
and the big party we had with happy friends
pouring out of rooms that had yet to be repainted,
and our niece and nephew sitting on the floor,
stuffed after Thanksgiving dinner,
and the way the afternoon light slanted into our bedroom
when I was sick and you took care of me;
and laughter from countless supper parties
gently echoed in the dining room,
mixing with the quiet conversation of family
gathered for the last time with the ones we would lose so soon.
And this June the house was ours, not theirs—our home.

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