RORI LEIGH MEYER
Sometimes I drive from downtown Grand Rapids to the suburbs. I like to return to the house I grew up in. At 7767 Hidden Ridge Court, there is a two-story brick home with a white balcony. Hidden Lake Estates is an affluent neighborhood. There is an association. Everyone has the same brown mailbox.
A year before, in 2010, the bank foreclosed on 7767. All across the country, homes were foreclosing, and the ripple effect of the crash finally extended from Detroit to the west side of Michigan. My father’s vending business went bankrupt and defunct in 2008 and my mother had only ever worked inside our house—they couldn’t afford the mortgage payments. Still, the truth was they could have stayed for a long time without any penalty. The banks were behind on their eviction notices and didn’t want houses sitting empty during the harsh winter months: pipes would freeze and burst, and the value would plummet. I don’t think they wanted to stay, though. There was something painful about staying in places you no longer belonged. My parents wanted a fresh start; they moved in with my sister over Labor Day weekend in 2010.
There was something painful about staying in places you no longer belonged.
When I get there, I imagine my mother roaming through the rooms, packing and re-packing her life’s work. I imagine her in her kitchen. Pulling her baking dishes out of the white cabinets, her electric mixer next to the stove, her yellow measuring cups under the silverware drawer. Folding newspaper around each piece delicately. Reading the headlines, in no hurry to leave. My mother believed in the power of her kitchen to the very end—her haven where she made caramel cake and peanut butter cookies. The ceremony of measuring each ingredient. For her, baking was more than a ritual; it was a religion.
My mother made holiness look easy. She wore cheery seasonal sweaters and pleated slacks and worked her short hair into loose curls that sat atop her head. She hummed “Be Thou My Vision” and said her prayers every day. She baked and created a home, and around my mother’s surety, I felt close to God too. Each precise spoonful of vanilla extract included me.
She looked over all she had created, inhaled her lit cigarette, and rested.
I knew that my mother’s world revolved around the kitchen; she would leave to fold laundry or make beds, but always, as if tethered by a string, she returned. Sometimes, when she thought no one was looking, my mother would pull her green pack of menthol cigarettes out from the highest shelf next to the stove. Her cookies were in the oven and she had a moment of peace. She looked over all she had created, inhaled her lit cigarette, and rested.
I sneak around back. The stalks of my mother’s tiger lilies stand flowerless, the red bench faded and nearly brown, silver pipes from our trampoline are scattered among the ferns; little remnants of my family grow into the landscape.
I climb the deck stairs near the garage. The slider from the deck to the main floor never latched properly—my father had situated a wood block along the frame of the door so it would stay closed, but perhaps they’d taken it out when they’d moved. I walk to the door. My view is obscured by the one remaining pink curtain of the house; I kneel down to the frame, no wood block.
I grip the slider’s black metal handle, but resist the urge to pull. What will I find? A family of squirrels? Spider webs? Or worse. My mother’s mauve and pine green wallpaper peeling? The crumbled legs of the wooden banister? The white mantle yellowing and chipped? What I might find scares me—but I’m more afraid of what I won’t.
What I might find scares me—but I’m more afraid of what I won’t.
When they moved, my parents managed to get everything out in one day. Except a single twin bed—my mother wanted to stay one last night. She stayed alone. That was the last time my mother’s footsteps traipsed this floor. Had her faith in this house stayed strong in those final moments? Had she turned to God then? Were my mother’s faith in her kitchen and her faith in her God the same thing? I thought so, but now I doubt it. Something inside has to decay.
Her last night here hadn’t been a moment of strength; it was an act of desperation and sadness and weakness. It was human and it was hers. Her eyes must have filled with tears. Maybe she wandered the empty rooms and considered who might fill them someday. Where would they put their lamps, their sofas, their toasters? They would fill the house with modern furniture and tear down the wallpaper. They would rip out the white cabinets and resurface the countertops. The new occupants wouldn’t remember that there had been a family here. There had been a woman who cared for it as best she could, who loved it with all she had inside. But worse than a new owner was the alternative: that no one would live here at all, that it would remain empty.
Maybe she wandered the empty rooms and considered who might fill them someday.
That last night she must have touched the stove a dozen times trying to commit the feel of cool ceramic to her fingertips. She must have looked through her pantry over and over hoping to find that there was something left, that even if she wasn’t here physically some trace would remain. Or maybe she didn’t. The magic gone. The need gone. All of it gone with her family.
Maybe she simply crumped to the floor, lit a single cigarette, and smoked in the dark.
It is getting dark outside. Lights from neighboring houses are turning on. The dim streetlamps glow. I remember how often I stood outside of this house; I liked to be outside. I liked to see my mother, humming in her kitchen, swiveling around, moving to and fro. I press my nose to the glass, my breath fogs it. Through the faded pink curtain I see the taupe carpet in the living room, I see the chandelier hanging in the foyer, and then I see the plaster—broken chunks of white debris. The pipes in the master bathroom burst over the winter and weakened the floor, and now a gaping hole is in the ceiling, right above my mother’s kitchen. The entire structure, once so sound, caving in.
Rori Leigh Meyer is a 2014 graduate of Georgia College and State University's MFA program. She currently teaches at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her work has previously appeared in Superstition Review, Pine Hills Review, and Tampa Review Online, among others.
Illustrated by Jeremy Anderson.