Within days of my mom dying, Mike and I were moved into the already-cramped three bedroom house which was currently holding four people. Mike occupied the basement while I lived in the sun room (with enough room for a twin bed, small TV, and bed stand)—the former computer room which was a go-between space connecting the dining room to the closed-in porch.
Sometimes I would sit on the outdoor section of the porch and look out into the yard at night, or peak through the blinds of the porch windows, sitting in my mother’s large armchair. My stuff was overflowing from the sun room into the porch—the chair, an armoire holding my clothes, bags of leftovers—all next to the wicker furniture. In the beginning, I was afraid to sleep, fearing I wouldn’t wake up; being so close to the outside world, an extension of the house but not inside, enhanced the feeling of disconnect.
An old man lived next door, only appearing through his fence-like bushes when he was outside limping around. From the cracks in the green, it looked beautiful in there—a wrought iron swing and a white bench covered in overgrown vines. If I hadn’t been so afraid of his loneliness, I might’ve entered and sat. When my little brothers lost balls and toys, they were gone forever. There were stones that once led into his side of the yard where we’d tiptoe lightly to look in but they were now halted by the deep shrubs. From the porch, I could see the top of a shedding tree.
A few months later, summer started and I spent most days riding my bike with a girl from school while she looked for boys. (I’d idle and ride in circles while she kissed them in the street.) When I visited her house for the first time, she explained why her room was painted yellow. We sat listening to Led Zeppelin on record with her friend, Cherry, and ate freeze pops until we’d ride around again until twilight. I was happy to be out of the house, and luckily, we were looking to move before I started high school.
Before we moved out and school was to begin, the mailman peaked into the window of the neighbor’s house and discovered the old man in his bed. After the firemen and police removed the body, a sickeningly sharp smell lay thick in the air long after. He had been slowly decaying into his bed, melting and combining for weeks, while I slept in the armchair on the porch for fresh air. When bringing my bike home at night from then on and until we left, forced to return it to the garage which was next to his bedroom window, I saw his face peering at me, angry and curious.
When I painted the cement walls of the basement in the new house, the space was exciting. Here, I could restore; replace my belongings to their original spots (books and figurines on shelves), and horde it all around me. Kicking my feet around in our new pool one night after painting, the stars spotlighting the yard and house in front of me, I could see the small window that looked into the basement, inches above ground level. It looked swallowed, buried, by the two-story house, so I looked into the pool instead, imagining sharks beneath my neon water-lit legs.