We have lived in our house for a long time.  We moved in in the summer of 2001 with plans to stay here for a few years before moving on.  As it turns out, we are still here.  This fact has several ramifications on our daily life, almost all good.  One in particular is on my mind lately.  This house is full to the rafters with memories.  Every room holds ghosts.  This is the house in which we celebrated our first anniversary.  It is the house in which I sat two days later and watched the television coverage of 9/11, my new husband in LA, having flown out the night before instead of that morning .  It’s the house to which we brought home both of our babies from the hospital.  These walls have witnessed joy and sorrow, laughter and tears, first birthday parties and baby showers and engagement celebrations and many tantrums and even more glasses of wine.

Dec06.Grace writing (1)

I thought of this the other day when I stood behind Grace in her room as she rubbed cream into her face before bed.  I could not see myself over her head in the mirror because she is almost as tall as I am now.  Suddenly the image of her 4 year old self, standing in the same spot in the room, concentrating hard to write her name, spindly letters sprawling across the paper on the easel, almost knocked me over.  The Margaret Atwood poem that was the preface to my college thesis, Spelling, rose to my mind:

How do you learn to spell?
Blood, sky & the sun,
your own name first,
your first naming, your first name,
your first word.


The next morning I walked into Whit’s room to find him sitting cross-legged in the yellow-upholstered glider that stands in the corner of his room, reading a chapter book.  I spent so many hours in that glider, rocking him, nursing him, watching the moon out the window of his room.  And here he sat, buzz-cut, almost 10, reading to himself as he rocked quietly back and forth.

The past is animate in every corner of this house.  I sat in the kitchen rocking chair with a week-old Grace on my lap, looking mutely at my doula and nodding silently as she encouraged me to seek help for my already-overwhelming post-partum depression.  I labored by myself with Whit in the darkness of night in our bedroom, pacing back and forth, Ina May’s book open at the foot of our bed.  I have taken more pictures than I can count of Grace and Whit with their grandparents on the yellow couch in our living room.  We have celebrated Thanksgivings, Christmases, and hundreds of family Sunday dinners at our oval mahogany dining table.

I’ve written often about how time confounds me, about the ways that the past rises up through the present, augmenting and haunting it at the same time.  This is something I experience on a daily basis in my own home. The past and the present are layered together in a way that enriches my everyday life and tints it with sorrow at the same time.  When you’re this aware of the past, it seems to me, there’s an inevitable thread of loss and longing that is sewn through your days.  While I don’t think this is true merely because I’ve lived in my house a long time, I do think I confront specific and highly-textured reminders of what was more frequently because of that.

Even now, as I write this, I’m sitting  in the room where I paced for so many hours, a colicky Grace in the baby Bjorn, hoping she would finally fall asleep.  I am looking out the window at the tree whose branches I watch cartwheel through the seasons every year.  Down the hall is the bathroom in whose tub a baby Whit giggled, his plump body in a starfish-patterned bath seat.  When I walk downstairs I will wade through memories from over 13 years.  And the ghosts who populate those memories make me simultaneously sad, grateful, and intensely aware of my own life.

13 thoughts on “Ghosts”

  1. Lindsey, I so love all your posts, although I don’t comment often. Thank you for sharing your heart so completely. I am much older than you, yet am always moved deeply by your words. They bring back so many memories that I carry and hold both the longing, sadness and joy of the past. Also being so intensely aware of life, past and present, bring such a deep gratitude for it all. Enjoy each moment as they do pass very quickly.
    Blessings on your journey.

  2. I so appreciate this, Lindsey. It’s exactly why, when it came time to leave the house in which we’d raised our boys for 13 years, I could hardly bear to go; it wasn’t just a house, it was the vessel that contained every memory of my mothering, of their childhoods. It still brings me to tears to think of it, ten years later. Beautiful!

  3. I really love the whole piece, but the second last paragraph is so spot-on. This line “I do think I confront specific and highly-textured reminders of what was more frequently because of that”…

    This has kind of been a repeated conversation in my life over the past year because I really want to leave the town I live in for this exact reason… but I DON’T want to leave for the EXACT SAME REASON!

    My friend said to me a few months ago: “There is something empowering about being able to walk down the street KNOWING that you’re not going to run into _______” (whoever – an ex, a friend who stabbed you in the back, your abuser, your rapist, there are so many degrees of varying levels of harm)… So, there are those ghosts…

    But I find it peaceful to walk down the street and maybe run into my best friend from childhood’s Mom, or an old teacher, or an old regular from my first job.

    And the same ghosts a town can be filled with are the same ghosts a house can be filled with… And they can be the same levels (or even greater) of good, bad or indifferent.

    Thanks for writing this.

  4. Beautiful. This sentiment is the very reason why I predict that we may never move from our home. It’s never just a bunch of wallboard and studs to me. I’d really have a hard time saying goodbye to the ghosts, and I’ve never really felt quite the same about a physical space until my daughter was born (except maybe one of my own childhood homes in particular).

  5. Love this, Lindsey. I have been thinking a lot about when the kids were babies. We aren’t in the same house that we were when the first two were born, and I still drive by it and want to walk through the rooms and remember.

  6. Oh how I get this, Lindsey. For years now, driving past the elementary school where our kids went, I feel as if I see ghosts on the sidewalks, playing field and blacktop. In our home too where- like you -we expected to be for a few year that turned to 17. We share things in common… “When you’re this aware of the past, it seems to me, there’s an inevitable thread of loss and longing that is sewn through your days.” Yes. Indeed. Beautiful.

    You are probably familiar, but just in case…

    “Write what haunts you, lest you spend your life amidst drivel. Write what you care most about, the beauty, the absurdity, and the sorrow of the world.” -Jane Resh Thomas


  7. With one child moved out of our house, it suddenly is seeming far too rambling and empty for just three of us. In three years, when our youngest is gone, I imagine I’ll seal off parts of th house and only spend time in a few rooms…without their liveliness running down the halls and friends in and out, the ghosts will run the place.

  8. I am the opposite of you. I have lived in 10 different houses/apartments in the last 13 years. And yet, those houses are like ghosts in my memory. I’ll have a flash of an old kitchen or the way the sun used to hit my chair in the “old house.” Each place we lived also has memories of babies and pregnancies and yes – bumpy trips to the hospital.

    I just love everything you write. It gets me on such a deep level.

  9. I so appreciate this and once again your words warm my heart and give me a great sense of connection. Glad to know there is a community out “there” who share a similar appreciation for these passing moments. I secretly wish I was more teflon like my friends who plow forward and rarely reflect a longing for those early days of motherhood and the brisk passing of time. I’m amazed at how unphased they are.

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