Friday, June 13, 2008

First Person: Memories of Homes

This juniper was the only other living thing in my first apartment where I lived alone many years ago.

I am moving to my new home this week–my twentieth address since I was born–and in the middle of cleaning the jalousie and polishing the wooden floor, I wonder about this house’s history. I’ve always been fascinated by the character of houses and the stories they tell.

One of the more memorable houses in my lifetime is my aunt’s house in Cavite. Big, bold, and boisterous, the house, more than 20 years old, is never without people. Quiet moments are scarce there, and the house is never without visitors as it serves as a halfway home for relatives from the Visayas who come to visit. Despite my craving for peace and quiet—writerly moments, I call them—I am drawn to that house, maybe because I feel most at home there, in the presence of family.

Another significant memory of houses in my childhood is my grandmother Estrella’s house in Bacolod City, where I lived until I was eleven. Even now, almost two decades later, I still remember the glossy shine and the smoothness of the house’s wooden bamboo floors and hot summer months quenched by a bath in our own well.

Another home that I remember fondly is my first apartment in Taguig. During this “year of living independently,” I battled the depression that comes with living alone. I learned to cook for one. I kept the house company during the weekends, polishing the floor while listening to relationship advice over the radio.

Its walls had a coldness to it and I tried to be kind to it by playing Lea Salonga throughout the night or some other music, depending on whether someone was staying for the evening. I would read poetry aloud in the middle of the night when I’d wake up scared of being alone. But I came to love it, and when my contract was up, I was sad to go and gave away some of my possessions because I didn’t want to be reminded of the memories of that home.

Today, as I clean out the big, tall closets in this place I will soon call home, I start to wonder what this house has seen. I am sure the walls have seen a lot of sex in their lifetime. I wonder if the happier moments in this house outweigh the sad ones. I also wonder if anybody has died in this house—and if someone had and I knew, would I still take it?

My wild imagination starts conjuring scenes of devil worship and human sacrifices a la Rosemary’s Baby. But my saner self takes over and I focus on my plans for this house. Like whether I should repaint its mint green doors in the rooms above, a shade a stark contrast to my color scheme, or when to replace the blinds—a repository of years-old dust—allergens! I fear another allergy attack.

Despite the fact that I’ve moved a lot since I was a kid, I never walk into the door of a potential home and say, “I will stay only a year.” There is always the longing to stay, maybe longer, maybe forever. I’ve come to love the homes I’ve lived in like I would my own child. During idle moments, I find myself scrubbing tiles and walls, seemingly rubbing away the age with bleach and detergent.

The kitchen tiles in this new home are starting to break. The locks and doorknob are rough with age. I may have to replace all these soon, if only because I want to love this house back and so I want to make it more lovable despite its flaws, like an only child. The house has a lot of potential, I know. I am positive I will have a lot of good memories here.

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