I had just turned nine when we moved into what would become our ‘family’ home in 1993. At the time, it was just my mom, step dad, and myself, until they got married the following year and then my brother came along in 1995.
Since we were new to the neighbourhood, we didn’t really know anyone so we were essentially strangers on our own street. Prior to the move, I was excited about where we’d be living because it was known across town as the ‘cool’ neighbourhood, although it was vast in size and some areas of it were nicer than others. Our street fell somewhere in the middle — not littered with fancy, rich suburban houses with swimming pools or trampolines in the backyard like some of the other streets — but with 1970’s exteriors that had been updated and mid-sized front and backyards that were comfortable for kids to play in. It was — and still is — a welcoming, friendly street that has evolved over time while remaining authentic and nostalgic, the way childhood streets and homes do, except for one house.
Across the street from ours sits a mustard yellow house with an unkempt dry front yard that looks like it hasn’t been watered in years (it probably hasn’t). The wall’s surfaces are tainted, stained and faded, making it seem highly unlikely it’s had a paint job since it was first built back in the ’70s. It seems like it isn’t even occupied, given the state of care it’s in, except that it is: on one side of the lawn, in the driveway, are two motorcycles and a white van. On the other side, in the gravel driveway, with grass sprouting through the rocks, is a grey truck.
You almost never see them come or go — at least when I go home to visit now — but there’s still life in the house even if it doesn’t seem like there is on the outside.
T still lives there; his former company has been replaced by his sister, who moved in years ago, from what I can recall.
Now, the house looks sad, lonely and desperate to me, like a ghost town that’s been deserted but a few of its occupants were just too stubborn to leave. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the house across the street. Shortly after we moved into the ‘hood, I’d been introduced to the two kids who lived there with their parents. While it was never elaborately decorative, it was homey and comforting, and I was always welcome there. It became like a second home to me.
D was a year older than me and his younger brother, V, was a couple of years younger than I. V was adopted and was the stereotypical baby of the family. D and V didn’t always get on well because, well, that’s the way it generally goes with siblings, but V would hang out with us regularly, especially when we were at their house.
E, T’s wife and the mom of the two children, was consistently bubbly and full of life. She’d come home from working her job as a waitress in the restaurant attached to the hotel a few blocks away (which has since burned down and has been an empty lot for over eight years now), and cook dinner for everyone with nothing less than a bright smile on her face. When I was there hanging out, I was always welcome to stay; the few times I wasn’t were rattling and somewhat shocking because she’d get short and curt in her speech, and would tell me to go home right away.
T was always quiet and reserved. He drank often, but I don’t think he was an alcoholic. I do remember never feeling completely comfortable being alone in his presence and maybe that was telling, even back then.
But then it would be like nothing happened the next time I’d be there, and she’d welcome me with that lipsticked, dimply smile.
Sometimes I think E was my favourite out of the four and I always wanted her to like me. She treated me like a friend as much as D did and it was the first time any of my friends’ parents treated me like an adult. It made me feel special and grown up.
Without fully realising it, over the course of time, D and I became best friends. He’d come on family vacations with me and I’d go places with him and his family too. Our friendship was pure and genuine, and that’s all it ever was: just a couple of kids being friends. Nothing more was ever suggested or implied, especially as we grew into early teenage-hood.
As D and I got older, our friendship slowly grew apart. In the fall of 1998, five and a half years after we moved across the street, my family and I moved to Alberta for nine months. Back then, we didn’t have a computer of our own, and consequently no internet, so D and I didn’t communicate while we were gone.
When we moved back into our home, when I was 15 and entering grade ten, we reconnected but it wasn’t the same. He’d started dating a girl from school who was new the previous year. There was never any jealousy because neither of us were interested in each other romantically, but the dynamic of our friendship changed, as it does in those situations.
D and L dated off an on for awhile and we’d hang out in group settings or at school, but gone were the sleepover days, E’s dinners, infectious smile and our one-on-one conversations.
Looking back, I think I miss those the most.
And then one day, out of nowhere, E packed her bags and left, leaving D and V with her estranged husband, T. In many ways, it rattled us all because E was like the neighbourhood mom, always looking out for the rest of us. She cared so much about the well-being of others that she often put herself last, at least from what I can gauge now as an adult, and she’d finally had enough.
I kept hoping she’d come back because our street didn’t feel the same without her; when you’re a teenager, change is hard to accept even when it doesn’t directly affect you personally, but my teenage self was nostalgic for a simpler time when just being around her was enough to put you in better mood. It was like she had died, even though she only moved to a city 45 minutes away.
A few more years passed and soon D moved out on his own, as growing children do when they go away to college, as did I when I got there. When I left home, I was 19 and my baby brother was eight years old. Everyone was growing up, life on our cozy little street was evolving, and the next round of neighbourhood children was on the rise.
I haven’t seen or heard anything about E in years, but I’d like to think she’s out there, smiling just like old times, and hopefully meaning it. The same goes for D and V. I couldn’t even tell you if they’ve been back to see their father after they left.
That dreary, yellow-coloured house remains stagnant and unchanged all these years, too afraid to let go of the past and not ready to move forward . I think part of it died the day E left and it’s been on life support since.
In some ways, the unchanged state of the house across the street has kept my childhood alive. It sticks out like a sore thumb on a street where so much has changed, but maybe that’s what makes it still so welcoming.