The Purple of Life

She told me to hold on to the purple in my life.

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Location: Chicago, United States

I'm a 37-year-old editor and city dweller, wife and mother, moderately liberal and radically optimistic. I would fill my perfect day with a cup of coffee and the Op Ed section, a flea market and the playground, a run along Lake Michigan, a walk through the neighborhood with my son and my greyhound, a Cuban dinner and a bottle of red with my husband, and an evening flight to some European city. I wouldn't be picky about which one.

July 28, 2005

Eleven years

Originally posted to Diary-X

The woman who answered the door did not look thrilled to see me. “Can I help you?” she asked in a detached, semi-suspicious tone.

“Hi, yes, my name is Amy _______, and you bought this house from my parents in 1994,” I said, with my best, brightest, not-a-stalker-or-Mormon-missionary smile.

Her face changed; she smiled, looked at me and John and opened the door a little wider. “I remember you! You’re the older daughter, right? With the pink bedroom?”

“Yup, that’s me.” I explained that this was the first time I’d returned home to Pennsylvania since my parents moved to Michigan, and would she mind if my husband and I walked around in the backyard a little?

“Of course not! And why don’t you come in? You can look around inside, too.”

It hadn’t occurred to me that I might be able to go inside, to walk around the house where I lived the first eighteen years of my life. Now, a month later, those few moments I spent looking at the living room, walking up the stairs, standing in the middle of my old bedroom—they seem like a blur. My heart was beating faster than usual, and my voice sounded husky and wrong, and tears were gathering behind my eyes during those five, maybe six minutes. The woman got her toddler son up from his nap—his room is my sister’s old room, their grade-school daughter has mine—and carried him on her hip as she walked around with us.

They’d pulled up the carpets and refinished the wood floors beneath—very nice. The wallpaper border with the marching white geese still encircled the little kitchen. My mom had loved those geese, bought a goose-shaped spoon-rest and napkins to match. The furniture in their living room looked old. There were baby toys strewn around. My room was painted a cheerful yellow. I stood in that room, looked out the window at the view of the ranch house across the street, the lawn where we’d sledded and built snow forts, the cul-de-sac where I’d watch for Josh’s car. The view that I’d looked at every day for eighteen years. Even after eleven years, it had not changed.

“You know, we didn’t have the heart to paint over the message you left in your closet,” the woman told me. John looked over at me with a Huh? expression on his face.

“Oh my gosh, I’d forgotten about that,” I said, breathless, so overloaded and overwhelmed I could barely process it all.

“Take a look, it’s still there,” she continued, sliding open her daughter’s closet, that same white wooden door that I’d plastered with ads torn out of Sixteen and Teen Beat—Corey Haim, Kate Moss, Eternity perfume. And I got down on my knees and peered under the wooden shelf where I’d kept my shoes, and there it was… my eighteen-year-old penciled handwriting, declaring my love for this house, my sorrow at leaving behind the only life I’d ever known, the pain of moving twelve hours away from my “first true love,” Josh. It was dated July 5, 1994. I remembered lying on my back on the pink-carpeted floor, halfway in the closet, writing it. I remembered how it felt to leave this house.

A few minutes later, after I thanked the woman profusely, John and I walked through the backyard. I showed him the hedges that my father had planted, now sadly overgrown. Where he’d hung the homemade swing that my sister and I would spin each other in. The huge forsythia bush that we made our “shrub club”—no boys allowed! Where our dog Bessy was buried. My favorite hiding spots, the outdoor nooks and crannies that seemed so wild and magical to an eight-year-old. Where my parents always posed us for Easter Sunday photos. Under the apple tree, where I sat on a bee when I was four. The fish pond that my dad had built, with a waterfall and real lily pads and beautiful big stones—still there. I saw the goldfish circling lazily around and around in the brackish water. It was all still there.

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