The life of a housewife, a house-husband chiseling away at the laundry, a Greek myth rolling a boulder uphill only to be crushed by it again day-in, day-out: strict rules enforced in the refrigerator with shelves devoted to dairy, to condiments, to beer: scrubbing the island counter with bleach, emptying the vacuum canister, wheeling the compost up the road with dead shrews in it and puncture wounds, all that it takes to entertain a cat.
The guys who rent the house out across the road from us away on tour with a reality TV show about tree houses they star in that I’ve never seen and don’t want to — and the house next door to us, that still sits more than a year now abandoned but hoping to be torn down, rebuilt as two.
Explaining to the kids what Pulp Free means in the juice but the pulp makes them nervous, suspicious of its origins — like Dawn with bacteria, it’s the fear of The Unseen Threat. At night in the back yard peeing, with everyone gone on our street how dark and quiet it seems, and I wonder dimly do I need a gun.
There was an apartment I rented outside Capitol Hill that got broken into once but I didn’t have anything of value (no CDs anyone could resell, no recognizable names), they only got a jar of change for the laundry, a leather briefcase I bought in Paris, probably fake — but how paranoid it made me having the cops come, instructing me to take out the front shrubs and leave the apartment looking like that, shorn, exposed. They even installed a burglar system they were testing but it only made matters worse, and because I didn’t have any weapons I just slept with a long screw driver under the pillow, a flat head for espresso machines I had from my time working in coffee shops but couldn’t remember why or when.
My dad explained his reasoning for having a gun (and did so with an unspoken acknowledgement I was probably on the other side of the issue); he felt justified I think as some gun owners do through a combination of fear and practicality, the fact it’s a right they can exercise, we all can. He was pretty sure he’d heard someone in the house in the middle of the night that one time he said, and wondered what he’d do if someone had really gotten in. It shook him up so much he got one, but always keeps it locked up when the kids come.
And it was a girlfriend I had named Shana who changed my thinking about guns, but in a kind of woo-woo way I’m not really proud of, that having guns “attracts a kind of energy” that paradoxically enables what you fear most more than repels it, which I bought, and tried to tamp down the fear outside our house in the dark, making sure to latch the doors each time we left, to make it look like someone was home even when we weren’t.
And it’s the guns I had at my mom and John’s place in the woods of Pennsylvania Dutch country when I was housesitting there that gave me the tinnitus: a paranoia that came after a perimeter violation in one of the zones off the master bedroom combined with a late afternoon thunderstorm they get back East in the spring, the persistent beep of an answering machine in John’s office that blinked like a beacon in a cave in the basement, an emergency signal, when I realized what happened: I’d had a party over the weekend and lost control of all the guests, like who’d come with whom, and noted an older guy who said he was someone’s dad I think, noted him standing by one of the sliding doors off the lower deck examining it and realized the mistake I’d made, that it was real, someone had tried to break in but lost their nerve when the alarm went off and fled — and when the cops came it was just one guy who rang the bell and when I opened the door he didn’t come in but just pointed at the drums behind me where I’d laid the gun, said something like Playing the drums?, but didn’t say much more, just wished me goodnight and left — and afterwards it dawned on me he didn’t even check my ID, and how did he know I was the owner, and didn’t he find it strange, the drums, the gun, me in an African robe?
Since it was the 90s I was watching The X-Files, The Blair Witch Project, and had myself good and freaked out — had started moving the guns to different locations around the house, rotating them to confuse anyone who could be watching because I had no way of seeing out with the lights on and had to start extinguishing them at dark. With an infinite range of eyes watching from the dark I kept to the edges, quit drinking, slept bad.
Mom and John had ample stories of paranormal stuff with the house to light my imagination (some of it the poltergeist variety, some of it alien), and we’d had enough guests on odd ends of the mental spectrum who’d left their residue in ways that couldn’t be removed it’d become part of the fabric, what we put in the soil.
Even the golden retriever that came from a farm down the road was unreal we thought, it had to be a spirit dog to cross the highway each time and not get hit the way those trucks drove and crested, right above the house. At night firing the pistols in the void of the dark gave me strength, I locked horns with the infinite chaos, my imagination, felt a hero for it, transcended myself.
And it wasn’t just me, but it happened to a friend who looked after the house afterwards, who used up all the ammo and didn’t offer to reimburse John for it, who said he kind of lost it there but didn’t say much more — and it made me wonder if houses can really consume you like that or if it’s just the spirits that inhabit them, the feelings that inhabit us, that make us do what we do.