Ever notice how life overlaps sometimes? We like to think of time as being on a straight line, drawn on a big piece of butcher paper taped to the wall, covered with photos and dates. The past is over there on the left, and it marches on down this line toward the right. All tidy and straightforward, right?
But in my experience it's...wigglier...than that. It doesn't move at even intervals like it should, leaping forward or dragging instead of just ticking away a second at a time. Sometimes it folds right around and touches back on itself so the ink bleeds through in unsettling ways. Like when we move back to a city where we've lived before but didn't expect to live again, and find ourselves in our old haunts, using our old mental maps, almost seeing the ghost of our former selves sitting at the tables in the restaurants or driving along the streets doing errands. I was here before, we think, and there was no way for me to give a thought to my future-self then, but now I remember my past-self standing over there, and it's really, really weird.
My family lived in the Greenville area about thirty years ago. We moved away before I started kindergarten, so I remember very little about that time or where we lived. Most of my childhood took place in North Carolina, which was my family's destination when we left here. But a friend of my parents who is still here mentioned to me that our house from that time is still around, so I looked it up. It's currently for sale, so there were more pictures of it available than you can usually find of a house. For nostalgia's sake, (and to see if I remembered the place at all) I began to click through them.
I clicked through the front yard, (vaguely familiar) the kitchen (looked like too many kitchens I've seen since to remember), the dining room (just a dining room), the foyer...
Looks like a normal living room and foyer to you, right? But for me, it's like someone crawled deep into my brain and held up a mirror. This living room. The way it opens into the foyer. I had no idea, but this is the house that shows up in every one of my dreams where a stock house is needed. When I read something where the house is mentioned but undefined, or where the characters have to come in a front door, or sit down in the living room, my mind defaults to these rooms. So that, over the years, I've had a ton of people living in this house in my mind. Everyone from books. Everyone in dreams. Anybody that needs a normal house in a normal neighborhood lives here. Now that I think of it, every time I read one of Orson Scott Card's articles wherein he mentions his house, I imagine him living here too.
All this makes it sound like I obsess over this house, but it's not that conscious. It's simply one of the backdrops that I use to fill in behind a story that's going on. And I didn't even realize it until I saw this picture. Which seems completely strange, since this isn't the house I spent the most time in as a child. After we left Greenville, we rented for a year or two, then moved into a house I lived in until I graduated from high school. We lived in this house for maybe two years, probably less. The house of my dreams, the house all my stories live in, wasn't the house where I spent the most time, it was the first house I can remember.
So I want to ask you about this fascinating, weird discovery. Do you have a house that you use when one is suggested but not described? Do you have other stock backdrops? Why do we do this? Did the first things we understood make such an impression on us that we never forgot them, or are our brains just lazy, figuring that the first ones were the only ones we'd ever need?
At any rate, this is a seriously bizarre feeling. I know you're going to ask me whether I'm going to buy this house and and the answer is heck no. Not with all those people living in it.