Here I sit in the former nursery of my sister and stare at the screen. Next, to me my son has cuddled up in the uncomfortable IKEA armchair reading in his most recent Asterix issue. He’s trapped in another world. And another time, long gone, is reaching out for me.
When this room was still my sister’s room, the walls were covered with a green-grey grass wallpaper. There was a light brown carpet on the floor. I am pressing my bare feet onto the newly laid hardwood floor and marvel in amazement as to what a little new, snow-white wallpaper can do with these walls. My former room no longer exists. As soon as I had moved out, my parents tore down the wall and doubled the size of the bathroom. Where my old bed used to stand, there’s a bathtub today. The antique children’s room door only leads into a small chamber where vacuum cleaners, tins and cleaning supplies are stored.
It was difficult to describe my parents’ former apartment as now being mine. To be obtained. To love and like it and call it home. After my mother died, my father suggested we move into the house. He always liked the apartment in the attic, which had once been conceived as the grandparents’ apartment, anyway. So my husband remodeled these rooms. Inside – out. Refurbished the puke yellow bathroom. Destroyed the dark brown kitchen. And by the way, ruined his intervertebral disc for the third time.
And then my father pushed his belongings up a flight of stairs.
My parents’ apartment was empty.
Our place of residence at that time was a 100-year-old dump in the middle of the main road. Noise. Dirt. An arrogant landlord.
So the decision was only logical.
Especially for my husband, who didn’t associate anything with my home except for a few cozy, very funny evenings with my parents. I remember it crystal clear. It was December 23rd. My kids would spend Christmas with my ex-husband. I woke up at about seven o’clock and turned around again. Sleep late! Holiday!
No way – that did not fit the bill of my monsieur. He stepped up to the bed at half past seven with the cordless screwdriver in his hand and announced, “We’re moving today.”
I froze. Didn`t I have another two more months? Packing boxes. Renovate the new old apartment? Expel the spirits of the past?
I wasn’t ready.
And it was a good thing.
The first one to die in this home was my grandfather. The night before his death, as usual, I visited him upstairs under the roof. Read him from the newspaper. And grinned with him about our adventures. My grandpa Willi had gone blind as a pensioner.
Which didn’t stop him from climbing the scaffolding in the neighborhood with all the new buildings. On my orders. “You are my eyes now,” he said, and I learned to describe things.
I will never forget the infernal cry of my grandmother Lotte when she saw her husband lying dead between the room and the bathroom. She stopped living with that roar. But he stayed with us for 18 years. Until she was finally allowed to walk in the nursing bed in my sister’s former nursery, which is my office today. Wherever, whatever her home was, she fled East Prussia.
My father’s father also took his last breath in this room. In the same bed as my grandma, with the same view out the window that I have right now. Fields. Many meadows. Apple trees. And on the horizon, Hohenzollern Castle. Every now and then the Swedish queen is a guest there. You can see it on the hoisted flag. She and the Hohenzollern are somehow related. With the same view in front of her dying eyes, my other grandma too was lying here.
My mother was allowed to die at home. She was sick, very sick. Again and again, my father and I stood in the intensive care unit in the middle of the night. We need to keep deciding whether she gets life support or not. Again and again, she jumped Grim Reaper from the scoop. Until July 2017. My father called me. She refused to drink. Didn’t want to get up. I knew she wanted to go. We didn’t call any more doctors.
Today I sleep in the room where the woman who once gave me life took her last breath. My clothes hang on the bar, from which I chose the most colorful and cheerful garments possible for her coffin. I brush my teeth on the sink she had chosen and cook in the kitchen she had always wanted.
The first night, Christmas, I woke up screaming. Someone seemed to be lying on my chest. Reaching out for me. I shouted into the darkness: “Go! Get lost! This is my home!”
And it was – from that moment on.
I’ve lived in many places. Try to put down roots there. My ex-husband and I, for example, lived in what seemed like a perfect architect’s house. I never really managed to settle there. There was always this feeling: “Home!”, when I saw the house of my childhood. Despite and perhaps because of the dead.
And also because of my children. They immediately took possession of the rooms and designed them according to their own wishes. For them, there are no deaths here. They are pleased about the functioning mobile phone reception in the cellar and about the garden. They are not interested in my first dog being buried there. Nor that we buried half a dozen cats under the now oversized fir trees. My kids are just there. Take up new roots and define their home. Their home, entirely new.
Silke Porath lives together with her French husband in their home of choice in Balingen, on the border of the swabian Alps. Born in 1971, the mother of three children works as a freelance Journalist and Writing teacher. Trained as both an editor and PR consultant, she is a member of the “42erAutoren”, the association of German writers and the Group of 48.