We moved out to the farm when I was two; I have been in awe of that house for as long as I can remember. It was well-worn, then, but not run-down. It had a large front porch with a flat roof that you could go out and stand on.
We called it “The-House-Across-The-Street,” a sensible name, as we were in the habit of giving most things. The market at the crossroads was called “The Little Store”; the white structure catty-corner to it was called “The Ugly House”; the room in our house with the green carpet was “The Green Room,” and the one with gold carpet, “The Yellow Room.”
As I got older, I spent a lot of time imagining what it was like inside. Huge stone fireplaces, a sweeping, grand staircase. “Beautiful” decor as only an eight, nine, ten-year-old girl can dream up. It was almost always devoid of inhabitants, though people did live there from time to time. It had been built, I believe, by the grandparents of the man who owned the property and the fields surrounding it.
Our yard was fenced to keep the dogs and sheep away from the road, and we were not to cross over to that house. At least I assumed we weren’t, as I never did. It wasn’t our property and it wasn’t our house, and I never so much as peeked through the windows to see if what I imagined about the inside was true. Not until I was twelve, and the cat we’d had since before I was born went missing. I was asked (or it was suggested, and I obliged) to go over to the house and see if she had somehow managed to get trapped inside. So it was at twelve that I was able to do what I had been longing to do–go through the gate, cross the street, and look into that great House-Across-The-Street.
Seventeen years later I still recall that moment as one of the greatest disappointments of my life. What I saw was devastating to my dream-filled, girlish head.
There was a staircase, but not sweeping. Fireplaces, but not grand. Wallpaper peeled off the walls in great hanging sheets. Holes in the walls left the planking underneath exposed. It was filthy and falling apart. I didn’t look very long before going back across the road to our house.
I was twenty-one and a newlywed before I ever actually went inside. During a visit to my childhood home, I followed my adventurous husband across the street and into the house, almost bailing at the door when he said, ponderously, “This is just like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Inside we found nothing but a stop sign, some trash, and one solitary armchair in an upstairs bedroom, seated in front of a window. The stairs looked ready to collapse at any moment, and I’m still wondering at why we ever climbed them and how someone didn’t get hurt.
Over the years it has continued to deteriorate. The porch was torn down, and in the process, the foundation was compromised. The paint on the front doors faded even further. The chimneys began to crumble, and a family of vultures has moved into one of them. Despite its eerie aura and silent misery, I’ve never found the place to be ominous. At least, not that I remember. But I can’t help but feel an intense sorrow when I see it–even though it’s one of my favorite places to photograph. I stick the lense of my camera through a broken window to capture the interior, and I feel sick to my stomach.
When I’m done taking pictures, Jeremy asks if I want to go look inside.
“No,” I say. “It’s just too sad.”