By Will Thames
The last three years of my life can be traced through a series of messy houses. Not messy in the “needs a good dusting” way. Messy in the “foundation is questionable and the mice didn’t come to make friends” way. Three houses in three years, all within the same half-mile. Each of them crucibles, melting down and reshaping what lay within.
The “Tree House,” for that was/is its name, stands tall at the bend of Hudson and Prospect street. Its beige concrete exterior is framed with deep green window panes and crumbling plaster. Trees enclose the entire front of the house, casting green-tinted light through their branches inside. On the deck, there sits a well-worm bench, a few well-aged folding chairs, and a wooden coffee table. From the porch, you can peer through the surrounding foliage and spy passerby’s passing by. Sometimes they spin down the street with open arms and wide smiles, their shorts buttoned high and their eyes squinting through the harsh summer sun. Sometimes they trudge past in thick winter boots and leaning into the headwind. On weekend nights (and the occasional Thursday evening), a special breed emerges from the concrete. We called them “biddies,” and I’m still not entirely sure why. With a trained ear, one can hear them long before their parade stomps into view.
My roommates and I learned to hear their approach early in the semester. Our ears pricking up meerkat-style at the first “Omg Melissa I’m sooooo fucked up,” wafting in on an evening breeze.
“Positions!” One of us would call.
Like clockwork- we’d crouch by an open window or crawl onto the roof and begin to call names.
“Trisha! Becky! Kayla! Madison!”
This list would continue until we got a response or the herd moved on. I don’t recommend this method as an effective way to meet new people, but it did make us laugh until our sides felt close to splitting.
The interior of the Tree House (later dubbed the Tree Haus when we decided to put our own spin on it) was a perpetually-dusty honeycomb of rooms. We made every effort with vacuuming, dusting, and scrubbing down every surface regularly, but the house house had other plans. Ultimately, the grime won out. In my mind, I can still see a suspicious dark spot on the rim of the bathtub shaped like a malformed potato and I shudder.
At a certain point, we decided it didn’t matter. As long as the toilet is clean and operational, there’s a lot you can let slide. And the dining room came with a functioning bar, so there was very little to complain about. We were too busy re-arranging the magnets on the refrigerator to form profane snatches of one-line poetry. We were too busy dancing on the tables, running lines in the dining room, or drinking cheap wine and laughing into the small hours of early morning. The stairs creaked (sometimes on their own), the tap water came out cloudy, and the couches had seen better days. I loved it to pieces.
The Tree Haus was an easy place to let my guard down. To exhale. This proved fortunate as, of all four years of my undergrad, sophomore year proved the most white-hot and combustible. Returning from a 72 hour stint at Cayuga Medical for wishing I was dead and trying to act on it a couple times, I returned home to drop my backpack in the front hall, crawl to the dining room table and stared out the open window, coat still on, until my roommates returned home. It had snowed that morning- before I’d been released. And the first signs of thaw teased at the edge of my vision.
My room in the Tree House was gifted with three bay windows overlooking the street. In spring, the foliage grew so thick that you could believe you were in an authentic tree house. Ever the ambitious nester, I decorated my bedroom with ceiling to floor book pages ripped straight from “The Once and Future King” and the SpiderWick Chronicles. Sprawling across the ceiling, I could read snatches of chapters I had poured over when I was nine and over-eager to read ahead of my grade level. I draped mosquito netting over my bed, tangled in frills and chords as though woven by a drunken spider.
The room we returned to together.
The bed where I whispered “you are so so precious,” into your sleeping ears.
The bed I plodded back to alone, too numb to feel anything but the cotton of my pillowcase.
The night I clenched my fists long after falling asleep as the words “cheater, liar, cheater, liar,” circled my head like birds of prey.
The corner you shouted me into when I tried to leave.
The room where I hit you across the face.
Junior year, the name was ours to ordain. It was six of us that year. All of us raucous, in love, and in progress. We settled on “Pre-K”. Two three-person apartments. An upstairs and a downstairs. The first weekend we all settled in, a racket was raised over a suspicious hole in the downstairs bathroom wall. There, next to the sink, one rat-sized hole exploding open from inside the wall, pieces of plaster and molding fanning OUTWARD. We were either living with an especially tiny Kool-Aid Man, or an especially hulk-ed out rat.
Between first and second semester, there was a change in lineup. As one set of friends left for a semester abroad, I elected to remain home. This proved to be the right call for many reasons, chief among which were the two girls who moved into my apartment over winter break. Our mutual filthy-disgusting-detestable-morbid senses of humor merged within the first 12 hours, and we proceeded to spend the next four months watching Sister Wives, listening to Lorde, and referring to ourselves as “millennial garbage, sexual goblins,” and several other atrocious nicknames that will never leave that smoke-filled living room.
My bedroom? Less space. More mosquito netting. I drew the short straw and settled on a quiet boxcar room overlooking the side of the house. Thankfully, the natural light was good, and the rooms proximity to the kitchen, bathroom, and living room meant I never had to go out of my way to Irish exit a party that had drawn on far longer than my blood sugar could keep up with. The window was my favorite part, looking over Prospect street as it disappeared into the trees of the neighborhood below, I again felt like a nested bird watching the world come in and out of focus with the seasons.
The room where you held my face in your hands.
The room you ran back to, emergency Advil in hand and an I-told-you-so smile on your face.
The chair where I practiced mini surgery on myself for the first time.
The room where you clutched at me like a life raft.
The bed where I found you with another boy. Hands trailing down and mouths open and smiling.
The bed where you brushed my hands away and said things had changed beyond repair.
Finally, the house I write this from. An unassuming subdivided building with a rusted fire-escape snaking down the front. The house’s greatest blessing is its two-car (three cars if you squeeze) driveway leading to the back porch and yard. The backyard is a spacious square of uneven turf coated with a welcome mat of green. Or white, depending on the season. Today, it is green. A metal pipe is driven into the far corner of the yard with several horseshoes littered around it.
The backyard where we watched my neighbors torch their couch to high heaven and I wondered if I’d ever see you again. Or whether it even mattered anymore.
There are three kitchens, four bathrooms, and one washer/dryer between the eight of us. We dubbed it “The Firehouse” but refer to it colloquially as “Das Fierhaus”. Things just sound funnier in a cartoonish German accent. A party house through and through, Das Fierhaus came with all the charming additives that come with the distinction. Almost every Sunday morning dawned on tabletops and counters coated with a fine layer of dried Hawaiian Punch and tequila, red solo cups, and anywhere from 5 to 7 coats left behind in the aftermath of the 2-3am clear-out.
My room is another boxcar. I covered the walls with postcards, tapestries, and posters I saved and re-used magpie style. Mugs litter my bedside table and a web of half-broken string lights hung over my bed. As I type this, I have the same sheets I’ve had since sophomore year, grown ratty around the edges and nearing the end of their life.
This is the bed I found you in by accident. Alone and waiting.
The bed where we stayed up into the long hours of the morning and talked like best friends do.
The bed where we exchanged “I’m sorry’s” and “I love you’s” and finally, for what I pray was the last time, said goodbye.