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I watched the house across the street being built, in the early nineties. From the top floor of my three-story pink condo, I photographed the foundation as it was poured. I snapped Polaroids of the first floor’s cinderblock walls as they were stacked high on top of the cement slab. When the wooden two-by-four frame was balanced above the cinderblocks, defining the second floor, I took more photos.

Before the roof could be put on top of the house’s beautiful bones, however, construction stopped. It was halted for quite some time and the house was left alone, open to the elements. For months, the St. Lucie River’s salty, humid winds blew across the busy street and laid rest in the house’s exposed walls. Black soot from the airplanes flying overhead covered its unfinished interior with a thin film. Rains would pour in, washing over the vulnerable structure. The half-built house withstood the pollution and weathering, holding its head up high, and strong, waiting.

Eventually, I saw workers come back and finish framing the roof. They wrapped the outside of the house in a protective, yellow stucco covering and tiled the rooftop in strong, burnt orange Spanish barrel tiles. The house stood proudly on its soon-to-be-landscaped lot. Palm trees and birds of paradise were planted around the house. Sod was laid to create a front and back lawn. Ficus hedges were planted along the front perimeter to keep the house beautifully shielded from the busy street. A six-foot privacy fence was built around the back yard, and night blooming jasmine planted along the wooden walls, providing perfume in the moonlight. A long, hibiscus-lined driveway was poured, to invite visitors and eventually welcome new owners.

I witnessed the house’s new residents move in and make it their home. The house beamed, happily inhabited and eager to please its new owners. They lived there together for only a month before the man left. For a couple more years, the house continued to shelter the broken woman. It did its best to keep her safe until she had to leave, unable to take care of it any longer. The house looked sad, but stood strong and while it waited for another owner to come take care of it.

Soon, a new owner arrived. He was a large man with a big white dog and he seemed to take pride in the house. He built on a screened-in patio and installed strong, new windows to protect the house from hurricanes. He planted banana trees and more bushes and added landscaping lights, irrigation and special touches to the interior. The house looked happy and loved. After many years of being pampered and preened, the house lit up on its lot, until the man and his dog had to leave.

Soon, new, young owners moved in and put piles of boxes in every room. They pulled a big boat in the driveway and parked two cars on its front lawn. They argued and yelled and came and went. The house tried its best to keep them safe and sound but they were too busy fighting to notice.

When the first hurricane was announced, the man nail-gunned plywood to cover the house’s windows and the couple fled, running far away from the house, the wild rain and whipping winds. The hurricane came, and the house’s fence fell. Some of its trees were ripped to shreds. Everything else held up very well. When the couple came back, the new man seemed mad. In a fit, he pulled off the plywood, leaving nail holes in the stucco. He roped together the fallen fence pieces to re-stabilize them. He cut away some of the fallen trees and left the rest of the landscaping bare and alone.

When the second hurricane came, the house tried as best it could to stay strong. It withstood additional damage but its effort seemingly went unnoticed. The screaming and hollering got worse inside. For the next year, the house tried its best to muffle the anger inside. One day, the man left and the woman stayed, and the house couldn’t conceal her crying.

Everything inside was taken away and the house, like the woman, appeared empty. Together they managed to get through each day until the third hurricane hit. This time, the house couldn’t hold up as well and its balcony flooded, letting water flow into the top floor’s two bedrooms, soaking the carpet and sub-floor. Many of the roof tiles blew off and water leaked through the ceilings and dripped into the rooms downstairs. The woman had people come to take out all the wet carpet and treat the floors so mold wouldn’t grow. That’s about all she could manage. The house stood, ripped raw for another year.

One day, the furniture came back. The house, like the woman, was hopeful for a new lease on life. She cleaned it and painted it and filled the holes in the stucco all by herself. She had the roof and leaky ceilings repaired. She replaced the floors upstairs, putting in fresh new carpet. She planted flowers and hung orchids on the patio. She lovingly worked day and night to put the house back together again. She and the house were renewed. She had parties and visitors and I heard laughter pouring out of the open windows. That’s when I put the photos in the mailbox, knowing the woman loved the house and would like to see how it came to be.

Soon, though, things began to fall apart again. The lights were on less, the yard work started slipping and she was often away, working night and day. It was clear she couldn’t manage taking care of the house anymore. It still tried its best to continue to shelter and protect her. It was warm for her in the winter and, even though it lost one air conditioner to a lightening bolt, it tried its best to keep her cool in the summer with the one unit it had left. She tried her best to keep it clean on the inside and had people continue to come take care of its lawn, but she, like the house, was in trouble.

She put a sign out by the road and tried to show people how pretty and wonderful the house was, in hopes of finding someone who could manage to take care of it. People came to visit and said nice things but nobody else wanted to live there.

She stayed in the house another year. Raccoons moved into the attic, bees built honeycombs along one wall. Plaster began to fall from parts of the ceiling where new leaks sprung. The plants grew over the fence, the grass grew tall and mold started to grow where the air conditioner condensation started building-up. The flowers died off and orchids wouldn’t bloom. Soon, she had to leave.

She packed all the things into boxes again and had movers come take everything away again. Her last night in the house, I saw her sitting on the back porch, leaning against one of its walls. She sat outside in the cool January air, inhaling the night-blooming jasmine and listening to the palm fronds rustle in the wind. She looked up at the starry sky, the moon and the missing soffit. I saw her look around at the overgrown bushes glimmering in the moonlight. She looked through the house’s strong windows at the empty interior with plaster hanging in patches from the ceiling. She saw the granite counter tops she and the man who lived with her had installed, the beautiful cabinets they added and loft they built upstairs. I believe she thought about the dreams she had for the house and how they never came to fruition.

She started to cry, saying out loud, “I tried, I really tried. I always felt safe here but I just wasn’t strong enough.” Her sobs became more audible and I heard her say, very softly, “I’ve loved you but I can’t stay. I can barely take care of myself now. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”

The next week, the house was empty again. I peered into the empty windows and could see the photos I gave her, laid on the kitchen counter with a note, “Please take care of this house as well as it took care of me.”

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6 Comments

  1. Haha… you didn’t mention a length limit, did you? I notice I interpreted the exercise a little differently 🙂 T

  2. Not to worry. No limitations on length or interpretation. By all means, be creative!

  3. How about resilient? Courageous?

  4. With each new owner, the house gave a rallying call; it also adapted to each owner. So optomistically and adaptably are adverbs I take from it.

  5. What happened to my spelling? It should read: optimistically and adaptively. I should edit before sending.

  6. Maybe nurturing?


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