There's nothing left to do now that I'm here. I guess I thought I'd come back and see who's living in house. Some part of me may even have wondered who might be washing dishes and staring out the kitchen window at the house next door, and of course part me wanted to know what color the other house was, and if there was still another house at all.
Where is home?
It must be an obscure place, because I haven't known it at all lately. I've got an apartment, now. I've got schoolbooks and a life far from here. I've got a series of rooms and a hallway all to myself, my own corner of the world, but it's not home. Not yet.
I suppose it crossed my mind that the house I once lived in might not even have a neighborhood anymore, and that the city might have fallen away, leaving only a green aluminum sided house with black shutters, standing alone in a crisp white field of snow, a preserved artifact of a previous existence.
I suppose I had great plans for this day, all of them involving leaving the car once I got here.
I'm scared. I can't find the door handle now that I'm here. I'm not even in the driveway. I'm parked across the street. I can tell from the sound of cars moving past in the slush and ice of the street that I'm not in a field of snow.
I squeeze my eyes shut and imagine that I'm back in my little apartment with my school books and my TV dinners.
Why did I come here?
Then, I open my eyes, because I feel someone watching me. Across the street, in front of the house, a group of college kids are staring at me in my car, and I realize I've got to get out of the car or leave this all behind completely.
I breathe in, my lungs filling and clearing spiderwebs.
I've been dead inside for a while. I got away and went back, but part of me died on the way.
It was a small part at the time, barely a scrape when I found myself on the freeway, but it's been chipping away since then.
I look up at the house, and there's a for sale sign in the yard.
The shutters are more gray than black, and the front door is standing open.
There are no curtains.
The bedrooms windows are open or broken. I can't tell from here.
I don't remember everything. I remember our hands touching in the car, his voice in my ear at night when he would wake up and turn over. These things aren't even real, now. These things are ghosts.
I've left the car at the road and I'm almost to the porch now. It's taken me a good ten minutes to get this close because the sidewalk to the house is at least a foot deep in snow, and I'm not actually sure I want to know what the inside looks like.
I suppose everyone knows this feeling at some point.
I knew this place a long time ago.
Approaching the steps, I reach for the porch column, my hand suddenly very small in front of me.
The front door is standing open, and inside, I can see the bare wells in the dim light from the living room windows. On the porch, I stop just outside the door.
I didn't mean to hurt anyone.
Sure, I've made some mistakes. I know I've hurt people; I'm not stupid, but I didn't think I'd come back and see everything like this.
I sit on the floor in our bedroom upstairs for a while, the sunlight outside the broken windows turning red and orange. I stand in the bathroom, staring at the natural brown hair in the mirror.
I go out into the hallway and look out the window at the top of the stairs, scanning the white rooftops and trees for meaning.
I listen to the wind blowing through the kitchen downstairs, and I close my eyes.
The house is a mess.
Down the stairs, now that my eyes have adjusted to the dim light, the living room is a bare room stained in places with mud, the kitchen a wind tunnel with the back door also standing open.
I'm at the sink, now, staring out the window at the house next door.
It's blue, it turns out.
I just stare at it, my eyes burning holes into the paint, through the wall into the happy rooms beyond.
I've got to get out of this house. I can't be here right now.
I go back out through the living room out onto the front porch and sit on the steps.
I don't remember how this happened. I don't remember when my old life became my new life. This empty shell of a house isn't what I expected, these empty rooms and hallways, the family room downstairs with the couch intact, the bedroom upstairs empty save for the mattress against the wall.
I don't remember this transformation.
I've got tears in my eyes, I think.
It might be from the cold.
Maybe it's the cold that did all of this.
At some point walking down Bernard Street sounds like a good idea, so I stand up with my legs like rubber, and I follow the tracks I've made in the snow down to the street.
It's funny how, when confronted with familiar environments, we face familiar questions.
I still don't know who I am. Who really does? Who knows anything?
Fuck. I sure don't know anything.
My eyes are wet even now.
I know I'm heading for University Strip. I don't harbor any denial. I know what I'm doing. After a few blocks of walking across icy driveways and snowy sidewalks, the houses staring from both sides of the street start to look defensive and then exhausted, and then campus and the strip are all around me.
The sun's going down, now. The brick and siding and wood paneling of the buildings are lit by fading sunlight and flickering neon.
There are students coming and going everywhere in little groups, back from winter break. The smells of the strip are there, too. Coffee and books and alcohol and bus fumes.
I know where I'm going.
There's a building around the corner, among a lot of other buildings. Through the doors are the stairs, long and straight up to the second floor, where the hallway bends and spits in two directions.
Now that I'm up here, I'm not sure why I'm here. Closure, I guess. My legs are weak from the stairs, and I'm out of breath, my fingers leaving trails of chemicals on walls down the hallway.
I stop at the door, my hand lingering on the doorknob. I look down and see newspapers piled up. At least a month of insurance fliers and a phone book in a yellow sack are hanging on the knob.
I don't remember when I became an emotional wreck, but I sit down against the wall behind me, staring at the door, and my sobs are quiet against the hum of the hallway lights, broken occasionally by a group of people coming up the stairs or going into apartments.
There's a table outside one of the new coffee shops at the end of the strip. The business is new, and the building has new paint, but I know that table.
Two boys sitting across the table, talking.
God, we were young. We could never have known what we were doing.
Or maybe we did.
I don't even know if it matters.
I'm short of breath now, and in my mind, I remember his half-smile.
Maybe I'll never see him again.
Maybe it doesn't matter.
It's snowing on the way back to the car, walking down Bernard Street toward the empty house I used to live in. The windows of the living rooms of passing houses are bright and full of Christmas trees and blinking lights, red solo cups lined up on all the porch rails. The minivans and Corollas and trash cans wait silently outside of garages and along the sides of the road.
I know these sidewalks, but they're faintly alien now, not at all the sidewalks where I live now.
My feet are small against the snow, and I imagine it swallowing the prints and holes I'm leaving as soon as I've passed. I imagine the world blinking out of existence with my departure.
Maybe that's what happened.
Maybe it wasn't the cold; it was a glitch in reality.
Maybe somewhere, the house is still in good repair, with a nice family living in it. Then again, I suppose Warren and I might also still be living there.
I might be at the sink doing dishes, forgetting my own name.
I might be in the bedroom, crying.
I might be in the living room with Warren, our faces lit by the glow of the TV, our hands miles apart.
I think I forgot how to be in love. I don't suppose anyone knows how to love someone else.
I've got what I wanted now. I've got school, and books, and a place of my own. I've got freedom and I've had a relationship or two since I left here, none of it adding up to home or fulfillment.
I run my fingers along a chain-link fence, listening to the sounds of the growing night, the keg parties in full swing behind the doors and the windows of the houses of Bernard Street. I can see the taillights of my car under a fresh veil of snow.
I'm not ready to leave, yet. I guess I ought to be.
Who knows? I might never leave. I might sleep on the old mattress upstairs, snow coming in through the windows, covering the floors and coming up the walls, burying me alive in freezing white, erasing me from the earth, leaving only an empty house on an empty street.
I am so broken. I know this. Don't tell me I'm not.
I don't harbor any denial about this either.
My feet still fit the holes they made a few hours ago, now filled in partway with new snow.
Maybe he still lives here, a ghost in the bedroom, a phantom in the family room, waiting for me to come home.
Maybe that's just it.
Maybe I never left.
We're the ghosts of Bernard Street, he and I; half-alive, soggy and cold, dragged in by wind and regret.
I bet he still doesn't make the bed.
There's mail from a hundred years ago in the mailbox by the door, and I take it out and scan the porch around me.
I might be dead, I think to myself.
I sit down on the porch steps, ignoring the cold wet burning of the snow. I can't stand right now. I can't be upright. I'm not even human anymore. I can't walk any further than this.
Who am I, really?
I bury my face in my hands, because I can't look at any of this anymore.
I get it.
Just make it go away.
I'm not sure how long I've been sitting here, but now I feel like I can look around. I draw a deep breath and stand up, shaky and alone in the shadows of the porch.
Maybe I'll never come back. I can erase this from my mind, and remember it how it was. I can forget anything, I guess.
Something's moving across the street, and it makes me stop thinking and just stare. For a second, I wonder if the world is ending, and I'm the last to know, everyone else having been taken before me.
I might be the last person on earth.
A figure steps out from the shadows of the yard across the street.
I might have died. I might be a dead body across the concrete of the porch, heart stopped and eyes clouded white.
I come down from the porch and into the light of the streetlamp. We stare at each other for a minute, and then I recognize him.
My heart stops, and I die in the snow.
Or maybe I bleed out in a bathtub placed conveniently in the yard for such an occasion.
I never thought I would see Warren again.
He's a couple years older now.
I suppose I am too.
We don't say anything at first. I'm not sure either of us knows why we came. My mind is full of things I want to say. I want to scream and cry and hit him and hug him and beg him to go away all at once, my chest exploding from the pounding of my heart.
The trees and the houses are so quiet that even our breathing is loud.
“Aaron,” he says, finally, and I back away a few steps, not following the holes I'd already made.
We continue to stare at one another for a few minutes. I can't think. My mind is full of jumbled shit, screaming thoughts and cold snow falling across the void of the world around us.
“Warren,” I say finally.
He comes slowly across the icy road, and I back up a few more feet, then I can't move anymore.
He stops just in front of me, and we're binary stars orbiting one another slowly, gravity destroying our cores.
I want him to slap me for leaving. I want him to call me all the horrible things I already call myself.
“I've missed you,” he says to me finally, our eyes locked.
I feel my knees buckling before I actually see the ground and the footprints I've made rushing up to meet me. He grabs me, I guess, because I don't hit the ground.
I don't remember when I became such a weak person.
He holds me to him, breathing deep, body warm, and I wish I could have forgotten him.
We're moving now, his arm around my shoulder, guiding me back to the porch. I let myself drop onto the step and he sits beside me. I look out at my car, waiting for me on the street, and then I look at him, his hair full of melting snowflakes and his eyes full of water.
“I'm sorry,” I say to him, my voice thin. “I'm sorry, I'm sorry.”
And he puts his hand on mine and smiles at me.
I lose my shit, then. I just sit there like some dumb asshole crying and wailing and wishing I were dead.
We all come home eventually.
Some of us come home for good, and some of us only for a moment.
Home is where you know yourself.
Home is where you put your heart in a box and forget where it is.
It might be where you sit up nights watching infomercials, and where you color your hair when you're feeling down.
I don't remember when I became such a sap.
We're going up the stairs now. We're flipping the mattress over onto the floor, and we're lying on it in our parkas.
I can feel his breath on the back of my neck and his arm around me.
I can die now.
I can fade away.
The snow comes in through the window, stronger than before. The floor is covered, and we're still breathing.
Maybe we'll die like this.
I don't mind so much.
The snow freezes on the wall, and spills over onto the mattress. I'm not cold anymore.
I think I'm home.
The snow comes in, settling on our bodies, erasing us from the night, and in the morning, should someone investigate, they'd find only a mattress in an empty bedroom, the carpet wet and cold from snow.
I don't mind at all.