Tools, sweat, building, also books and sometimes sex

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A house has stories. This house has stories. It was my great-grandparents’, then my grandmother’s, and now it belongs to my mother and her four siblings, and, to a much lesser extent, my ten cousins and me. My mother’s generation is selling the house. This decision pains me. That understates it. The eventual disappearance of this house feels like a death, and I am furious and devastated that it is being sold. It strikes me as an abandonment of history and connection to the past; it shows an evident disregard for family and continuity. Of course it is more complicated, but I have a simple mind and I am angry and sad and I have not yet figured out a way not to be angry and sad.

The house is under agreement now, being bought by the very rich man who owns the house nextdoor. The small building by the driveway of his massive home is not a guest house; it’s a squash court. He is buying this house as a gift to his son.

I have been living here since the end of March, knowing there is an enddate in sight, and wanting to be here as much as possible before this place is bought, and gutted, and the ghosts displaced, and it is gone. I had a dream when I first got here that I came home to find the son, who gets the house, sitting on the porch, admiring the view, as though he already owned the place. I raged at him, screamed so hard, lashed him, that dream-fury that is so massive it fills the world and threatens to rip you in half.

Two days ago, I came home to find a car in the driveway. I threw my bike in the grass and made my way to the porch as three men, one middle aged, two quite young, came around the corner.

“Can I help you?” I asked.

“I’m Michael, the architect,” he said. And in my body, knots of spiking wire rose like a wall. The architect, the one who has been hired to change this house by the very rich man nextdoor, introduced me to the very rich man’s son, who must’ve been twenty-five, no older, and his goober of a friend, who wore shorts and had a huge expensive camera dangling off his neck.

“We were just hanging out on the porch checking out the view,” the young goober said.

“I’m Nina,” I said. “This is my grandmother’s house.” I said this with every bit of force I could collect.

“Oh, I love Nina,” said the architect, of my grandmother, whose name I share, and it was all insincerity and my hands started to shake.

I am not good at not being polite. I am not good at telling someone to fuck off. I could not say outloud to get the fuck off my grandmother’s porch, to tell them, you don’t own this place yet, you bratty fuck, your rich father hasn’t bought it quite yet. I could not even say, listen, you need to leave now. Why is this? Why is it this almost unfightable instinct with strangers to default to warmth and courtesy? Is it some terrible impulse of wanting to be liked? Even by people who don’t matter, or worse?

All I could do was send ice to them.

“You’re visiting right now?” the architect asked.

“I’m living here,” I said.

“Oh, I should’ve called.”


And the young idiot with the camera made some gushing comment about the gutters of all things, and I felt the muscles above my knees start to shake. My dream, as it was, was coming true. Except I couldn’t fill the air with my rage. I could only shake and make some hollow comment about the greening of the bushes, and how it’s been so nice to be here and watch spring take place, and when I heard the words come from my lips I hated myself.

They made their way to the car, and I went inside, and they stood in the driveway and I heard them talking and talking and I paced like an animal and shook and started to head downstairs to say to them, listen, you need to fucking leave now. And I turned and couldn’t. And finally the car rolled away, and the two boys walked to the house nextdoor and I couldn’t calm down and I felt angry at myself for not being able to say what I wanted to say which was fuck off, fuck off, you awful fucks who will get to have your lives take place in this house which I love more than any other place. I was so angry at myself for being polite and cold. Like a betrayal to my grandmother who would roar when people would come and try to steal blackberries from her bushes.

Of course it is not the architect’s fault, or the lucky red-haired son of the rich man. That anger is misdirected, of course. But it’s easier to hate the kid who will enjoy this house as I’ve enjoyed it. Easier than such a frightening sort of rage being directed at aunts, an uncle, my mother, myself. Anger, disappointment, a diminishment of respect.

As lights turned on nextdoor as evening faded into dark, I gave the middle finger to the boys, as I’d done to the house nextdoor every time I walked by it. Which was a pathetic nothing of a gesture, and made me feel even more helpless. The next morning, I watched, with nothing so comforting as relief, a feeling much closer to regret, as the two boys made to leave. The red-haired son locked the door behind him, and the two of them, smiling, rolled their tiny suitcases behind them like flight attendants, here and gone.

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