Saturday, October 6, 2012

What Houses, Marriage, and Ax-murderers Have in Common

Chad and I once lived in an enormous house. I mean, huge. It was our very first rent house when we were married back in 1999. We lived in Nashville, Tennessee, and Chad had somehow run across this gigantic vacant house and managed to find its owner to inquire about renting it.

The house had been abandoned by the owner's deceased parents, and it was sitting exactly as it was when the man had carted his mother off to the nursing home. I mean, this lady's tissues were still in the trashcans several years later. The man agreed to rent the two story, hundred year old home for $500 a month if Chad agreed to clean the place out. The man had no interest in any of the furniture, artwork, clothing, or anything else in the house.

So, Chad jumped at the deal. I still lived in Texas in those months prior to our wedding, so he gathered some seriously dedicated friends and they began the task of cleaning out the place.

When I arrived at our new abode a few months later, still tear-stained from saying goodbye to my family in Texas, I was a little overwhelmed. He was so excited about bringing me into the house, giving me a tour, and showing me all the quirks of the place. The most obvious quirk was the fact that the driveway of the house also served as a parking lot for the tiny, old, filled-with-out-of-date-food grocery store next door. We literally parked between the yellow lines when we pulled up that day.

Another of the house's quirks was that it had one window unit, in the living room, so we spent our first summer together pulling our mattress into the living room at night so we wouldn't melt away while we slept.

The second floor was a little quirky, too. Still filled with the old couple's things, it consisted of a couple of rooms (one with a sink and toilet), and a little storage area. It was basically unliveable at the time because of no air conditioning, so we rarely went up there--really only to look through the old couple's things, and there were some neat things up there. Chad is still wearing some of the old man's socks. There were boxes of brand new socks up there, still packaged. You know the kind, the black dress socks that go all the way up to the knee. Chad has always been a bit of an old man.

Anyway, there were also really neat documents up there, Bible commentaries, and old publications from the church around the corner where we attended. The old man had been a deacon there for years. I think their marriage license may have even been up there. We felt like we had a weird connection to this couple we had never met, who had raised their kids in this house, attended our church, and had probably had many wonderful times and heartaches while going through life here. Aside from occasionally looking through their things, the only time we even opened the door to that part of the house was to grab the ironing board, which we kept on the stairs.

By far the biggest quirk of the house was the basement. The basement of this house was so large that when I descended the stairs to do laundry, I couldn't see the back wall of the dark, cold space. Usually I was running because I was terrified. The first time Chad took me down there I was fascinated by the large bomb shelter the man had built, complete with home-canned food and supplies. Chad was in a rock band at the time, so this place was perfect for the band to practice. They had a permanent practice spot set up down there, and eventually they strung Christmas lights around the beams and railings and made things seem a little less scary. But, I still hated going down there alone.

The house had a way of coming alive at night. Not in a good way. We spent some scary nights in there, each of us jumping up at different times whisper-screaming "What was THAT?" We were always hearing weird things, thinking someone was in the house, or imagining that something or someone was in the room with us. We often heard what sounded like an old telephone ringing. Sometimes we heard something like a football game broadcast on an old radio. It didn't help matters that I drove a cute little sportscar my parents had bought me in college that was constantly getting broken into. The house was so big, it seemed like there were lots of ways for bad guys to get in, and lots of places for scary spectres and ax murderers to hide.

It got so bad that one day when Chad picked me up from the bank downtown where I was temping, he told me he had a surprise for me and pulled out a pistol he had just bought at a pawn shop. We were serious about getting some sleep!

Shortly after we got the gun, we heard something in our front yard. Chad jumped up, as usual, and ran to the window. Once again, someone was inside my little car, working as quickly as possible to rip out the dashboard. Chad was instantly incensed and ran to get his gun. Before he managed to get the front door open, he in his underwear, presumably ready to scare to death the kid who was in my car, I convinced him that my stereo was NOT worth getting shot over, so we went back to the window to look at the kid. Then the craziness started. A car came careening around the curve in front of our house and slammed into our neighbor's fence. Naturally, the commotion scared the kid in our car, and he took off running. At about the same time, the kid in the (we later learned stolen) car jumped out and started running. So, we watched these two unrelated criminals go running down the street together. You could almost see them looking at each other, thinking, "What are you doing here?"

Another weird night post-gun-acquisition started when we were awakened from a dead sleep to the sound of a huge crash on the stairs leading to the second floor. I was always the type who would rather investigate than lie there terrified, so I grabbed our gun and headed to the stairs. I approached it like the awesome female police officers in the movies. Gun close to my chest. Back against the wall. A quick turn around the corner with my gun up and ready to fire. The ironing board had crashed down a few steps and out the door at the bottom of the stairs. But, of course, I wanted to know WHAT had made it fall. So, I went up the stairs with my gun. At this point I was kind of having fun. I was being quiet like a ninja, feeling powerful enough to take out whoever or whatever had run up the stairs. Naturally, nothing was there. The ironing board just slipped and made our already sensitive imaginations go crazy.

Lots of other things went on. Like the day I was home alone and distinctly heard someone walking around the second floor over my head. Depsite the fact that I didn't believe in ghosts, I couldn't help but wonder if the old man was up there rummaging through his things, possibly looking for the socks Chad had highjacked.

Another night, Chad was convinced something was pulling back our blankets all night. I slept through that one.

There were evenings when Chad was out of town and I moved the TV into our bedroom, cranked it up, and locked my bedroom door so that at least if an ax murderer was coming in I would be happily oblivious.

We were absolutely counting the minutes until our one year lease was up and we could move. We moved out one beautiful spring day to a small house in the same neighborhood, a house that was tiny and manageable, with no basement or weird connection to old deceased people. Of course, that house was in the backyard of the crotchety old landlady who got miffed if we didn't let her know where we were going every day. But, that's another story.

Ever since then we've managed to squeeze ourselves into tiny house after tiny house. You might say that we have an affinity for small living spaces. The house we live in now is a church parsonage. Five of us are squeezed in here like sardines, but we love it. Sure, I almost killed myself the other day falling over baby equipment, but I much prefer death-by-baby-equipment than death-by-ax-murderer.

In many ways, when I look back on it now, that big old house was kind of like the first year of marriage we spent there. We were figuring out each other's quirks (old man socks, anyone?), facing our problems head-on, and like we often reminded each other that there are no such things as ghosts, we were reminded daily that we were in love, we were meant to be, and we would survive that crazy, scary, fun, and beautiful first year. The house that was the site of so many heart-pounding creepy moments was also the place where we learned to be married, young and silly as we were. The day we moved out, I was relieved, but also a little sad to be leaving behind our big, rambling old house with its little elderly couple and dance parties in the basement and first burned dinners and long talks about the future.

Several different combinations of our friends have lived in that big old house since we moved out. None of them have ever heard anything strange. I can only assume that our near-teenaged minds were just tricked by the settling noises of a hundred year old house.

I think we'll continue to stick with the tiny houses. Even if our family of five doesn't quite fit anymore, little houses still fit us just fine.

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