Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: The Family Home (05/29/08)
TITLE: Never Coming Back
By Beth Muehlhausen
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My house is a prison.
I say this not because black bars cover its windows and doors, armed guards stand at the door, and barbed wire fencing surrounds the yard. Rather, it feels like a jail because the invisible monsters have taken over the place.
Their thoughts invade my own, almost like voices. Every day they convince me I’m so very, very small. They tell me I don’t matter. I’m nothing.
“Your only goal is to survive. Other people are happy, but not you.”
“You are supposed to hurt. Leave it to someone else to enjoy life.”
They steal my hope. They sear my heart.
Every day when I come home from school it seems as if the prison walls close in around me; press me; threaten me. The minute I step inside the front door the monsters start chanting.
“Don’t think you’re going outside! You don’t deserve to play or have a good time. You’re trapped here; imprisoned, unimportant, and forgotten.”
“If you even try to imagine the neighborhood kids might like you … you’re wrong. They don’t.”
Before I even take off my coat and hang it on the hall tree, I’m surrounded.
“Life is hard. Expect to be sad.”
“There’s no way you’ll ever be happy. It’s just not in the plan for you.”
Hurriedly, I dart through the shadowy living room. Dancing oriental roosters with waggling tongues seem to writhe underfoot from their positions on the heirloom oriental rug. I climb the creaky oak staircase in a flash, breathlessly fly into my bedroom, and slam the heavy wooden door behind me. No one notices; no one cares I’m home.
The monsters follow in hot pursuit.
My dull-pink, plaster-cracked walls might as well be gray. I almost gag as I pull up, then in on the window, desperate for outside air. Its creaky, rusty hinges squeal in protest. Panting, I press my face against the screen.
A million understanding leaves in the maple tree outside shush a compassionate sigh. I can see the other neighborhood kids laughing and playing several houses away. But I won’t join them. I must stay here, hypnotized by the monsters.
“You’re so small - so unimportant - no one even cares if you live or die.”
“Might as well accept the fact: you’re different. You don’t belong.”
In my own mind it seems only right for such a small person to spend her after-school hours in a small room with small hopes and dreams. Evidently I do not deserve anything more. In fact, it seems dangerous to think outside the controlling parameters of the monsters.
“You have no rights. We own you.”
“You’ll never be free of us.”
Time passes, as it inevitably does. After twenty-one years I leave the prison-house, marry, and raise a family of my own.
At the age of fifty-five I return to my childhood home to spend a week following the death of my sister who lived there after our parents died. As I approach the front door, the previously menacing lion-head-shaped doorknocker no longer announces the presence of the monsters within.
It’s obvious neither they, nor I, any longer call this home.
My job is solitary as I work alone to empty and clean drawers, cupboards, and closets. Slowly and yet deliberately I package old clothes for the local mission and fill garbage sacks with accumulated refuse.
I gather family relics for posterity. I make peace with the walls that compressed me for the first two decades of my life during an era when my parents succumbed to chronic anger and depression.
Exhausted both physically and emotionally at the end of my stay, I eventually step across the threshold and pull the brass knob on the massive door for the last time.
While walking down the familiar cracked sidewalk, I note the spot where the maple tree’s roots heaved the concrete years before. “Smart tree,” I say to myself. “Didn’t take oppression as the final word.”
When I reach my car I gaze back at the structure that spelled “home” to me for so long. Rather than sad, I am relieved to leave for the last time.
I am no longer the small person I used to be when living behind those walls. My heart has been enlarged by the Lover’s love; I’m able to love Him, myself, and others.
While driving away, I whisper, “Good-bye monsters; good-bye old house.”
I will not be back.
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