The dreams returned every few months, several times each year. Without fail.
For twenty-one years.
I dreamt of the different bedrooms I called my own. Of the living room's red velvet chairs I huddled in as I read books.
Of the kitchen counter, where I ate breakfast each morning, looking out the front window through the pine trees at people passing on foot or bicycle.
Of the family room downstairs where I spent hours watching recorded episodes of The Cosby Show because it was in English . . . and therefore a link to home.
The same room where I first cried hearing “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the opening ceremony of the summer Olympics in L.A. From the ages of ten to thirteen, this was the house I lived in across the ocean, on another continent, in Helsinki.
Sometimes in the dreams I was returning to the house. In others, I still lived there. Often the house appeared different, and I discovered passageways or rooms I never knew about. Or the floor plan had changed. Or the whole place had been remodeled. The two constants in the dreams were that I knew I belonged there and that I needed to return.
The house dreams lasted through high school and college, into my marriage, and continued through giving birth four times. Even while raising a family, moving, and entering new stages of life, one thing I could count on to never change was having another disconcerting house dream every few months.
I never had the same one, and they never stopped. They kept coming even when my oldest child turned thirteen—the age I was when we returned to the States.
Why did I dream of a building I hadn’t seen since I got my first pimple? What hold did it have on my psyche? Generally, the dreams weren't pleasant. They left me feeling wanting, uneasy.
In time, I realized that, in many ways, those three years defined the woman I have become. I arrived in Helsinki a young girl. I came home a teenager. In between, I navigated the confusing waters of adolescence—confused further by doing so in a foreign language and on foreign soil.
Yet, because I went through those intense changes and emotions, that language and soil became a second home, tying themselves to me in a way nothing else has since. Ever could. So the house called to me, making a hole in my heart where that part of me belonged, because I'd left something of myself behind there.
Last month, I returned after twenty-one years. I walked up the front steps as if treading on holy ground, and when the door opened, I could have sworn that I just missed a little ghost of my former self running down the hall.
I peered into my former bedrooms. Floods of memories came back—times of joy playing eraser wars with my sister, learning to knit on my bed against that wall, the thrill of Christmas mornings, putting on my first bra, applying mascara for the first time, coming home from the school's maturation clinic in Finnish and trying to figure out what it meant for me.
The house held emotions so thick that at one point I could hardly breathe. I could see myself lying on a bed, sobbing into my pillow as I prayed for help with a burden my twelve-year-old heart could scarcely bear.
During my brief visit, I sat at the kitchen counter. Walked into the sauna. Ran my fingertips along the fireplace in the family room. Inhaled the smells, the same ones I'd breathed in as a child—nothing I could describe or explain using any term but home.
I saw myself doing homework in the dining room, playing the grand piano, curling my hair for school. The longer I moved through the rooms, the more the ghosts of my girlhood slowed down. Instead of running around corners, they beckoned me further. They took my hands, leading me room to room like old friends wondering why I’d been gone so long but not holding my absence against me.
After soaking in each memory, I took a deep breath and headed out. Standing on the porch as the door closed, I didn’t have a frantic urge to throw it open again, because this time, I hadn’t left anything behind.
The ghosts had known me, and they followed. As I walked down the stone stairway, I held them close to my heart. I’d come for them, rescuing the girl who’d spent three years trying to figure out who she was and where she belonged. Where she belonged was with me now, completing the woman, the wife, the mother I am today.
I brought her and her ghosts back, and now the void my subconscious probed during my sleep for most of my life has been filled.
I would love to return to my other home again, but if I never do, I’ll go forward feeling more whole. My soul is no longer fractured as it was when I boarded that plane at the age of thirteen and left a piece of myself wandering the walls of that house.
This time the only things I left behind are the dreams.
This post is part of October’s Write-Away contest at Scribbit.
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