Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Rescuing My Ghost-Girl

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.


Kristina P. said...

I was listening to the radio yesterday, and they had a woman on who has written about dreams and what they mean. It was very interesting.

It's very clear from this post that you are a writer. :)

Scribbit said...

So the dreams are gone then?

ANdrew and I have fun trying to interpret each others dreams--some times it's obvious but other times you never know where it comes from.

Annette Lyon said...

Thanks, Melanie!

And Scribbit--so far, yep. They're gone. Nary a house dream since we got back. Kind of wild.

Heather B. Moore said...

Great post. You need to turn it into an article :)

Tamra Norton said...

So fascinating! I, too, have a reoccurring house dream of the house I lived in from 2nd to 5th grades. And like you mentioned, often the house is very different--remodeled or something. It's always very strange. It's been a year or so since I've had one though. Hmmmm...

Larsens said...

Beautiful post.
My two reoccurring childhood dreams:
-Always looking for my lost school bag.
-Alphabet blocks chasing me.

I know what the first one means because I'm so particular of not losing things and always OCD:ing over my posessions. No clue why the alphabet blocks chased me.

Luisa Perkins said...

Oooh, lovely. You do melancholy very well, my dear.

Julie Wright said...

Loved this beautiful piece that shows the writer you are. You're amazing. Seriously, that was so beautiful.

Heffalump said...

That was poignant.

For me the childhood dreams are never of my own home, but always of my Grandparents' home. A home I can't return to because they have since passed on and if I did go there, it would be missing what I am really looking for...my Grandmother.
Sometimes I dream that I talk to her all night long, and in the morning I wake up knowing that I was able to talk to her, but I can never remember what we talked about.

sogratefultobemormon.wordpress.com said...

annette -- beautiful post. felt like i was on the journey with you. dreams are so fascinating to me .. they feel as real to me as real life and sometimes i wake up and can not be certain at first if i was dreaming or really in a moment again. neat adventure, kathleen

charrette said...

I love this post!

I often have recurring dreams about houses past and present...usually about finding new, undiscovered rooms...sometimes entire wings...but nothing like this. I wish everyone could have the experience of living overseas. Your reflections about how it shaped you are lovely.

We recently visited my hubby's childhood home and had a similar experience...nearly sacred...crossing that threshold and seeing where he grew up. It left an indelible mark on all of us.

Thank you for sharing.

Cheryl said...

Beautiful, Annette!

I often dream of my childhood home, but usually the dreams occur after a long day of reminiscing, and they leave me happy and filled.
I'm so glad you were able to go back to Finland!

An Ordinary Mom said...

What a great post! So interesting.

Karlene said...

That was just lovely. I was right there with you.

In my dreams, I often haunt the library of my childhood.

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