I have been, as the song goes, one poor correspondent and too too hard to find; but it doesn’t mean you ain’t been on my mind.
I wish you could walk with me in the mornings. I’d like to show you my Gainesville, tell you about the Gainesville that exists in my head. Have I ever told you I dream about this town? The town in my dreams is just a little bit different than Gainesville. The streets are a little bit longer… or shorter (or more curved, or have businesses instead of houses, or visa-versa), houses have moved around. In my dreams, and in my morning walks, my imagination whispers me stories, secrets about these streets. In my head, I hear the Cowboy Junkies – That house there is haunted, that door’s a portal to hell; this street holds its secrets very well.
Sometimes I just make up stories about the people who live in the houses I pass; ideas based on things they leave outside or bumper stickers on cars or things I hear through windows as I pass. But sometimes there’s a full-fledged fictional character that pops into my mind from the pages of my unwritten urban fantasies.
The first house I want to tell you a story about is based on one right up against the park. It’s behind another house – they share a driveway – and it’s nestled on two sides by the park. It must be so lovely to have that view! In my city, this is Free’s house. Free’s parents bought the house when they moved to the city in the mid-sixties. It’s a rambling farmhouse, framed on two sides by the park. While not technically a commune, there were always people in and out of the house; sometimes down on their luck and sometimes not. Either way, they always helped out with chores around the property. Shirtless long-haired men fed the somewhat free-range chickens (descendants of which were seen around the park for years and years afterward) and strong-minded women in billowy cotton skirts could often be found on the roof with a hammer and replacement shingles. Half-naked happy children played around the small pond hidden by the house. Free was an only child but had a good twenty brothers and sisters of the spirit. In her teen-age years, she and her father would bury her mother between the pond and the ancient Live Oak, after cancer took all it could from her. Free’s father still lives there too, and together they run an all-night breakfast and burger joint downtown called The Reality Kitchen. They open late at night and close early in the morning, don’t have nearly the number of drunken college students wandering through as you might think, and they never kick anyone out no matter how desperate, unclean, or indigent they might appear. Free’s father knows that you just never know, should never judge; the most frightening and dirtiest of men may be a king inside.
The next house I have a story about is the dusky pink Victorian apartments. The building is owned by Maddie McGuire, who also owns and runs Molly McGuire’s downtown. The same odd clientele that can always be found in the back room of the dark pub gifted the apartments to Maddie in return for a favor. The people who need to live there seem to always find the place, even though it’s not advertised by anything more than a small sign in the office window. It’s a large, almost block-long building built in the late 1800’s for lodging of men who worked the rail line. Creaky pines line the front walk, and paving stones broken by pine roots run from the sidewalk up to the five front doors. The building is three stories tall, and has fifteen small apartments. Piper has lived there since moving to the city, and while his night job is a taxi driver, he also doubles as a handyman at the apartments. He fights loneliness and his not-so-hidden sorrows by taking most of his meals down at the pub. His life begins to change, though, once he meets someone else new to town; Sophia.
Sophia, or Sophe, lives in the House of Women. This is a rambling old house a few blocks between the apartments and the park and currently has six strange and unusual women housed under its eaves. Sophe came to town after an identity-changing cross-country run away from her demons. She misses the temperature of the Pacific Northwest but not the fists of the man she’s running from. If it was one thing her father and husband both taught her to do, though, it was make a mean drink; so she was able to find both a job tending bar at Molly’s and a place to live through a friend of Maddie’s. She doesn’t know it, but the back-room regulars at Molly’s are keeping their eyes on her. They have plans for her and Piper both.
Lastly here I am subjecting you to my favorite house. I don’t have any stories about this house, other than I dream about what it might be to live there. Three stories, brownish-gray wooden shingle siding except for a red brick addition on one side, white trim, wide front porch, portal window on the second floor… it puts me in the mind of a seaside cliff house. I see it and feel northeasters, hear the cry of gulls, smell salty air. I love that house.
And now as I round the corner and come up my street, I think about why I want to tell you all these things in the morning. Why am I so damn chatty and open in the morning? I hate mornings! I’ve spent most of my life wanting to be a Night Owl. I loved the night as a child, being the only one up while my parents were sleeping. Then as a teen and early twenty-something, I thought night what I was supposed to prefer. But it turns out I just liked being alone! WHO KNEW?!?!?! It might be time, at 40, to admit that I am a morning person. Morning is when my imagination is at it’s best. Morning is when I am most vulnerable, most open to sharing secrets. (Not that I have secrets; I just have things I don’t tell you.) Each step closer to home is another brick in the wall around my heart. Another, as the song goes, nail in my heart. (I want to be good, is that not enough?) Each step closer to to home is another moment when my imagination pulls its turtle shell over its head and hibernates. Another moment closer to being torn between the shackles of my obligations and the enjoyment of the life path my feet are on.