After the pantry, I wander the rest of the house, wanting the leave my bedroom for last. I keep expecting to feel something from the girls who lived here - longing, pain, fear. The only feeling I can name, however, is curiosity. I breathe deeply, look the blackened brick fireplace in the corner face-on, make myself stand still in my parents' bedroom. No Pall Mall or Swisher Sweet smell remains. No feeling of not belonging. No remnants of Mommy Shame or Daddy Anger.
There is only one person here.
Satisfied I'm not going to find any new and hungry ghosts in this place, I move toward the room that was mine. I was given my own room after years of sharing one room and two bunk beds with my three younger brothers. It was a point of pride for me, one of the few good things about being a developing girl.
My bedroom was sanctuary, although one that could be breached at any time. I was allowed to paint it any color I wanted - lavender and yellow the last and favorite. I chose the daybed and its cover - gold corduroy - that made me feel so sophisticated. My dad built in bookcases, just for me, one of a very small handful of times I felt loved by him. I filled them with my mom's childhood books, all my Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books, and later, books on the occult.
Marcia and I spent hours in my room playing endless games of gin rummy, discussing the various boys we liked, giggling in the freedom of our friendship and youth. It was possible in that space, with my best friend, to feel normal and hopeful and alive.
When I step into the room at the end of my explorations, the first thing I notice is the hideous teddy bear border running around the walls at the ceiling. My bookcase is gone. There is nothing of me left here. Until I turn toward the closet.
It looks exactly the same as it did when I left home 40 years ago. The wallpaper my teenage self chose, feeling worldly and creative and somehow powerful, shines back at me, as clean and bright as the day I hung it.
In this house where little care was ever taken with anything - furniture, the house itself, the hearts it held - my old closet has not only endured, but survived in a kind of otherworldly newness and beauty.
I wander back outside and find myself headed toward the apple tree planted when the farm was a homestead, under which I spent countless childhood hours begging God to help me. As I stand there in the playful wind, the gentle warmth of a July sun, and the ancient energy of that tree, I understand what really happened in the house that was what I knew for home for most of my life.
I've spent years working to heal what happened to me there, coaxing up the wounded girls, affirming the truth they were denied, loving them. In the bomb shelter pantry and in the hidden hopefulness of my closet on this day, I have discovered the spirit that was not allowed to flourish in the poisoned air of my childhood. I am that feisty ten-year-old. I am that hopeful, creative and adventurous adolescent. I am a grown woman ready to embrace their energy and use it to create the life we've all waited a very long time for.
As Marcia and I drive back toward town, I hold this new gift gently, not able to put it into words just yet. I wonder what it will be like to see my old classmates through these new eyes, to meet them with this newly opened heart. I smile - one whole person - in anticipation of whatever the reunion might bring.