From the outside, the house is another impressive mansion in the upper heights of the Escalon, what was once the richest area of the city, where the millionaires lived. This was once a quiet expanse of slanted streets and curved sidewalks, where I walked from my house to the kindergarten to the big round park at the end of the main street, where there was so little traffic that even a four year old kid could cross the street with very little assistance. It was a sequence of unique designs, where architects showed what they could do and how far they could twist cement and iron into new configurations. It was a parade of tall rock walls but open driveways, where danger felt far away and kids could go out and ask for candy in Halloween while men in sweaty undershirts played with their CB radios with all the doors open. It was a concert of lonely dogs and car horns that called for maids to open the garage doors while old skinny brown men hacked at the overgrown green weeds and little blonde boys ran in circles on the third floor terrace.
Now there are no kids outside and the dogs are loud and strong and every big house has a man with a shotgun at the gate. Now each block has a small cement house for the community guard who walks around through the night, back and forth over the same curved sidewalk, looking left and right, more afraid for his own safety than concerned about the fulfillment of his duties. Now the big millionaires have moved on to greater houses with taller walls and concrete helicopter landings and some businesses have moved in where before there were only people. Now the traffic is so thick that even a car has trouble making turns and trucks honk in anger when a woman runs across the street reaching for a small opportunity to reach the other side. Now there is loud mechanical noise and the black smoke of the old buses and the smoke has started to color the white walls in the same faded gray that runs through the downtown neighborhoods and which always gave me a sense of nausea on a late afternoon. The old rich families have moved on, but the old houses are still there, still impressive, still colorful, still unique.
This house is dirty inside, there are stains on the wall that I remember seeing ten years ago, there are broken doorknobs and cracks in the paint, there is dust on books and papers, there are clothes piled on old tools and the old hunting rifle sticks its head out of the broken closet door, forgotten but calling for one more flash of burning life. There is a bad smell of human disease throughout the rooms, mixed in with hints of sadness and boredom and hopes that have lost their form. There are metal gates within metal gates that separate the garden into small cubicles and with each locked gate the sense of seclusion increases, isolation that has no end, loneliness that has no hope. The house has the look of a place that has remained the same for too long, and everything that stays the same ultimately finds that it can’t stay the same and maybe it realizes too late that all those moments that seemed the same were only the tiny drops of constant slow decay, decay of walls, decay of paint, decay of doors, decay of tables, decay of books, decay of mind, decay of body, decay of dreams.
I wonder then how many of the houses around me are also in decay, how many have cracked walls inside, how many have faded paint, how many hide old stains that that have survived decades of negligence, how many hide frail old women that cling to life by the thinnest of tendrils, how many hide old men who have lived their life in books and have resolved the way that makes things right and what people, the others, have done to make it wrong, how many hide sadness and regret, how many hide an old deception and a growing sense of futility. I wonder then how many houses have turned into tombs that mercifully allow their occupants to simply die slowly, away from the peering eyes of the passersby.
I look at myself and I know that these observations apply to me. Move or decay. There are no other options. In looking at myself and at this house, I understand the solid magnet that pulls at the roots of my flesh, I see the silver cords that bind me and hold me down, I see my secret death wish and the gentle rusty locks that hold it in place.