I sometimes copy my posts to Open Salon. I’ve made “Editors’ Pick” there a few times. Editors’ Pick puts posts in the center column, where anyone dropping by the site is likely to see them. The editors tend to pick posts with universal appeal or dealing with current events. My posts in the center column include ones on cyber-bullying, on politics — or more accurately, political personalities, and one or two on life events. They are likely to be viewed by several thousand people over the day or two they hold the center.
On this, my rather eclectic, “personal” blog, I don’t get nearly as many hits. Still, a post I published almost two years ago continues to attract readers almost every day. Not large numbers, but usually several a week, whether I’ve published any new posts or not.
Is this one of the Sarah Palin-bashing bits of snark? Is it a serious solution to big social issue? No. It’s something I wrote about my childhood home in Sunnyside, Queens.
I have no illusions about the reason for its popularity. People around the world are not checking it out because of an interest in the early years of the author of Loisaida — A New York Story.
They are checking out the post because I stole the title. You can’t copyright titles, and I didn’t do it to purposely mislead people on the Internet. I named the post, I Used to Live Here Once. I knew where it came from, a classic very short story by Jean Rhys. Rhys’ story is often anthologized. I’ve taught it in both community college and high school classes. It’s just about perfect. Lazy students afraid to think for themselves are plugging the title into search engines, looking for somebody else’s interpretation, and that’s the reason for the “hits.” So if you’ve come here for an easy answer, you can read my “hidden” synopsis, followed by a brief interpretation, but if you haven’t read the story itself, you really need to first. You can do so here. I’ll wait.
A young woman watches children playing outside of her house. They don’t notice her, even when she calls out to them, shouting, “I used to live here once.” She remembers bits from her life. She finally remembers slipping on some stones in the river. The boy and girl who don’t hear her, suddenly get tired of their play, feeling a strange chill and they decide to go in the house. The last line of the story is: “That was the first time she knew.” The interpretation which even not so great readers get, having seen The Sixth Sense, and similar movies like it, is that she is a ghost.
Beyond the obvious, the story is haunting for other reasons. Rhys was a life-long outsider. A “white” Creole woman from Dominica, she lived and wrote most of her life outside of it. Her personal life was chaotic, married three times, once to a spy, once to a jailbird. At times, she depended on the kindness of male patrons and admirers, including at one point, Ford Maddox Ford. The story is sometimes seen as a metaphor for her own displacement.
So when I wrote a post about my sense of saudade when thinking of home, I thought of Rhys’ story.
We never lose our childhood. The memories are centered in places that mean something, that haunt us. And I believe we haunt them as well. Certainly, in the months following my father’s death, I felt his presence in the house, looking over my shoulder as I packed the boxes, whispering in my ear as I spoke to potential buyers. He was in every corner, often checking in with me regarding my mother. Where was she? Was she safe? I had to reassure him often.
But it’s not just the dead that haunt. The living do as well. I’ve moved a lot, and sometimes I’ve passed up apartments that didn’t feel right, where the melancholy hung like curtains, even if the space was spacious and sunny.
And these days, going on six years since the house was sold, I still haunt the block on occasion. Walking past the gate, and thinking, “I used to live here once.”