When I drove east on Holloway Street from Durham, the once familiar path had a detour. The very route that used to lead home seemed to remind me that isn’t the way anymore. Still, I followed the detour through modest neighborhoods on the outskirts of Durham, my car full of camping gear and groceries.
As I approached the turn that used to take me home I remembered emerging from the woods here, how once I pushed a car stuck in an ice storm from that corner—the driver surprised to see a woman. The last time I made the drive toward Falls Lake I felt apprehension remembering the last few panicked trips to remove my cat and pick up clothes and ultimately move everything I owned from that house with a police officer standing by. This time I was calmer and more curious—but I also had a camping retreat to set up.
Now I’m headed home—home to the friends’ house where I’m staying these days, anyway. My hair smells of campfire, there’s dirt between my toes, and I am full with the particular joy of having spent a weekend in the woods. I’m also curious again. I signal and turn right onto Mineral Springs Road. I see bygone runs in the falling snow and oppressive summer heat. I remember slogging up this hill. I remember driving this route many times, sick with dread. I pass the place where I pulled over with Ray when we went to get my things. I remember my panic. I look at my hands, relaxed on the steering wheel of a car that’s never made this trip. I feel my legs easy, not poised for fight or flight. I turn left on Daniel Rd, passing the small hill where I did my first easy, short hill repeats early in a new season. I remember this place.
I turn right onto Pebblestone and tear up; this was my neighborhood. I see gardens I used to run past and trees taller with years of growth. I remember the fragrance of wild Jasmine as I cross the creek where I saw turtles and beavers. I turn right into Statler Dr. My old neighbor’s roses are in bloom, and they are lovely.
I pull over across the street from the house I used to call home. The children of my least favorite neighbor are noisy teenagers now. I look at the house, grey siding and wine-red shutters faded. Two cars are parked out front. The tree I thought was dying is green with new growth. The yard has the same two bushes that were there when we moved in. The grass has grown up to the mailbox and the sides of the house where my flowers were.
My abuser did a great many terrible things to me. He lied to me, cheated on me and manipulated me. He raped me one Christmas morning. He terrorized me. He gaslit me. Somehow the cruelty that was most terrible was the day he threw away my garden and made sure I knew about it. It was so deliberate, so destructive, so appallingly personal an act of malicious cruelty that I still cry sometimes thinking of it. I see, looking at the yard which bears no mark of my garden, that he really did destroy it all. There is not one trace of my roses and Gardenias, not one errant Lantana or Bee Balm or Poppy or Marigold. Not one single self-seeding Morning Glory tendril clings to the front porch. I get out of the car and cross the street, walking just far enough on the sidewalk to make sure. No Forget-Me-Nots, no Day Lilies, no Gladiolus or Four O’clocks. The beds where I planted asparagus and chard, lettuces and peas and beans and watermelon and tomatoes are gone, blackberrries and strawberries gone. He even tore out my little trees; the peaches and nectarines are no more. I’m calm, seeing what’s left after the destruction. I pace the sidewalk nonchalantly, taking in that this place is changed now, that it’s home to another family and the garden I loved long ago ceased to exist.
The neighbor kid, having recognized me, makes a disparaging remark loud enough for me to hear. I ignore it, knowing something about the hostility this child has normalized. I find some peace in the act of being here unruffled to observe the passage of time. I feel the solid well of my internal resources which have surpassed my fear and grief and loss–and which render my strongest reaction to this visit irritation that the word the child has chosen to insult me is “crazy.”
I get back into my car and drive out of the neighborhood I used to call home. There is nothing left for me here.