It is a spot where a dog can sleep, tummy exposed to the sun. It's that secret place where antelope graze without fear and a redhead can sleep protected and safe. It's a point in space where an eagle can soar above the trees and an elk can fight to the death or his dominion. It's a place where one can make a fresh start, or a last stand. In the bullring, it’s called Querencia, and its translation is as diverse as the enigma of its existence.
For me, it's just a little Mission Bungalow built exactly one hundred years ago.
The house I grew up in wasn't a huge place, only one bathroom that had a tub, requiring a schedule worthy of a battle commander on early mornings. There was just one other smaller bath with a sink and a toilet off the garage for us to come in and clean up after we tinkered with tools and cars.
I had my own room, being the only girl in the family, with a window that looked out onto an apple tree that since has been cut down. I climbed out of that window more than once, dropping into the darkness on the ground in silence. Not to sneak out and party or any other mischief the other kids were up to, but to simply get out of the house, out into the outdoors, sitting on the grass out back, watching the stars on those nights when I was restless. I'd think of things that I'd dream of, if only I could sleep. A small tidy home and shop of my own someday, a good man, a big dog and all the chocolate I could eat.
But as life renews itself, so do dreams. Living with just Barkley in a humongous house, full of expensive things I had to work doubly hard to pay for, coming home late to the one that patiently waited, something dawned on me one night. My dog Barkley didn't care where we lived, what we owned, or who would judge us for that. All he knew was unbridled living in the moment and following your heart. He appreciated the things that held no form, that bore no name, the glint of sun off of a pond, a walk in the woods, one last look at the night sky as the stars finally fade. As we walked and Barkley went into full point on a plastic deer in someones yard in that old subdivision, I thought how he has also was pointing me to the things that matter in life - loyalty, devotion and love without strings attached.
So I sold it, at a significant financial loss with the market tanking, but I didn't care. I wanted a life where I still worked hard, but work wasn't what defined me. wanted a home, a house that looks less like a magazine and more like a life, the sort of place my Dad would smoke a pipe in, with high wooden beams, old tools and a place to use them, a house for a writer, a retreat for the dreamer.
With that in mind, I simply loaded up that car with what I could carry, my dog in the backseat, happy simply to be where I was, with whatever changes came. We wandered, he and I, until we found what was for us, home.
When I showed a professional associate the picture for the place that would finally become home with my husband, I was met with "you're going to LIVE there? It's so small!! If I had your income, I'd be buying one of those big houses on the lake. Where are you going to shop? What are your neighbors going to think".
You know, I really don't CARE what the neighbor's think. I quit changing who I was to conform to society a long time ago, a foreigner to the immutable laws that TV and greed seem to have placed upon people. I simply wanted to come home and grab a tennis ball and go play with my dog in the yard. I didn't want to come home to a huge cavernous dwelling where I rattled around with the stranger I was becoming, heaving and sighing with the work of keeping that life up, uttering the sounds of someone engaged in a battle without arms.
Life in essence, remains the same, even as it changes, these existing things have always been true. It's a small flower, small spots of fresh life, unheard poetry on the hidden side of a planet spinning in space. It's an articulated bark of welcome, it's the wag of a tail. It's darkness, light, and a great thirst to quench before winter's darkness is one of permanence, things you can not hold, but which fill up empty spaces in a life much better than material possession.
On the wall of my Dad's shop area is a old picture of a bullfight. One he bought for the house as a newlywed which Mom took one look at and sent to the garage. We teased him a lot about it, and just looking at it brought he and my mom to laughter that ended with a kiss and a knowing smile. Yet, in looking at it today, I see the bull, not as a shape, with form and depth, a mass of muscle and bone inherent with the capacity to hurt, but simply a creature knowing what it needed, and willing to sacrifice so very much to keep it.
Mom's kitchen is unchanged but for the refrigerator, once covered with childlike artwork, now laid bare. The wall behind it in the family room that once framed drawings from grade school and ribbons from the science fair is now covered with commendations and more complex ribbons, pictures of airplanes and submarines and the children of the family, proudly swearing an oath to their country in a solemn moment of choice and service, each and every one of us.
Many of the memories there in his home are happy ones, some are bittersweet. There are the small ceramic things my Mom made, still carefully dusted years after she was dust herself. There is the teddy bear by my bed, showing the signs of wear from when I came home from the hospital without my daughter and cried myself to sleep in his fur night after night, while my Dad listened, helpless in the next room, wanting only for me to be happy again.
When I walk in, those memories remain, though they are dampened by the years, overlaid with other memories of happiness. As they say, you can't go home again, but we, by our nature, try. It changes, and it doesn't, it's the warmth of a kitchen, a flag flying out front, old tools in the garage and the skills passed on by a Father. It's four walls and new family members who will gather and remember those who are gone.
In those first weeks after Barkley left us, I would step up the steps up to my own porch. I wanted desperately to hear the soft "woof" as Barkley waited in the kitchen for me to step in. But I could only walk in, in that utter quiet that was now the house, sensing those who were absent who inhabited this place but existed now as only ghosts of my past, living on the breath of memory.
I stood outside the door, hearing hushed wind, hand on the doorknob, hesitant to open the door to every memory, hesitant more, to leave them behind. I stood there silently, my presence not detected by dogs forever silent, motionless, trying to blend in with the house, the dark wood and trees, listening to the living presence of a home, all the lives and love and heartache that went into it, that formed these four walls, that now formed me.
I listened, as a churchgoer does, to chants in ancient languages that no one understands, but listens to anyway, the words a peace that flows like water. There was no bark but that of the trees, and the baleful sound of a wind that spoke the name of one departed. I listened for things I'd dreamed of, if only I could sleep.
- LB Johnson