As I drive past an old Buick parked on the side of the street, I slightly swerve to avoid two chickens as they awkwardly try to decide if they should cross the street or not. I slightly chuckle in my head. I am on my way to visit an old friend, a secret friend, one that I have come to know for over twenty years. No one knows about my friend, and no one will ever visit them with me. My friend is old and frail, and on its last leg. My secret friend is in a place I don’t talk about to people because my friend is my secret and mine alone. A secret that I will keep for always, and probably till my dying days.
My secret friend is actually a house. My favorite house. I come back to the house from time to time to visit, to say hello, to talk about myself and to see if it is still standing. The house is old, and falling apart, just like it was when I first came upon it so many years ago when I was new to the city and curious to my new surroundings. The house is on the corner, and if Stienbeck was to tell it, the corner would be the intersection of Hope and Despair. I move slowly through the neighborhood, the one that you wouldn’t want to go to, and probably will never will. My secret friend is hidden in plain site in the middle of the city, but circumstances prevent people from seeing my favorite house, because well, you just don’t want to go there.
I will not describe it to you. To do so would be to tell you part of the secret, and part of the charm of having a secret like this house is to leave it up to your imagination. I will tell you that it is not impressive, and leaves much to be desired. In a city that has a multitude of million dollar homes to look at, this one brings me peace. I have never met the occupants and probably never will. Part of me wants to stop, knock on the door and see who answers. But I won’t. Part of the reason I come back to this place is I have a story about it, and the story I have is perfect, not that the house is perfect at all. The house is like me, and you, broken and hideous to some, but still standing and a testament to all.
I see myself in that house, and perhaps that’s why I go back. Anytime I feel a certain way, I pay my old friend a visit and it grounds me. I look at the imperfections of a house that time has forgotten but the weather hasn’t. The paint is chipped, the roof practically gone, but in my eyes it represents beauty and the kind of toughness I hope to have in my own existence. In a city where new things are sprouting up like flowers in the spring, my favorite house still remains, untouched, like the wrinkled face of an old man, full of wisdom because of a life full of living. I go see my secret friend because I am looking for that wisdom, the kind you can only get from someone that has made mistakes. This house in this neighborhood has seen many mistakes and many tragedies performed by its neighbors. But my house doesn’t judge, it simply takes in all the heartache that comes with such knowledge of pain, and passes along the feeling of forgiveness and humility, the feelings I come here to receive.
No one has been to the house with me, and no one will. My place is for me. And not too many people can claim that type of sanctuary anymore. It is my altar that brings me closer to God and my cemetary that brings me closer to my end. It reminds me of my past and keeps me looking forward to the light of the future. I drive past old cars and older bikes, abandoned on the side of the street by kids that may not make it much further out of the neighborhood than their bikes will carry them. I see old people walking dogs and people shouting at things that aren’t there. I drive slow, but not enough to invoke alarm. I see the world in a different lens and it connects me to a place that others would just assume will be forgotten.
The house sits gentle on the corner. I am not sure if it is the oldest house on the block, but it sits there like the old lion in the pack that doesn’t hunt anymore, but the others listen to its wisdom of how to perform the chase. The house may have been grand in its heyday, full of life and love and parties. Or it may have been full of hate and pain and torment. I drive by and feel it though, the good and the bad. I have learned to sit with pain and welcome him in my fold. To sit with pain is to learn from it, and I have learned a few things from my secret friend, the one you will never meet. I have learned that time will keep turning, the hands on the clock will never stop moving for anyone. I have learned that good bones will keep you standing, but a good soul will keep you going. The secret house in the neighborhood time forgotten is a testament that we all age and suffer, some more gracefully than others, but we are still here until we’re gone. But in the meantime, stand your ground and be proud, chipped paint or not.
I wish I could take you by my house, but I can’t. It would be a betrayal of a promise I made almost 23 years ago. I don’t know how much longer the house will be around. I hope as long as I will need it. I don’t ever plan on the days when I go, I just seem to end up there. Typically it is in the mornings after a run, coffee in my hand and the freshness of the day still in my thoughts. The residents of the neighborhood are slowing making their way around too. Some just sit on the porch drinking their coffee too, others work in the yard or on a car. But my secret friend just sits there, at the corner of Hope and Despair, waiting for me to say hello. Those aren’t the actual names of its streets, and I am sure you know that already. I don’t dare hint at the names of the real ones. To do so would give my friend’s hiding place away. And I will protect its privacy like I protect our friendship.
I slowly turn the corner, weaving my way back from that place to my own. I sit in the silence of my own thoughts as I head back to my own house. I always have a sense of joy after leaving my friend, the one on the corner, because after all these years and all these visits, the worries I have carried with me, have never come to pass. I have come to believe that maybe there really is something magical about my favorite house, in the bad neighborhood, in a forgotten part of town. And maybe it’s just an old house. Whatever the case, I am still here, with good bones and a good soul, waiting for my turn to point someone the way down Hope street.