This personal essay follows the question of whether a house inhabits its inhabitants or the inhabitants inhabit the house.
The house that I grew up in was a hoarder. Old things, memories, conversations, secrets. It would hoard things obsessively as if one day it would be abandoned and it had to fill itself up before that.
The house showed signs of hoarding anywhere you looked. There was not one single empty space, and it groaned and turned in discomfort in places where it was left to be filled.
The quaint corrugated walls of the kitchen were flanked on all sides by old plastic rags bloating with rusted metals and lonely, broken kitchen objects that had lost a pair. Every empty surface in view was lived in by gobs of plastics and throw away things that overstayed their time, disguised as souvenirs. Every spare room was a storage room. Sacks of rice, old TV sets, limp furniture, browning books, all huddled together like members of a cult.
All obsessions subsist with the help of certain forces outside of it, and which is relentless in its offerings to it. In the case of our house, it was the people living in it that unfailingly fed them. One time someone threw a china plate in anger into a blank space and the house hurled it back at someone who got hurt from it. I remember as a kid being transported outside the house on piggybacks because a fight was breaking out that I was not supposed to see, but I grew up to become a wedge trying to tear two people apart in many such fights.
Once I saw my aunt chattering about on her own, deep in a conversation, her legs reverberating in excitement. It scared me, but my curiosity won over the fear. It felt like she was part of a secret world that only she had access to. But nobody spoke about it in the house. They all saw it, but said not one word about it. That itself was a cue.
The house knows this and all the other things that we are supposed to hide. If you told lies, the house kept it for you. If you did something, or saw something, or you were part of something that was done to you, the house kept the record for you. In ways you didn’t understand, in a sense far beyond any human intervention, all that we thought we did in privacy, the house remembered.
A death in the house changed it briskly, it turned it sour and made it ever more distant. Something urgently shifted then. It was like when a plane dived nose first, hitting the tarmac and it rattled nervously before screeching to a halt and you felt like a vessel with its contents maddeningly shaken.
It seemed that the memory of the house was failing itself slowly like water dripping down from a freshly washed cloth. The house drew back absentmindedly but it also simultaneously felt like it was waiting to lunge for something that it believed was owed to it. Maybe it was the house’s way of grieving the parting of someone that had shared all its pains, the drama, the surging sadness, and the unmanageable tide of emotions. Or maybe the silence felt so uncomfortable and made it wild.
Our house has seen a large family, it has seen people upon people always lurking somewhere around it. It has known people, and known what presence meant. Now, all it carries is the shadows of all the people that were once here. Now it just stands here heavy with silence and loss. Not knowing what it is meant to be now. How to fill the holes that are left behind.
Sometimes I feel myself speaking back to the absence. But mostly I am afloat in this vast space of timelessness, trying to draw back from the expanse of shapes of people that once lived & existed here. But my memory, it says, that it doesn’t want to remember anymore. Not for now. So I just exist, wherever the emptiness is most dense. The house sometimes fights back, especially when I leave for somewhere and come back. I know that the house is trying to tell me it doesn’t want me to come back to it, I often feel that strongly when the time to go back is near.
Other times I pull myself against the strength with which the house tries to push me back. The very air around the house is different, there seems to be something so repulsive & so apoplectic about it, whenever I make my way back. It’s like I am drawing forcefully into a substance that doesn’t really dissolve. On such days, I hate to come back. I wish that I could find home elsewhere. That the time to go back never arrives. I wonder, maybe the shadows have multiplied or maybe they’re swarming up the house with their yowls. Whatever it is, it says that I don’t belong.
Now that I think about it, maybe, certainly, the shadows are feeding on my memory, picking on my brain. Because I am always so forgetful now. I remember or can make myself remember less and less. The words aren’t there anymore where I could pick them from. There’s a sense that someone or something was here when I wasn’t, and completely changed & marred the entire place inside the mind. And I am frantically trying to remember again, or remember faster. All the while as life stares down at me laughingly, at my defeat. I can’t figure out what it wants.
But we know not to let go. It is what the house taught us, to not forget. The house made me a hoarder and my body a graveyard of so many traumas. It appears as though whatever the house breathed, it traveled and settled over me. I just couldn’t shake it off. In the end I think, we become carriers of our shared pasts and traumas. All the secrets, memories, and conversations the house inherited pours into us. It has no vitality, but it fights back sometimes. And when it does, I begin to wonder if we are the products of the house or is the house a product of us?
Aisu Minam Yirang
Aisu is always found with a book. She writes the Substack, Elsewhere Words and is currently working on writing short stories and essays for publication projects. She has done her honors in English Literature.