went to topsham, brought some back

front door

So. One of the questions I get asked a lot is “When was the last time you went up to your place?” I say “Oh it’s been a while…” but the truth is it had been almost a year and I had been putting it off and doing other things and generally enjoying myself while also secretly dreading what I might find there. My house in Topsham is a great little place that was never really set up to be a year-round house. Michael, who I bought it from, made a go of it and did okay but I always found someplace else to ramble to when I was there alone for too long. A series of caretakers, some good, some not so good, left the place a little worse for wear and the final straw came almost three years ago when a renter left early, left the propane on empty, and the place froze solid and really broke.

This all happened when I was in Australia and Greg was taking finals and things were never the same between me and the house, or me and Greg and the house again. I had to get a lot of expensive plumbing work done by a not-great plumber [okay work, lousy attitude, slow. I don’t expect more but I do appreciate it] and his last project was to put a drain on the house so I could leave it over the Winter which I had never been able to do before. So, I left it.

I went up once with my sister last year to pick up some things and was relieved to find the place standing. I have some sort of quirky dread that I’ll round a corner and see the barn as a pile of sticks. You can keep your “those are the joys of home ownership!” remarks to yourself. So, I went up again yesterday after getting an email from Ola saying she might be coming back stateside to take care of her sister in TN. I don’t know if or how much she might be up here but I figured I might want to have a Plan B in case my little honeymoon here was wrapping up. So I got in the car and went up there before I could talk myself out of it. There was no pile of sticks. The place was still standing. It looked sort of like I thought it would — distressed but not destroyed — but there was a lot I had forgotten.

ash shovel, with lichens

As I mentioned in the caption to this photo, I basically stopped the bi-coastal thing in 2003 and started a library job in Vermont. Greg started law school and we moved from Topsham to Bethel. At first we were coming up on weekends and we slowly did less and less of that. Bethel is a nice little town, Topsham is more of a remote outpost and you really need to like that “I’m at the edge of civilization” feeling to want to spend a lot of time there. I had forgotten how much I liked that feeling. I grew up in a fixer of a house that my parents worked on, seemingly non-stop when I was a kid. I felt at one time that maybe I wanted a house to work on non-stop. But my life is different from my parents’ lives; I may have felt like I lived on an outpost back then, but I didn’t really.

When I packed up my house in Seattle, I left some things behind and mailed some things out to myself in Vermont. The bedroom in Topsham had a few of these only-partly-unpacked boxes in it from 2003. I had taken some books and some papers and my favorite mugs to Bethel and left behind a lot of storage and knick-knacks and furniture and stuff I’d gotten in garage sales. I had left bahind all my photographs, my printed photographs. I had left behind my Burning Man gear. Did I really wear a black bra that said “I love you” on the cups out in semi-public? I guess I did.

On Saturday, I filled my Subaru with stuff I thought I might want: my old iMac, my banjo-mandolin (no, I don’t really play), my engineer boots, my photos, my raincoat, my wooden boxes, my knickknack shelf made from an old printer’s tray. Being there was just really strange. I bought the place shortly after Jack and I had split up and I was thinking a change of scenery might do me good back in 1997. I was reading a lot of Mother Earth News and making plans to make braided rugs all Winter long. I never did settle in for good though, and moved back and forth between there and Seattle until I met Greg who moved out there and then decided to go to law school which turned out to also wind up being in Vermont but not close enough to drive to. We moved south to Bethel and when we split, I was set up here with a town I liked living in and a job I loved, so I never thought much about going back to Topsham for good. I still don’t have a good answer to what I want to do with the place.

Going back to it now, I can still remember all of my ideas I had for the place and they washed over me in an oddly poignant rush of “what might have been”s. Some of that was tied up with Greg, who left a lot of stuff there, but a lot of it was just being almost-40 remembering being almost-30 and looking at the world a little differently. In fact the queerest thing about being in Topsham is how quickly it took me back to a place before I’d known Greg, or Bethel, or a lot of my current local friends. It took me back to when I had a cat, to when I was sort of pseudo-married, to before my Dad was remarried (happy ninth anniversary guys!), to before my sister could drive. Back to when I had Fourth of July parties every year and a big sleepover on 12/31/99. It also took me back to before I travelled for work, before all this public speaking stuff, before I’d been to Australia, before I had what I now amusedly but happily call a career. Before I was published. Before I cut my hair. Before I started swimming. Before I drove a Honda. Before I worked at MetaFilter. All this stuff.

I’ve been in a good mood lately and so all this thinking and reflecting wasn’t at all bad but it was engrossing. I came home and got in the pool, then I went to hang out with Kelly and Forrest and some of their visting friends and had a great time meeting new people and experiencing Autumn in Vermont. Then I came home and slowly unpacked and took a look at the time capsule of stuff I brought with me. I never did turn the water on up in Topsham but, unlike the last few times I’ve been up there, this time I am looking forward to going back.