I felt the monster the moment the car turned onto my old street. I could not actually see the house, but I knew the monster was there. My heart beat faster, my palms began to sweat, my breath came out in rapid gasps. I shifted in my seat, craning my neck to look in the backseat, nearly convinced that my monster would be physically there, behind me, chasing me. It was enough to make me want to vomit.
“We don’t have to do this.” My babysitter and chauffer, my mother had been against this little trip from the moment I suggested it. She’d been against a lot of decisions in my life, yet that had never stopped me. Of course, if I had listened, the monster would not be there, following me, taunting me, keeping me from leading a healthy, normal, productive life.
But this time, ignoring her misgivings was the right thing to do. It was the only way to ever get the monster off my back and out of my life. It was the only way to get my life back, to be free.
And I needed freedom. Needed it more than my lungs needed the air they were desperately grasping for.
“Keep driving,” I told Mom, forcing myself to face forward. I closed my eyes, counted to ten, breathed in as deeply as I could, imagined being in my happy place—used every calming technique I’d learned in years of therapy to chase away the monster and every panicked feeling his presence evoked. Nothing worked. I could run—again. But I was tired of running. “I have to face this,” I said, as much to assure Mom as to reassure myself.
She still wasn’t sure, but she drove. The car inched closer to the house; soon I could see the rooftop, then the upstairs windows, the porch, and finally the front door. It stood there, innocently, as if the pain and anguish that had occurred in its walls had meant nothing.
The closer we came to the house, the less innocence I saw. Sadness. The years, I noticed with a small sense of glee, had not been kind to the building. The siding was cracked and pulling away in places. Paint had chipped off the wooden support beams of the front porch, some of which were cracked, broken, barely able to stand up to the weight of that porch roof, which itself was falling down. If the house could feel, I think it would be feeling sadness. Because it knew the end was coming? Or because of the horrors that had occurred inside, horrors the building had been unable to stop?
Mom pulled the car to a stop across the street. A workman wearing a yellow hardhat and orange safety vest approached us. “Sorry, Ma’am,” he said gruffly. “You can’t park here. Demolition will start soon.”
“How soon?” I asked.
“Soon,” he repeated. “The car is not safe here.”
I opened the door and got out, ignoring the look of frustration on his face. The monster followed me out of the car, once again breathing down my neck. The door closed behind me and Mom drove away, to a spot we had agreed on before making the trip. She’d walk the two blocks back, to stand with me and watch the destruction of the first house I’d ever purchased, the building that should have been a happy home for me, my husband, and our children. She wouldn’t be gone for long. I turned to the worker, whose face still carried a great deal of irritation. “May I go inside?” I asked him.
“Inside?” The sound of his voice conveyed his true feelings; he wanted to ask if I was insane. The answer, quite possibly, was yes. Perhaps I was insane. This house, that monster at my back, both had led to my questionable state of mind.
“It’s my house,” I said. “Or it was until I sold it to the city. All I want is one last chance to walk inside. Is that possible?”
I didn’t wait for an answer, just walked across the street, marched up the three steps, and pushed open the front door. It didn’t take long for someone to follow me, shouting at me that I needed to stop, needed to walk back outside. I ignored the voice. The monster was still behind me, but I knew I could leave him behind in this building. All I had to do was see it, I had to see that room. His life had ended here. If I was going to finally put the monster to rest, I needed to see the place where he had died. I just needed my eyes to rest on it one last time.
It was old, falling down from years of neglect. Just like my heart. The house had to be torn down. And with it, his recliner, the chair that he had seen as his throne, the chair he’d not been able to tear himself out of to get help in the last moments of his sad, pathetic little life. I needed to see it, and I wasn’t disappointed. It was still there, in its place of honor in what had been the living room, positioned so that the view of the television, had it been there, would have been perfect.
As I looked at it, I began to breathe harder again, could feel my heart beat faster, could feel the monster closing in on me. Hadn’t felt that level of hatred and anger in years, not since I’d escaped the house, escaped his rule. But the fear, the fear I had always associated with this chair, with the man that lived and died in it was gone. I was no longer scared of him. But I was angry.
I hated him. He was dead, and yet I hated him. With every fiber of my being, I hated him.
I allowed myself to be escorted out of the house, back across the street to where my mother was standing. I was admonished to stay put.
A man climbed up into a large crane, started the engine. As the crane’s claw reached toward the roof of the house, I imagined I was in control. It was my hand tearing through the roof, pulling apart boards and insulation, reducing the dwelling to broken bits of debris. As the engine roared, I roared as well. I yelled, I screamed. I allowed another piece of my anger, of the monster that had followed me from this house to escape my body. The claw tore through the upper floor, and I saw myself tearing him apart, piece by piece. The way had done to me. I watched the lower floor come apart, could see his precious recliner pulverized.
When it was over, when the roar of the engine died, I could only stare at the empty lot. Other equipment was moved in to clear out the remains of the house, and yet I stared. It was gone. The house was gone. The monster was gone. I was alone. I was free.
“Are you alright?” my mother asked.
I turned to her. Smiled. “I am,” I said. “It’s over. I am free.”