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Heartbreaking and Healing
In November, I’ll have been living in Grandma’s house for 11 years. Where does the time go? It seems like moments ago that I was lying in bed in Calgary at 3:00 a.m. worrying about how I was going to afford the kingly sum of $32,000 I’d just paid for 900 square foot bungalow. I remember reassuring myself with this logic: “People spend more on RVs than you’ve spent on this house.” Still, it seemed like a lot of money at the time and like a big commitment.
Grandma’s house had been empty for nearly 2 years when I found out that it was for sale. It had been repossessed when the owner was arrested and therefore no longer able to pay the mortgage. I should back up and clarify. Grandma wasn’t arrested. By the time her house was up for sale (again), Grandma had already been dead for 9 years. When first she passed away, I wanted to buy the house but there was no way. I lived in northern Alberta then, and I had other obligations and a whole other life. It was impossible, but the idea of living here never completely left my mind.
After coming out to see the house, I put in a bid to GE Mortgage in Toronto, the house’s owner at that time. I’d given up hope of ever hearing from them when, a little over 2 months later, I received a phone call out of the blue. “Do you still want that house? If you’ve got a fax number, I’ll send you the agreement.”
When I initially toured Grandma’s house with the realtor, I asked about the missing carpet. “At first, just a rectangle had been cut out and removed by the RCMP so that they could run forensic tests on it. It looked bad, so we pulled the rest of the carpet out.”
Forensic testing? You read right. Apparently, someone accused the owner of raping them there on Grandma’s living room floor and the carpet fibres were needed as evidence to support that claim in court. Someone was also shot in that house – not killed. When I was prepping the living room walls for painting, I discovered blood splatter down in the corner above the baseboards. It was a new homeowner’s wish come true!
There were shattered beer bottles on the basement’s concrete floor and a basement window had been kicked in. The drugs that someone had cooked up on the electric stove had boiled over, filling the open area beneath the burners with a sticky, gooey substance that I scraped off with a trowel. Whatever it was, it was not water-soluble. I had long hair then and as I worked, some of the stuff got stuck in my tresses. I had to cut the blob out. I never did quite clean all of the chemical goo off Grandma’s stovetop, but it didn’t really matter as the appliance was beyond repair. The old carpets were covered in gross, unidentifiable stains, holes had been punched in a door or two, and the backyard was a heap of weeds and garbage.
Aren’t the messiest jobs often the most satisfying, especially when you’re working for someone you love? Cleaning up this disaster was a dream come true, both heartbreaking and healing. Buying and saving Grandma’s house remains to this day most meaningful thing I’ve done with my life. Now, when I get up in the morning, I walk where she walked, make coffee where she made coffee and sit in the living room where others were raped and shot but now where I watch the shadows of mountain ash leaves flicker on the wall, stenciling it with their graceful, grey pattern. I imagine her with me, as we were years ago, together, in this same place, enjoying each other’s company and the comfort of this cozy house.
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