The shadows of someone's masterpiece

Oak Park is a dream. When I close my eyes and try to remember when, I realize the colour of the floorboards is gone. I can't find the smell of the bookshop. We moved away from those tree-lined streets 12 years ago and I find myself still wishing we could go back, sit in the park across from Hemingway's old place, my head in your lap and the church bells ringing.

We would ride our bikes on those streets, looking at these old victorian houses, the craftsman porches. You had your favourites and I had mine, and we envisioned this prairie life in the city, where we'd walk our children to school. Sit on the porch swing. Knock down some walls and plant a lilac bush. Open our own bookshop.


There were all these Frank Lloyd Wright places and we could never decide on one. You know, just in case. You liked the one with steep, sharp angles. I like the one with the rounded front door. These were our Sundays, spent in the shadows of someone's masterpiece. Oh, we had so much time.

I think about it now, and what we thought growing up looked like, what success looked like. I sit here, today, coffee in hand by the kitchen door. I see the carrots popping up and the hydrangea sprouting new leaves and how our children prayed for a tree. Who'd have thought He'd give us so many trees we'd have to cut down a few just to make room? I watch as the yellow sun on our garden turns to grey and the rain comes in. I smile when I hear it on our skylight, I'm so glad I haven't put out the laundry yet.

It's not Oak Park, not the dream of those houses, not the porch swing, no Chicago skyline. There is no mortgage here, no deed.

Frank Lloyd Wright never came to Ireland and I don't think Hemingway wrote from behind these windows.

But we have covered walls with paint swatches. You fret over the lino-wood flooring. The tree out front is in bloom. And we sit in the bay window, in our landlord's two leather chairs, king and queen of our own masterpiece.

Not the house, not the city, not the country, nothing but His design. 

I still cry over Oak Park, that we left and can't go back. I know it's all aglow in wistful unreality. I know we're changed and it's changed. I know these 10-plus moves in 10-plus years can really do a girl in. My homesickness is truly all over the map. But when you first brought me home a week after our wedding, with our quilt on the bed and the chest you built and your grandparents' old dresser, I didn't know I'd only ever want to live there. Frozen in time, forever. I didn't know that a dozen years later when I'd close my eyes, I'd still feel those floorboards beneath my feet.

And now that I can't see the colour, can't smell the books, can't remember what road that one house was on, I realize forever has changed.

A dozen years from now, when I close my eyes, this is what I'll see: me at the kitchen table, coffee in hand, looking out on our back garden to the trees our children prayed for. 

Not the house, not the city. I will only see the masterpiece.