The emptiness of the past is what most disturbs me. I remember my childhood home from the outside: a small low suburban house among others of its kind, surrounded by expansive, flat, close-clipped lawns of yellowish grass, dotted with low shrubs that we called... junipers, I think? – low, squat, dense, prickly blots of dark green. Nothing you could explore or hide under. All dull: all exposed and yet confined. I realize that it's subjective fallacy, and a failure of imagination, but to this day I can't picture a bodhisattva, or even a happy person, living in such a neighborhood. A graveyard of hopes. It's where my parents' marriage went to die.
When Martha and I first got together, she tells me, the thing that most disturbed her about me – and I was a queer enough young man, in all conscience; there were plenty of things to choose from – was that I remembered nothing of my childhood. I seemed to have emerged into a vague and partial consciousness when I was eleven or twelve, and to have almost no clear memories from any time earlier than that. Which, since I was only seventeen when we got together, did not make much of a remembered life. From time to time, small memories, preserved like specimens, showed up. But compared to her riches – she seems to remember absolutely everything, in Dickensian profusion – I was remarkably poor. I had lived in my head, not in the world. I remember the books I read and the pictures I saw. I remember the girls I had crushes on. That's about it.
It was Eros that brought me to anchor in the world, that gave me motive and memory. I really don't seem to have existed before that, in any substantial way. I drifted somewhere, but I don't know where. And if I contemplate a life with the erotic fading from it, my imagination turns up the same emptiness my early past does: a formless, uninhabited, uninhabitable flatland of dry lawns and junipers.
It recurs to me: I need to build a place. I need to make my house into a home, to fully inhabit it. I have thought this before, said it before, but there is an existential urgency to it now. The erotic may have been the only vividness my early life provided – the bright thread to follow – but it's only a thread, a guide out of the labyrinth. It can't make a home. The other impulses to make and mark are only adumbrations of this first, primary need: to make a place, a real place, one that will take the impress of memory and give memories back in return.
I don't even know if it's possible. For a long, long time my primary response to the houses I have lived in has been the imperative need to secure my lines of retreat from it. How do I get out of this place? How do I know I'm not trapped here? How do I keep my freedom of movement? Can I, really, live in my own house? I really don't know. Maybe I can't.
But whether I can or not, it becomes clear to me that nothing else comes next. I either take this step forward, or stay where I am.