The house—a Colonial with Benjamin Moore sesame-yellow siding, sporting magenta doors—does not stand out in any particular way. It can’t compete with the purple Victorian two doors up, the majestic stucco mansion on the corner, or the beautifully-renovated Queen Anne next door. It is humble by comparison, but pretty and cared for, a family home.
As a bonus, the house sits on what’s been called one of the most desirable streets in Boston’s North Shore. Chestnut Street is tree-lined, walkable, and leads to the downtown area of this typical New England church-spired town. It’s an idyllic place to live and raise a family, a place where people have an “it takes a village” mentality.
My husband and I fell in love with the town, the street, the house, and remained so even after our real estate agent did her duty, and told us, “This house does have psychological damage.”
“What do you mean?”
“The family’s teenage boy committed suicide here about three years ago. They found him in the—”
“Wait!” My arm shot out, palm up. “I don’t want to know.”
I did not need a disturbing mental image every time I entered whatever room or space this poor child died in. I preferred to remain ignorant and, while my husband did ask where the death had occurred, 18 years later, I still don’t know. We bought the house, moved our family in, and began what we thought would be an uneventful suburban life.
Then, like a proud cat bringing its owner dead prey, my psychologically-damaged house began to attract little bits of mayhem to our door. First, an elderly man wearing a jogging suit approached the house one summer, sat down on my lawn and keeled over. I ran inside and called 9-1-1. Then I sweetly said to him, “Don’t worry, help is on the way.”
“Please,” a blast of putrid alcoholic breath hit me smack in the face. “Leave. Me. Alone.”
The police took him away to sleep it off and I felt a little betrayed, as if this man had robbed me of the satisfaction of saving someone’s life. My little girls demanded answers. Why didn’t an ambulance take the sick man to the hospital? I explained, as best I could and in terms they’d understand, the perils of drinking too much.
On another pleasant day, my husband was toiling in the front yard when he spotted a vehicle careening toward our house. A man was sprawled on its hood, holding onto the sides for dear life, yelling, “Go ahead, kill me! Kill me!”
Just short of hitting my husband, the driver changed course and began to forcefully jolt the steering wheel left, then right, trying to dislodge the screamer. Down the road they went, in a zigzag pattern. We called the police, who found the duo two streets over, the man still hanging onto the hood—a drug deal gone bad.
The night before my oldest daughter left for college, we heard a terrific CRASH! Then, another CRASH! A large SUV had struck a light post across the street and had imbedded itself in a tree. Worried about injuries, I dialed 9-1-1. Meanwhile, a young woman fled the car, vomiting and crying hysterically. It was a first date, and even though the girl had texted her mother, telling her that she thought the boy had too much to drink, she got in the car with him anyway.
The police cuffed the driver, now belligerent and yelling profanities, while paramedics attended to his date. It was a live tableau at our doorstep illustrating the dangers of drinking and driving, just as one daughter was leaving the nest and the other was getting her driver’s license.
Last summer, I was in bed when I heard voices outside saying, “Dude, no. This isn’t the right house.” Afraid I was about to get accidentally TP’d (the captain of the high school wrestling team lives next door), I shot down the stairs and flung open the front door to find a very inebriated teenager just managing to stay upright by hanging onto the stair banister. His less drunk friend explained that Drunk Boy had thought this was his house. After making sure they were not driving, and listening to many assurances from Less Drunk Friend that he would get Drunk Boy home, my husband and I told them to go. Unfortunately, Drunk Boy was convinced he was home.
He somehow found our backyard and made himself comfortable on the outdoor couch. We called 9-1-1 when Drunk Boy decided to urinate all over our patio. His friend gave up and left him there. My daughters didn’t know whether to laugh or be horrified. By the time the police arrived, Drunk Boy was passed out.
“Kid, kid. Have you been drinking?” asked the officer, prodding him with a billy club.
“No, not at all, sir.”
“Oh, Cooper. Didn’t think we’d see you again.”
None of us had any pity for Cooper, especially my daughters who by then had developed a real aversion toward drunk people. My now-adult children drink socially, but never to excess. I am confident they will never drive drunk or get in a car with someone who is. We’ve called 9-1-1 enough times.
I don’t know why the boy who lived in my house committed suicide, whether he had a mental illness, was involved with drugs, or depressed for any variety of reasons. But after all these incidents, I’m convinced that part of his spirit remains with this psychologically-damaged house and tried to help me protect my children, help me be a good parent through the years.
Margarita Barresi writes memoir essays about growing up in Puerto Rico in the 60s and 70s, as well as parenting essays set in modern day. Her work has appeared in Acentos Review, Pink Ink, Your Teen Magazine, a Patch.com parenting column, and an upcoming anthology about tantrums from Monkey Star Press. Margarita is currently working on her first novel and has completed the Grub Street Novel Generator, a competitive admission 8-month program for writers working on the first draft of a novel.