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It's Nelly's World

Your Pretty House

alec vanderboom

There, in one momentary flash, it all comes: the pang of hope, of a dream vanished, the squeeze of too many years; and then it goes--one whole life, over in the time it takes to pass. Then it's on to the next lapidary life: But take a look at that place, will you! When I'm out riding country roads, into small towns and then out again, every few seconds I see the next, and the next, all the beautiful houses I would have lived in, if I had had the time, the possibility. I long for each one in succession, then give them up in the space of a minute.

Inhabiting each mile out on the road more fully because on a bike, and therefore feeling a part of the air that surrounds the domicile of another, the yearning is more intense as well. The Victorian farmhouse, on a height above the Hudson, with the view of distant mountains; the urban brick townhouse, black wrought iron surrounding; the slick dark wood modern glimpsed down a gravel drive in the hillside woods--I want them all. I want enough lifetimes to live in that beautiful place, and that beautiful place. In a beautiful place, life would be beautiful too. I would have lawn parties, and tend great gardens, and have large spaces inside in which to move, room to room to room, as if traveling the road of the interior.

I have seen your pretty house. And I have wanted your pretty house, in a fit of lust that embarrasses me. I should not want; I have what I need. It is modest. It is mine. But it is not your pretty house, and I want to own it, just once. Yet I am in my lifetime, on the downward arc, and there is no longer room to even fantasize many more lifetimes. (When I was in my twenties, in my thirties, I could still imagine the supply of lifetimes was more or less infinite, like the selection in the cereal aisle at Shoprite.) I get but one. That is the point. Silly.

This, for me, is the wage for riding around. New England, New York, the South. We built great houses here in the past, didn't we? And damn if each one isn't calling out to me, pulling my sight from the road ahead to an orgy of imagining: What if I lived here?

I love the beckoning drive, the spreading maple. The large porch, the dining table out on the patio. The horses calmly cropping their green meal beside the barn, living paintstrokes to embellish and beautify the homestead.

Hey, look, you: I have had my time. I had the big house and the big parties, the big garden (or the beginnings of one, anyway, though it did have the big weeds). I should not ache that keenly to go back, to have that kind of time, energy, money, dreams. To want that is to want youth with all its attendant hopes, and that's not cool. But riding these back roads has taken me back, so I seem not to help it, no matter how Buddhist I aspire to be: Desire is the seat of all unhappiness.

Today I listened on the other end of the phone line as a friend, in tears, described her frustration that as her husband works, their own house seems to be falling to pieces. This broke, in the recent winds; that is falling off; the other is crumbling or shearing or graying or tearing. And her husband is helping other friends get what she knows she will never have: the backyard pool, the perfect siding, the ravishing landscaping, while yet others have kitchen renovations and new mosaic tile in the bath.

The thing is, I myself think of her place as someplace I could never have: so lush, so welcoming, so amenable to the outdoor dinner party, in part supplied by the vegetable garden I will never have (at least not here, in the tree-locked shade of a small yard). She wants the house of someone she knows; I want the house of someone I know, as well as a hundred houses of those I do not.

I ride, slowing, past the great estates, and past the farmhouses of promise. I try to quell desire. It is all telling me something, my ache, and the quick shame that follows.

Anyway, at the end of the day, I come home. I pull in to the drive, and admire the stone on the side of the garage. I'm pretty happy with that pot of annuals, there. The house looks tidy. Someone else, passing by on the road, is probably thinking: Look there! How sweet. I wish I could have a house like that, someday. They don't know, but maybe they will.

They ride on, down the street.