Friday, January 07, 2011

Trying On Someone Else’s House

by Zinta Aistars

Living in someone else’s house is a little like trying on someone else’s life for size. Moving into a friend’s house for three weeks, I wonder how this might hold true. While David is on a journey to Sarajevo, I will keep watch over his home. It’s an arrangement that works out well for both of us. He can travel secure in knowing his house is being cared for, while I have a chance to cut my daily commute to work from an hour each way down to about 15 minutes each way.

That’s not all.

David’s house, although close to the city where I work, might as well be far out in almost nowhere. A quick turn off the highway, another quick turn, and all I can see are fields and forest. The quiet lane to the 125-year-old Victorian house set back on five acres shows only one set of tracks from a day’s worth of traffic, and the snow has already nearly filled those. For three weeks, I will have the pleasure of moving from suburbia to live in the quiet countryside.

On my way to meet David at his house for final instructions and a set of keys, I turn onto the road in evening snowfall. Immediately, I stop. In the middle of the road, I hold down the brakes and lean forward against my steering wheel, staring out into the winter night. There, yes! I thought so! The delicate shadow moves, then another, and another, and five deer bound across the road, silent, like ghosts, one after another, and disappear into the snowy wood on the other side.

I hold my breath, staring after them, between dream and wakefulness.

David is waiting, dinner is on, I must get moving. But when I breathe again, it is deeply, taking in air as if for the first time all this work day. So this is how he lives. And never leaves, working in an office built into the side of a big red barn, self-employed book designer and editor, with a window on snowy fields so that deer may distract him gently at any time of day.

I could get used to this.

We forget sometimes how many lives are possible, how many variations, limitless, infinite, and our own, too, if only we step a little to one side, or a little to the other side, changing angle and perspective. A decision here, a decision there, and everything can change.

What if I chose to live this way, and for more than three weeks? Moving to this house for three weeks is an opportunity for me to try on someone else’s life, a part of it, and to pretend myself home. David greets me as I knock the snow off my boots at the back door. Delicious aromas waft from the warm kitchen. I’ve been here before, and I remember liking the place, its mix of country and yet a kind of city elegance, with rooms painted in rich colors, valances that hang heavily from windows, a piano, a leather couch, a wood burning stove where wood is already crackling and snapping cheerfully in bright flame.

And books, of course, very many books, and art framed on walls, and no television.

My heart glimmers in glee at the thought—no television! No distraction but deer. I consider the weeks ahead like a white canvas, waiting to be painted. I am preparing to work on a project for an artist residency, a series of broadsides, combining literary art with visual art. This house will be the perfect space in which to work.

I am pleased at how well this will work for both of us. As we eat dinner at the dining room table, I ponder the piano on the other side. I’ve been graciously given permission to plink on it. David plays, and beautifully. I haven’t played since I was a girl. Play is the key word here … I wish to do so, in the silence of these rooms and country solitude, to hear how notes hit the walls, float up against the ceiling, swirl into the night hours. I want to play with creativity, in paint, in words, in music. Playfully, like the deer that bound across the snowy road and into the white-laced forest. Play …

It’s just a house. But is a house just a house, ever? How much does it take on the spirit of the inhabitant? If it’s been filled all this time with books and music and art, does that seep into the wood and plaster and change the soul of the place?

David is flushed with anticipation of his journey. We talk about travel, and I feel a tickle of … nostalgia? appetite? yes, appetite for the road. His journey will take nearly 24 hours to complete, while mine will only take an hour. It’s only been a few months since I, too, last crossed the ocean to immerse myself in a European lifestyle, and a part of me never really returned. I long to go back, again, and again, and perhaps someday even to stay. We talk about this. About new beginnings, about old lessons learned, about clean slates and impossible dreams come true, and about healing and newfound joy.

Journeys are like that. All of them change us. Short ones, long ones, trying on new spaces and new ways of being. Playing with the possibilities. Stepping into the lives of others and trying them on for size, just in case we might like the fit.

I jingle the new set of keys in my hand. David shows me how to stoke the fire, the woodpile outside, the place beyond the row of evergreens where the ashes are heaped in snow. Here is the coffeemaker. There, garbage bags, and it is taken out every Wednesday for a Thursday morning pickup. Will I remember? At my house, it is picked up on Tuesday morning.

No matter. Make do. Shift and shimmy until the fit is just right. Or never is. Which will it be? He speaks of selling the place, and I cock my head to one side, considering. Not nearly north enough … but it is winter now, and the snow, at long last, is deep and soft and pure white, like a canvas waiting to be painted with a fresh dream.

I give my friend a hug and call out as I leave through the back door, “Bon Voyage! Safe travels!” and I wish it for both of us. A journey of a thousand miles, a journey of a hundred, bounding across the road or the ocean. A new perspective can suddenly make everything new.


  1. Hi Zinta, I was just wandering through blogland and came upon your lovely blog. I have only read this one post but I truly love your 'voice" in this. I am looking forward to coming back and hearing more about your adventure of "trying on a house"!

  2. How kind of you to say so, Brenda. I'm honored. I will be blogging quite a bit on my three-week trial house in the country ... very much looking forward to the experience.