Seconds later, I'd changed my mind.
Gary turned right onto Stratmore, and I called out the names of now long-lapsed businesses to our sons in the back seat. Another right, and we drove up the narrow lane left between the parked cars on both sides of the street. He slowed the car, stopping midway.
"This isn't it," I said, looking over Gary's head through the window.
"I think it is," he replied.
"What address is it guys? Can you read it?"
I climbed out of the car to get a better look, gaping open-mouthed at the yellow brick house. Everything was different. A large unpainted redwood porch jutted out from the brick, replacing the grey wooden porch and the curlicue lattice work that had fanned out from the steps. The green and white aluminum awning was also gone, a heavy peaked roof awkward in its place. My mother would have cried to see the state of the front bank, once covered in ivy and dotted with delicate clumps of phlox--swells of pink, purple, blue, and white. The hedges that stood at the top of the bank had been glossy green and evenly trimmed. All that remains are straggly sticks, green leaves sprouting randomly across the front. The bank itself seems to have crumbled, turning in upon itself. Now dissected with broken railroad ties, dirt patches show between straggling ivy. Nothing blooms.
I recognize only four things about the house. The yellow brick, of course, is the same. There remains an odd aluminum railing along the steps from the street. The connectors at the railing's top and bottom always reminded me of the goose-necked curve of a kitchen sink faucet. My bedroom window continues to look out onto the porch, and I can glimpse a bit of stained glass on the side, if I stand on my tiptoes and strain my eyes to the left.
I wonder what the house remembers of me, of us. Does it feel me in the front street, my heart yearning toward it? Does it still wait for Jay's long steps up the street, bounding around the side of the house after a long absence? Does a shadow of my father sit waiting in the kitchen chair near the door? If I peer into the window on the porch, will I be sitting on my pale chenille bedspread, dropping the phone, wailing in grief for my lost brother?
Do our rumblings disturb the sleep of those who live there now? Do they come upon us as we sit around the table, all of us still together in this mirage? Do they hear us in the creaks of the house, wondering if the plumbing is going or if the stairs could use an extra nail or two?
If I had enough courage, I'd climb up those steps I haven't climbed for 35 years, running my hand along the familiar rail. I'd walk around the bend of the house, checking for wild violets and buttercups in the grass, touching the roses that used to border the walkway. I might sit on the wall a while before I knock on the door, asking for entrance. I don't have enough courage to go back, though.
My sister says the house doesn't look as bad from the alley. She drove up the narrow gravel road to look down at the yard we once had. Perhaps the tiger lilies have taken over, blanketing the grass in striped orange petals. Maybe the forsythia have grown together, building a dense canopy of tiny yellow stars, protecting us all.