Our Little Playground

Perhaps the lamp had been moved, or the curtains had been closed, maybe someone rearranged the furniture while I was away. I thought I would have been excited to be home; after all, this was my home. The piano was still in the same position from four months ago, the flowers on the table were dead but were placed exactly how I left them, the tiles were as cold as my feet remembered them to be, the phone still had the same ringtone, the television still hung strongly on the wall, the fridge still shook as it disintegrated the ice inside, the leather couches were still smooth, the table still straight. This was my home, yet I felt like something was missing and I couldn’t quite pick what it was.

Normally when I had come home from a family trip, especially a long one, being home was one of the greatest feelings I had ever experienced. This time, something felt off. Our house was situated on one and a half acres of land. Our driveway was long and surrounded by the most beautiful garden that my grandfather maintained, we had a fountain by the front of the house with fish on the inside, palm trees and a basketball ring guarded by two large black gates.

My father built this house, following my mother’s designs of her dream home. Everything about it took me back to my childhood. As children, my siblings and I would climb onto the ledge of the fountain competing against each other who would fall off first onto the patch of grass that surrounded it. We kicked balls up the driveway and watched them fly through the palm trees knocking their leaves to the ground. We would collect flowers and deliver them to our mum pretending they were from our dad – he had no idea though – and watched her smile, as she smelt the fresh sunflowers she planted herself, weeks before. We would run inside and turn on the television when our favourite series would start, tackled each other for the best spot on the couch and munched away on all sorts of different snacks from chocolate to potato chips while we hid the wrappers from our mother who did not approve of us eating junk food.

Before it was built, we would climb through the scaffolding and pretend to fall off so the older siblings would have to save the younger ones. We would play around with the plastering in the walls and run around in the sheds while my dad and his team were building. The house was our own little playground and every day was an adventure. We looked forward to coming home, it was our sanctuary.

Then we all grew up. By that point the ball was buried in some gravel, never to be seen again, the fountain had rusted, the fish all died, the gate no longer worked as fast as it used to, the driveway seemed longer than what it was when we were kids – running up and down it twenty times in a row – it was a hassle even climbing up the stairs to get to the front door. I would invite my siblings over, but life got the better of them. Work, kids, busy schedules, nothing felt the same. Eventually I adapted to the new lifestyle, just me, my parents, and my little brother – both older siblings moved out and created a family of their own. We explored a lot together and travelled to different places and each time we came home it felt like a part of us never really left.

This time, I was sitting on my bench, staring blankly at the stairs waiting for someone to show, no one was going to show. I paced around the house trying to distract myself from this fear that overpowered me but all I could hear was the sound of my lost footsteps against our kitchen tiles as I tried to figure out what felt so dull about this place that was once filled with so much adventure and joy.

And then it dawned on me; I was alone. For the first time in thirteen years of living in that house, I was alone. Completely alone. My parents and little brother stayed overseas while I came back alone, my siblings were in their own homes, and now I was standing alone in the once “fun-filled” home, feeling empty and numb. I realised in this moment, home is not the pool in your backyard or the granite bench top or your four-post wooden bed, it’s not the walk-in wardrobe or the en suite or the fountain or the palm trees that marked your driveway with their shadow, it was the people in that home that made it memorable. And that got me thinking, was our little playground itself ever really our home, or was it our family that made it feel like it was?