The House Next Door: a diary

by Jeff Oaks

March 22/

Yesterday, no one came, and I missed them. I’d gotten up early so I could get the dog out of the house because loud noises make him anxious. They’d done so much work on Monday that I was sure more would happen Tuesday. It was the hope that “It’ll all be over soon,” the hope of every victim, I suppose, although my victimhood isn’t a real one, only an irritation. After all this, my house will enjoy a better financial position, I’m told over and over. So how could this be anything but good? More like a dental cleaning. More like a proctological probe. I’ll live and prosper apparently.
What I want now, in any case, is a schedule again, a way to predict the world. Isn’t this like any relationship, in which the terror and/or excitement of the first days dominates everything, until your old habits kick back in. When the honeymoon period is over, the marriage is really between keeping as much of your old world as you can as you try to integrate the new world’s demands. Sometimes you realize you can’t do it and either change yourself and embrace the new world, leaving the old one behind (here, I think of the process many, many of my students are going through as they leave a youth they can’t remain in forever), or you abandon an uncertain or frightening future for the pleasures you knew you had before (Make America Great Again, anyone?). I know it’s not that simple of course; I’ve always smuggled away something from every relationship I’ve been in–a turn of phrase, a love for Thai food, an appreciation for bank clerks–some smugglings so quiet I don’t realize until years later came from someone else. 

This construction is a temporary relationship, but already I’m using it as a way to think about my relationship to change, which in a year of enormous anxiety is of some benefit. Writing has always helped me deal with change. I wrote about my grandmother’s death before she died. I felt guilty then, even ghoulish, but it did help. When my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, I did for the two years she had left. I wanted to be sure to see her while I could. Now who am I reporting on but my own passage through anxiety, I suppose. A kind of travel writing project. Who will I be when the new expensive house (and neighbors eventually) materializes? Will I want to sell and run?