From a 2001 entry in my dream journal: “Diddie died last October. On the weekend that she died, Emily and Anne and I were supposed to spend a weekend together in San Francisco. Anne wasn’t coming ‘til Saturday morning, so Emily and I took off for Orr Hot Springs, and drove back Saturday morning to meet Anne at my house on Alvarado Street. My poor sister had to tell us. She had been told 10 minutes she stepped on the plane before by my mother.”
I dreamt about Diddie’s house two nights ago. She was my Grandmother, and her real name is not Diddie, but that doesn’t matter. The dream was produced under the influence of a few things: a late night conversation with my sister who was describing her house to me –“It reminds me of Diddie’s,” she said excitedly- and also the sort of vivid dreams one has in the early morning, after not sleeping so well during the night. The dream was not a happy return to a beloved place: there was strange man warning me that I might well have to leave California. The house was hard to describe even in the first few minutes of waking consciousness. It was inchoate; mesmerizing. I wondered why and how, if the house was no longer standing, I returned to it so often.
Diddie’s house recurs often in my dreams, usually in a different shape or in a different locale. There are secret rooms that appear, that I didn’t know existed, and these rooms give me hope that the house is has grown; is living. I explore them curiously, tenderly. There’s a backyard, always. The interior of the house- the painting, the large medallion of Shakespeare, the picture of the geraniums, the small watercolor of Charity Farms, the farm in Hogsthorpe, England where her Grandfather grew up- does not appear.
This inventory of objects makes this entire recollection sound like another version of Goodnight Moon, the items that get noticed everyday, every night: things that your memory catches and snags on. We all have items from the house. They are not lost. But the house is.
Another entry reads: “Last night I walked into Diddie’s bedroom. To the left hand side of the door was a hole from which a rickety staircase descended. There was a basement I’d never seen before. I stared at it, wondering what was down there. It wasn’t dank, dark or scary. It was, instead, illuminated with the light of the mid-afternoon sun. I began to weep, hugely, almost athletically, pulling energy up from my diaphragm and shoving it out the front of my face. I pounded the ground, I hugged my knees and crouched and howled and when there were no more tears, I still tried to cry…”
The house is lost. I watched it go. I watched the insides get taken out and disposed of (a process that was not easy and provoked an scary and unprecedented fight between my beloved Aunt and myself. And my poor Father.)
I knew our family couldn’t keep it. It was too valuable to keep. It was located in Newport Heights in Newport Beach, a sleepy seaside town when my grandparents arrived there in the early forties. Diddie’s house was on Aliso Street, just east of a bluff that overlooked Pacific Coast Highway. When the weather was clear, you could walk down the street and look at Catalina, crisp and clear, and smoky blue in the distance. Developers, looking to monetize the perspective of bluff-ocean-island, built huge homes on the edge of the bluff and privatized the view. The city of Newport beach grew and asserted itself. Ranch style homes and pseudo-Eichlers started to appear alongside the square little bungalows that were built after the war. And then bigger homes got built. Skyscrapers appeared to the south. Fashion Island, the modernist outdoor mall, was built.
The house was screened by a pepper tree and a hedge of toxic and fragrant white oleander. It didn’t call attention to itself. None of the houses on Aliso Street did at that time. They were smaller, low-slung, relaxed. It was Newport Beach. The outdoors was the attention-grabber. Not high-ceilinged houses with vasty interiors and heavy furniture. People didn’t live in Newport Beach because they wanted to be entombed in heavy houses. You lived there because you didn’t need to be protected from the elements. The night didn’t bring bone-crushing cold and the sun set, it seemed, just forty miles away over the long spine of the submerged mountain range that is the Channel Islands. The winds blew calmly over that small white house with the redwood rafters.
From the dream journal later in 2001: “I dreamt that Diddie’s house, with the knowledge and connivance of Diddie, Dad and Cerini, had been blasted to make way for a new structure. ..somebody had cut down the ancient pepper tree in the front yard. That is what sent me over the edge. The tree had been ripped asunder, torn apart. It was a horrible dream. Not only did I rail at Dad and Cerini, I screamed at Diddie…”
The house was torn down. I knew it would happen. My father and I made a last tour of the house, shortly before it went up for sale. I couldn’t believe at the time that it was going away forever. I took pictures of the house and the grounds it sat on. I took pictures of the glassware that still sat on her dining room table, the way the light hit it.
I ran water in the sink and remembered a time when I was an eight year old that I washed dishes next to Diddie. The water flowed over my hands and the sunlight that came in through the window above the sink illuminated it. I looked up at Diddie. “Look at this!” I said to her. I meant: look at this incredible element in your house. Look at the liquid light that’s running over my hands.
Diddie nodded and said, yes. She saw the light too.
The last recorded entry in my journal is this one, and it’s the dream that the other dreams made, the logical end point to the ripped-out pepper tree and the wailing and the snarling rage: My brother Jim and I stood looking at the house, which was pale green. It stood on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. There was a narrow path on the right that bordered a sheer drop – one misstep, and you’d be over the edge, falling to your death. The house was very old and very loved and it was very beautiful. I became aware of a stained glass window- old and ecclesiastically English looking.
I was given to understand that the house was condemned. It was going to be destroyed. Jim and I walked around the house looking at it and noting the visible signs of decay. There was a clear sense of danger. It was structurally unsound. The ground was crumbling under my feet. The sides of the house were slick with moisture. Green vegetation was shooting out of the house, slowly covering the wooden boards. The house was being reclaimed by natural forces, not ripped apart or dismantled by mechanical forces: re-enfolded in verdant green vegetation. I remember crying as the house began to fall.
And then Jim and I pushed the house and helped it fall, right down into the ocean, which was bright blue and sparkling.
It seems that the death of Diddie and the destruction of the house hasn’t foreclosed the possibility of someone still living in it.
I think I go there more often than I know.
Have the people who live in the new, modern house heard the quiet sound of a door being closed? Muffled conversations in a living room that isn’t there any longer? Do they hear the sound of running feet? Are the secret rooms I find in my dreams about Diddie’s house passageways into the new house? Have the current occupants seen a elderly woman with blonde bobbed hair who walks briskly from room to room?
Do they sense my presence? Hers?
The house that used to be there?