by Elizabeth C. Creely
From a 2001 entry in my dream journal: “Diddie died last October. On the weekend that she died, Emily and I were at Orr Hot Springs. We drove back Saturday morning to meet our sister Anne at my house on Alvarado Street. Our poor sister had to tell us that our grandmother was dead.
I dreamt about Diddie’s house two nights ago. She was my Grandmother. Her real name was not Diddie. 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 vivid dreams I often have after not sleeping well. (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.
Diddie’s house is a recurrent theme in my dreams. It’s usually a different shape or in a strange location. Secret rooms appear, which I never knew existed. These rooms give me hope that the house is has grown, is living. I explore them curiously, tenderly. There’s the 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- these do not appear.
The missing objects prevent this dream from becoming my own personal version of the children’s book, Goodnight Moon. These items, which catch and snag my memory, are still around. Two of the paintings hang in my house. They are not lost. But the house is. I watched it go: watched the insides get taken out and disposed of (a terrible process that provoked an scary and unprecedented fight between my beloved Aunt and myself. And my poor Father.)
Dream journal entry from June 2001: “Last night I walked into Diddie’s bedroom. To the left hand side of the door was a hole with a rickety staircase descending down. I stared into the hole, 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 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 cliff 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. Still bigger homes were built. Skyscrapers appeared to the south. Fashion Island, the modernist outdoor mall, was built.
The house, screened by a pepper tree and a hedge of toxic and fragrant white oleander, 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. 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: “I dreamt that Diddie’s house, with the knowledge and connivance of Diddie…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… 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 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, washing dishes next to Diddie. The water flowed over my hands and the sunlight that came in through the window above the sink illuminated it.
“Look at this!” I said to Diddie. I meant: look at this incredible element in your house. Look at the liquid light running over my hands.
Diddie nodded and said, yes. I see. She saw the light, too.
Here is a summary of a dream that all the other dreams made, the logical end point to the ripped-out pepper tree and the wailing and the snarling rage of my dream-soul: My brother Jim and I stand looking at Diddie’s house, which is pale green. It stands on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. There is a narrow path that borders the sheer drop – one misstep, and you’re over the edge, falling to your death. The house is very old and loved and beautiful. I am aware of a stained glass window- old and English in an ecclesiastical way.
The house is condemned. It is going to be destroyed. Jim and I walk around the house looking at the decay: it is slick with moisture. Green vegetation shoots out the windows, slowly covering the wooden boards. The house is being reclaimed not by mechanical forces, but through natural means: it is slowly re-enfolded in verdant green vegetation. I start to cry as the ground crumbles under our feet and the house begins to fall.
And then Jim and I push the house and help it fall, down into the ocean, which is 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? Do they hear the sound of running feet? Are the secret rooms in 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?