When my brother died, I asked my family’s attorney and then my legal guardian, Mike Fingalsson to sell our house. I had a happy childhood there, but had too many recent bad memories, and I didn’t want to live there anymore. Besides, I was going to college soon and had no use for it. I sold it contents and all, and took only some clothes and very few personal items.
I bought the house back in 2003.
Above is the house a few years ago, with my two dogs at the time, Kip and Lily. Below is Kip at the very cold mountain stream that flowed through our property. As kids, we called it Bread Brook; not sure why, because the name on the maps is Back Brook. Unseen on the right of that photo is a steep cliff that leads up to my brother’s and my favorite place to go, a little plateau that we called Moon Landing, because we liked to go there at night and look at the moon. I don’t have any photos of Moon Landing, because that’s where Kalfi committed suicide and where his ashes are now buried. It would feel disrespectful to take a picture. However, it is very beautiful, overlooking the eastern foothills of the Green Mountains and Mount Cube of New Hampshire’s White Mountains in the distance. I loved the smell and the sound of the place, with the brook cascading over the glacial rocks below mixing with the rustle of the wind in the trees.
Our mother, Jana-Anika Kristvensdottir, was born in 1936. Her father was a small business owner who sold architectural instruments, some of which I still have: fancy protractors and other mysterious gadgets nobody uses anymore, because architects do everything on computers. He was gone most of the time, traveling door-to-door across the country, but he and his wife, our maternal grandmother who later lived with us when my brother and I were young, managed to have a baby son, Friedrich or Freddy. Three years later, our grandmother was pregnant with a second child, our mother.
Our mother and grandmother never talked about this, but our father told us that on the way to the hospital to deliver our mother, the family was in a car accident. Our grandfather and the little boy, Freddy, were killed, and our grandmother was seriously injured. Our mother was born while our grandmother was still unconscious.
It took our grandmother a long time to recover with months of rehabilitation, so she hired a woman named Mary Michelin to take care of her. This is the Aunt Mary I mentioned in earlier posts. She wasn’t really our aunt, but that’s what we called her. She stayed with the family and helped raise my brother and me too a generation later. By the time our grandmother was able to take care of our mother, she and Mary had already bonded strongly, and our grandmother pretty much let Mary be the caretaker and mother figure for little Jana-Anika.
I of course wasn’t around at the time, so the psychology of what happened between our mother and grandmother during those years is only educated guesswork based on what we picked up indirectly or from our father, as nobody wanted to talk much about it. I believe our mother resented her mother for abandoning her to Mary’s care, and thought of Mary as her real mother. On the other hand, I think our grandmother subconsciously blamed our mother for the death of her husband and son, as it happened on the way to her birth. Neither one of them ever would have said that to each other or to us, but our mother said something after our grandmother’s funeral that made me think that. I remember thinking at the time that it was strange that our mother resented her mother for abandoning her to Mary’s care when that’s what she did by abandoning my brother and me to Mary’s and our grandmother’s care, though for other reasons.
The other problem between our mother and grandmother, which was openly and regularly acknowledged, was how our mother hated that she was required to study piano and forced into a musical career. Our grandmother was an accomplished pianist herself. Some of my earliest memories were of her sitting next to my brother and me on the piano bench teaching us how to pick out simple tunes one finger at a time. Our grandmother came from a generation when married women simply didn’t work, and female professional musicians and performers in general were considered one small step above prostitutes. She often spoke wistfully of “what might have been”, and it was obvious that she tried to live out her dreams of a musical career through our mother.
I wish I could have heard our mother play piano in a concert hall. It seems so far-fetched that I cannot even imagine it. The only time we heard our mother play the piano was when we had a gas leak at school and were sent home early. We walked to and from school, and as we approached the house that day, we could hear her. At first we thought it was our grandmother, but we realized whoever was playing was far more accomplished. She was playing Chopin Etudes. We stood outside for a long time and listened. She played brilliantly. We didn’t go inside until the music stopped and we were sure she was back in her sewing room. She would have been mortified if she knew we heard her. We never told her.
One day when we were very young, our mother presented Kalfi and me each with a ring. Mine had a black moonstone, and Kalfi’s had a purple amethyst. We loved the rings and wore them always. She had previously always called us Twins, as if that were both of our actual names. “Twins, go help your father,” I can still hear her saying. Our father needed help often. He was a brilliant man intellectually, and he fancied himself very handy around the house, but in fact, he was an absolute disaster. I am certain that our home value diminished in direct proportion to the amount of time and effort he put into home “improvement” projects. Soon after she gave us the rings, our mother started calling me Moonstone and my brother Amethyst.
Yet another in our list of nicknames. Moonstone and Amethyst to our mother, Little Princes to our father (which we eventually trained our father to change to Prince Tarfi and Kalfi, because “princes” sounds too much like “princess”), and The Elves at school. The latter was because we were small, and our first grade teacher read us an illustrated storybook once called The Forest Elves, about two mischievous little twin blond elves. Someone quipped they looked just like my brother and me, and Elf Tarfi and Elf Kalfi became permanent. Even our teachers took to calling us The Elves sometimes. We didn’t mind. There were worse things.
One nickname we hated was from Doug Darrisson after the class watched a film about Adoph Hitler and Doug took to calling us The Nazi Youth. Other than each other, our best friend was Sandy, and he was Jewish. So we started calling Doug Darrisson by his real name, Dugfús, which he hated, even though he was proud that it means “dark strength”. It was an appropriate name, because, even though he was Icelandic like most of us, he had olive skin and black hair and eyes. And he was large and very strong. Our school didn’t have a football team, but if it did, he would have been the star player.
Sandy’s full legal name was Sandalwood Incense. His younger sister’s name was Peppermint Popcorn, or Poppy. Anyone could probably imagine the variety of drugs their parents might have been using when they selected those names. People sometimes assumed that because our mother called my brother and me Moonstone and Amethyst that she was some sort of cracked hippie, but far from it. However, Sandy’s and Poppy’s parents were indeed cracked hippies. They were one of the few families that hadn’t lived in town for generations. They were from Long Island, and were of a species everyone called Trust Fund Hippies. They took their family’s ill-gotten wealth and moved to the wilderness of Vermont and lived off the land, made their own soap, and sold little useless crafty things off their front porch. They didn’t practice their religion, but talked often about being “New York Jews”, perhaps to seem exotic among all us Nordic types. Sandy’s dad had a long gray ponytail, wore round blue-lens John Lennon glasses, and walked around bent backwards as if he were carrying something very heavy on his chest. His favorite word was “man”, which he pronounced with three syllables: “How’s it hangin’, ma-uh-an?” Sandy’s mom had long straight black hair and looked like Cher, but fancied herself more like Janice Joplin. She drove an old 1965 Porsche painted in psychedelic colors to look just like Joplin’s car.
Doug Darrisson was the closest thing we had to a class bully, but he wasn’t really a bad person. He was just stupid. He had been in the class before us, but was held back a year. Kalfi and I were the youngest in our class, so Doug was almost two years older than us, and he was big for his age to begin with. At first, he picked on us. It wasn’t anything serious, but was annoying. Then one day, Kalfi was uncharacteristically off doing something on his own, and Doug threw me to the ground and pinned me there, rubbing snow into my face. I couldn’t move and was totally helpless. Kalfi ran up, threw Doug off me like he weighed nothing, and beat him until he cried for mercy, to the glee of the entire class. Kalfi broke one of Doug’s arms and was suspended from school for two weeks. Doug never picked on us again, nor did anyone else.
Kalfi could be fierce. He also was very strong, much stronger than me. I emerged from the womb first, and Kalfi arrived fourteen minutes later. Our grandmother used to say he had more time to cook in the oven. We rarely played games that required physical competition, because there wasn’t any suspense. He always won. He never got sick either. I had colds and ear aches and the usual childhood illnesses just like everyone else, but he never did.
When we were five, I contracted meningitis, which is very serious, sometimes fatal, and also contagious. So I was quarantined in our room, and Kalfi was moved to a guest room. We had always slept in the same bed together, and although I was probably too sick to notice, it greatly upset him. Once everyone was asleep, he crawled out the second-floor window of the guest room and climbed back up into the second-floor window of our bedroom, all without a ladder, rope or anything. “Like Spiderman,” our father said. Our grandmother found us asleep in bed together the next morning, and the doctor said we might as well stay together, because it was too late by then. But he never got sick, not then, not ever.
Once I was better, we were summoned to our mother’s sewing room for inspection. It was rare that we were allowed to enter. The silence of the sound-proofed sewing room was how I thought outer space might sound. “Hold out your hands,” she said. “Did you wash them well? I don’t want you getting sick again.” Kalfi and I eventually noticed that our mother would find excuses to see our hands, because she wanted to see the rings and be able to tell us apart. From then on, we always made sure our rings were visible when we encountered her.
Nobody else had trouble telling Kalfi and me apart, because we had different eye colors. We were both born with blue eyes, but his gradually turned green and then brown, while mine remained blue. I am told that it is unusual for identical twins to have two different eye colors, but we were proof that it wasn’t impossible. However, this didn’t help our mother, because she did not like to look people directly in the eye.
We weren’t the only ones she had trouble telling apart. She had difficulty recognizing faces. Before every of her parties, she laid out hundreds of snapshots of her friends, repeating and re-repeating their names like a giant game of Memory. At dinner parties, she usually glued a cut-out photo of each of the guests’ faces on the place cards. Everyone thought that was a nice personal touch, but in fact it was because she wanted to remember what they looked like. At one especially creative dinner party, she drew caricature faces on white helium balloons and tied them to the backs of the dining room chairs.
She was a talented visual artist, though she had no training and rarely exercised it. Every once in a while, she would pull out a large portfolio of drawings of dresses she had made for an unrealized fashion collection she had once designed. We wondered if that is what she someday imagined as the ultimate purpose of her “sewing room.”
When I bought the house back in 2003, the sewing room had been turned into a cedar-lined sauna and an adjacent closet. It was one of the few things that had changed. I was told that the people who bought the house from me were an older couple who wanted to retire there, but the man died soon after. His ashes are somewhere on the property too. The woman lived years longer and had an affair with the town’s road foreman, eventually getting the town to agree to maintain as a public road most of what had been our half-mile-long driveway. When she died, the kids kept it for a few years as a vacation home, but eventually decided to sell it.
The name of the house is Darling Hill Farm, because it’s on a hill named after a man named Darling, a Captain Zephaniah Darling who moved there from New London, Connecticut, cut down all the trees to start a sheep farm, and built a house. The story is that the house and farm were a gift to his wife, who always wanted to move to the country, but was stuck for decades in the big city of New London due to her husband’s occupation as a whaler. The new house promptly burned to the ground and killed Mrs. Darling, so in his grief Captain Darling left the charred remains and built another house down the hill in the shape of a whaling ship. After Captain Darling’s death, that house fell into decay. The foundation of that house formed the foundation of our house, Darling Hill Farm. We used to play in the burned out ruins of the original house. Someone built another very pretty white farmhouse on top of it.
Once I decided to buy a house in the area in 2003, I did an internet search, and Darling Hill Farm was the first house that popped up, for sale by owner. I called the phone number, and the owner said he had just posted it and didn’t know it was even actively online yet. I drove there the next morning. I had not been back in 19 years. I was nervous about how it might make me feel, but as soon as I heard the familiar front door creak and smelled the front hall’s scent of grass clippings and gasoline (it was adjacent to the garage where the lawn mower was kept), I knew I was home. The one sensation that was most poignant was how the kitchen cabinets made a little drumming sound when they bounced shut. It made me think of our grandmother and Mary, who spent hours in that kitchen every evening. It made me miss them very much.
The previous owners had changed very little. They hadn’t renovated at all except for the sauna, and most of the furniture and wall hangings were the same as they were when I was a child. Strangely, they even kept up some of our family photos. It felt like I was in a dream, like I had been transported back into the past and was walking around in it.
Once I moved in, I had the difficult decision of whether to take what had been my parents’ bedroom, or the one that Kalfi and I shared. I decided on the former, because it faced east and had a much better view, but it took me months before I didn’t turn the wrong direction down the hall toward my old bedroom.
The day after I moved in, I woke up on my side facing the window. Facing east in late June, the sun was very bright coming through the windows and woke me up early. I was happy to be back, but I felt a strange sensation, like somebody was watching me from behind me, as if he or she were waiting for me to wake up. I turned over, and in the corner was an antique chair that had always been in that corner for as long as I could remember. And sitting in the chair was a shadow person. Shadow people were life-size three-dimensional shadows that my brother and I occasionally saw when we were younger, and this was the first time I had seen one in nineteen years.
I know I said that since my brother’s death I haven’t had any symptoms of schizophrenia (again, if that’s what it really was), but there are two exceptions, and this was one of them. It was darker in the corner, but I could see that the shadow person was a woman.
She stood up and walked slowly toward me, which was the first time that a shadow person had ever seemed to notice I existed. She came to the bedside and stood over me, looking down, and I had a very strong intuition and feeling that I knew who this was. It was our mother. As with other shadow people, when she approached I could sense what she was feeling emotionally, and it was similar to what I had sensed from other shadow people: shame, sadness, loss, grief, and a very strong feeling of guilt.
I said aloud, “You have no reason to feel this way. We knew you loved us, and we loved you. You did the best you could.” I went on in this way for some time, and as I spoke, I could feel some of her negative emotions begin to fade away, all except the guilt, which seemed to grow even stronger. “You have nothing to feel guilty about,” I said. “You did what you thought was right when you left.” I could tell that the guilt was not about that. There was something else.
Then it struck me. This was exactly how I felt for years about Kalfi. The guilt that I should have done something, that maybe I even somehow contributed the death of someone who was almost literally my soulmate, was overwhelming at times. She felt this same emotion.
“Nobody ever told me you had a twin sister,” I said. “You must know it was not your fault. It was not anyone’s fault. You weren’t even born yet when the accident happened. Nobody could possibly blame you. If there is one thing I have learned since Kalfi died, it is that terrible things happen all the time, and there is little we can do about it. Please go wherever you need to go. Everything is just fine here. I will be here to take care of Darling Hill.”
Then she leaned down, and kissed me on the forehead. It felt like a cool soft breeze. It was the first time our mother had ever kissed me. She stood there staring down at me for a long time and then walked away down the hall into the darkness, and I never saw her again.