A cousin of mine reportedly said, “I can’t imagine living in a house where other people have lived.”
I don’t know if she really said this, as I heard the story secondhand. But it stuck in my mind because every home I’ve owned has been lived in by other people, and a few people have died in them as well. So far, this has not bothered me in the least.
I’m used to living in the homes of dead people.
The first house I bought was owned by a woman named Ruby. She was still living when I bought it, but she wasn’t doing very well. She had outlived two husbands in the house, so I suppose there’s a better-than-even chance at least one of them died there.
Ruby finally had to move to a nursing home after she showed up at the neighbor’s door a few times without clothes. As she had no children, the responsibility for finding her more suitable accommodations fell to her niece. I have no children, so I expect my niece, Isabelle, might be performing this duty for me sometime in the future. (She recently turned 18 and has that to look forward to.)
My only other real home is the one I’ve been living in with my husband, Peter. The neighbors say “three witches” lived in the house before the man we bought it from. I don’t know if this is true, and no one seems to know much about them.
But now we are moving into a new condo, and I know much more about it because it had only had one other resident. Her name was Elizabeth and, like Ruby, she lived there alone, although, unlike Ruby, there is no record of any husbands, dead or alive.
Elizabeth bought the condo when it was built, more than 40 years ago, and she died in it. I know this because I looked up her obituary, and it said she “died at home,” so I have to suppose she died in the home we now own.
Elizabeth seems like a lovely person, judging from her obituary. Of course, most people sound nice in their obituaries. I’m going to have to ask Isabelle to say something nice about me when she gets around to writing mine. (A person doesn’t turn 18 without acquiring some responsibilities.)
I’ve been thinking about Ruby and Elizabeth as Peter and I work to renovate this new condo. The walls had been painted and some new flooring put in, but pretty much everything else was as Elizabeth left it. The appliances are old. We’ve already replaced the countertop and had the cabinets repainted and put in shiny new sinks. I don’t think Elizabeth would recognize the place. But I hope she’d be pleased.
Because, unlike my cousin, I very much like the idea of Elizabeth living in my home before me. I like that she was so happy here that she never chose to leave. I’m glad she didn’t show up at the neighbor’s naked and have to find another home. (Although I don’t know this for sure. It’s possible she just didn’t have a dutiful niece like Ruby did and I do.)
And even without the yellowing 1980s bath fixtures and the chipped countertop, I would like to think there is a little of Elizabeth around. It makes me feel as if I have an invisible friend, looking at the same sun shining in the same windows, seeing the same view, living our overlapping lives without ever getting the chance to meet.