In Spite of Spirit, In Spirit of Spite

In Newbury, Massachusetts, a lone house stands only a few bubbles short of round on the giving surface of acres of marshland.

In daylight’s glare the exterior is a Pepto pink not found in nature.  Decades of gusting winds with nothing else man-made to stand in their way have aged it less than gracefully, peeling striations away to a jaundiced layer of naked wood.

I had passed by this house for years, but it was not until last year that someone described it to me as a “spite house.”

Now every time I see it I can think of nothing else.

An oxymoron: a gift of spite.  Like sending black roses, or purchasing a roach in an ex’s name to be fed to a meerkat for Valentine’s Day.

It may be that one should never look a gift horse–or house–in the mouth, but the lingering story of this bright pink edifice’s creation is one of malice.

It is said that in the mid-1920s, a divorcing lawyer agreed to build his soon-to-be ex-wife an exact duplicate of their downtown New England home.  He reportedly availed himself of what, in legalese, comprised a contractual “gotcha” in the absence of a term (here, location).  In 1925 his former spouse found herself the owner of this unusable twin, in a desolate location so unfit for human habitation that its pristine pipes could access only salt water, the better to continue malevolent mockery of the marriage’s corrosion.

Salt marsh in the wound.

My own work involves people who have committed violent felonies, yet even I had to pause and marvel at the concept of building something–and I wince at the word “building,” because it embodies creation, an inherent affirmative and additive–for the very purpose of spite.

It seems a betrayal of human expectations and decency, particularly if the back story here is true: that someone could stir the embers of a human connection that began in love and turn them into a “gift” of hate.

I am stymied by the kind of person who would expend assets and energy not in a burst of  creating–or even in an off-the-cuff emotional release of tearing something down–but in twisting something so far from its purpose.  A home as hate, not hearth.  It seems several steps into an abyss beyond neglect, or even retribution.

But I am somewhat heartened not to have encountered anyone who remembers the name of the villain in this story.  He seems to have evaporated but for the community’s collective memory of his misbegotten treatment of a fellow traveler in this world (and that it was an attorney who, as it were, did the deed).

Nearly a century later no one pays any heed to the original marital home, or seems even to know if it still stands, while the orphaned pink house remains tenderly cared for notwithstanding the physical disrepair that attends its inaccessibility.  There remains collective support of a symbol of the person who found herself so abandoned and alone.  At least one society is dedicated to the house’s preservation, and pink stickers of support abound.  Children leave hand-made Valentines fluttering by its worn front post.  Snowy owls protectively cast their golden eyes from its roof.

When the rising sun completes its winter rotation, it bathes the house in such sublime bright orange-gold that one cannot focus on its imperfections, much less its poisonous origin.

The house is no longer a monument to spite; it is more even than a single house, just as Virginia Wolff’s lighthouse was more than a lighthouse:

“The Lighthouse was then a silvery, misty-looking tower with a yellow eye, that opened suddenly, and softly in the evening. Now—
James looked at the Lighthouse. He could see the white-washed rocks; the tower, stark and straight; he could see that it was barred with black and white; he could see windows in it; he could even see washing spread on the rocks to dry. So that was the Lighthouse, was it?
No, the other was also the Lighthouse. For nothing was simply one thing. The other Lighthouse was true too.”

The other pink house is true, too.  A thing of enduring beauty and imagination, a memorial to the person whom it was designed to isolate.  A symbol of one man’s unkindness alchemized into the kindness of strangers.


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Ringed Round by Green

“If I could strip a sunflower bare to its bare soul,
I would rebuild it:
Green inside of green, ringed round by green.
There’d be nothing but new flowers anymore.
Absolute Christmas.”
Donald Revell’s poem of never-ending green, the “furnace of” an emerald eye, is titled “Death.”
I had always thought of black as the color of death, and of green as occupying the opposite end of the metaphor spectrum: the ephemeral lime green of incipient spring flower petals before alchemy renders them in magenta; crocus leaves’ broad, flat matte green, thirstily reaching through fall debris in search of stormy April skies; winter’s verdant evergreen perfume.  Jim’s color.  My own mint green eyes, encircled in teal-tinged steel blue, gifted me by my father before the furnace took him, too.
Green eyes open, studying the horizon, crying in the rain, not heavy-lidded in pain or closed in death.
In Revell’s poem, green eyes are not windows to one person’s soul, but the soul itself–a collective being of its own, holding the dead and the living, children never born to murdered children who did not grow old enough to bring them into this world.
Here closed eyes offer infinite sight.
One flower’s dismantling makes perpetual flowering possible.
Death is life and rebirth.
Black is green.
Green is never gone.
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God’s Golden Eyes

It’s the third Tuesday in March, the day, though not the date, when Jim died. Its essence is off-kilter, like Father’s Day (whatever date it occupies), when I lost my father five forever years later.

After little more than an hour’s sleep and a related cluster of dreams I need to process to write about, I am revisiting last year’s letter, which I hope Jim saved.

Eight years.

Love in the Spaces

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March 22, 2018

Dear Jim,

I was awake long before you would have hoped for me.  It snowed yet again, though a far less fearsome Nor’easter than this month’s past three.  This morning I was in one of my favorite places, just beyond ocean dunes only miles from home.  Somehow we never stopped there together, although we brought our children just north and south of this stretch of the Atlantic.

The sun broke through bruised clouds like a lighthouse beacon, unveiling in a vast murky marsh a single gold-eyed snowy owl who turned to look straight at me before promptly closing his eyes to resume napping.

Subtlety still is not my strong suit.  A few years ago I picked up a novel because of the lacuna embraced by its title, The Inheritance of Loss, and discovered an author I wish I’d found in time to pass along to you. …

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My Little Girl

My little girl is still dancing through life….with a Master’s degree in Computer and Electrical Engineering….and is turning 23. How is this possible?

Love in the Spaces

SuzannahgardenOur Little Girl

I just dropped off my little girl at college.

She’s grown a bit since this picture was taken. Yesterday her now darker red-gold swoop of hair stylishly fell across a white top above a swirling violet skirt. The shoes were less practical than the wee sneakers she wore while, as a toddler, she studiously absorbed what her dad taught her about plants.

But she somehow is the same bright, beaming, sunny, fearless girl who came into our lives seventeen years ago.

Before moving into dormitories for the first time, three of my children received from their prospective universities a copy of a book that each incoming freshman was to read during the summer. All of them would be ready to discuss it when they moved in, as one of many bonding rituals for new students.

Before my youngest opened the package this summer, my fingers traced the…

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