Since my mother died I avert my gaze as I passed the street in which she had lived, a pang burning in my chest. Yesterday I drove down the street of my mother’s house. I call it my mother’s house, even though it has been sold and strangers now live there, but to me it will always be my mother’s house. She bought the house with my father in 1978 and I was raised in that house. It was the only security I ever knew. Even as my life constantly changed due to her bipolar, that house was the anchor that held us together.
She lived in that house for 42 years, firstly with my father who renovated it and transformed it into a three bedroom home, until he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and returned to Bosnia to say goodby to his parents, and was buried there.
It was this house that held us together in turbulence after his passing as she struggled with widowhood as a 30 year old, with two small children, and a mental illness that battered her. And it was in this house that I finally experienced a nuclear family when she married my stepfather and they spent 30 years of their married life within their walls.
My stepfather spent his life renovating the house, painting, updating, transforming it. And when I look at it I see him on the roof, painting the tiles, or at the front building the archways that now bracket the front door.
He suffered from depression his whole life and committed suicide in the bungalow behind the house, in what was his work shed. My mother died 11 months after him inside the house from hypertension.
When I go to their graves, I don’t feel them, instead it is this house that I come to grieve and remember. Sometimes I get fanciful and I like to think that they are together, their spirits entwined as it is their resting place. Mostly I just cry and feel the waves when they come, and miss them.
I commissioned this painting by my incredibly talented friend Jodi Wiley to paint my mother's house. It doesn't look this now, but this is where my mind turns to when I think about my childhood and remember sitting on this fence with the neighbourhood children and throwing water balloons at each other, playing chasey on the street, and watching the palm tree swaying. This painting represents the good moments of my childhood and it is where I go to when the sadness gets too much.
Amra Pajalić is an award-winning author, an editor and teacher who draws on her Bosnian cultural heritage to write own voices stories for young people, who like her, are searching to mediate their identity and take pride in their diverse culture. She writes memoir, young adult and romance under the pen name Mae Archer.
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