A dream I had:

Everyone needs a place to live. I had spent a long time wandering around, not having any particular spot to call my own. One day, shuffling to the bus, I found what seemed to be a nice suburban house, apparently available.

I checked the house out, but I wasn’t cautious enough. I ignored small signs of damage; an electrical outlet that didn’t work, for instance. I moved the couch to cover up a black mark on the wall. I learned not to enter one room that emitted a strange brackish odor.

And, all too quickly, I moved in. But the house was not just damaged, but dangerous, unsafe. The owner lied about what was going on. I felt a false sense of safety and warmth. I added small touches that made it seem as though the house was mine, in spite of my renting. A picture here, a coat of paint there. Replaced a ratty chair with a new cool chair. I fooled myself into thinking that the changes I made were somehow repairs.

Small accidents sometimes caused me to reconsider living there. But I always moved back in. I figured I could repair it.

But, again, the owner of the property misled me, in ways subtle and overt, and undermined my efforts at repair. Threw parties there when I wasn’t around and to which I was not invited.

Finally, one night, I awoke – the house was on fire. Too much damage, ignored for too long, finally erupted. I was surrounded by roaring flames, could feel the heat on my face and hands.

I had to get out… but I had invested so much in repair and convincing myself (aided by the lies of the owner) that at first I couldn’t leave, and even when I did, I kept trying to go back in. Friends and the firefighters warned me, even tried to physically prevent me, but I returned, hoping to save something, anything, from the flames.

The memory of the safe, comfortable home, a home I thought I could fix, going up in smoke and angry red fire, still haunts me. I couldn’t save anything from the inferno. Nothing but me and the clothes on my back.

When they finally dragged me out, I was burned. The scars weren’t too bad, but because of my complicity in getting them, I blamed myself harshly.

The scars healed slowly, slower than I would have liked. Again, I had no home, no place of safety. When I would notice a new place for rent, all I could see was the possibility that this place, too, harbored hidden dangers. My wounds reminded me of what I had tried, and what I had lost, and what I had given away cheaply.

And yet, lurking in the back of my mind was the thought that if I had an opportunity to rebuild that original house, I would take it, even knowing that the property owner lied, cheated and misled me, I would consider helping to clear the lot and put up a new, safer structure. Friends tried to point out that, if I’m going to rebuild, surely I could find better locations and better business partners, someone who wouldn’t betray me and my efforts.

Just as I reached the point where I would consider rebuilding somewhere else, and had gone on some weekend jaunts looking for new lots or properties, I recieved a startling notice. A phone call from the old property owner, ranting about some imagined slight that I had supposedly done to the place. I protested, surprised at this re-kindling of our past battles, but the owner didn’t acknowledge my comments, and hung up.

My curiosity got the better of me. I took a trip to visit the old lot. I wanted to see what had been done with it. I was motivated by the feelings of nostalgia.

What I found was worse than I imagined. The property owner had rebuilt, all right, but had not cleared away the debris from the fire. The new structure rose from the ground where burnt timbers and ashes still lay, a scorched lawn, an empty hulk of a tree.

And worse than that, the new property was a facade, just a false front hiding the fire-damaged skeleton of the old house. As I peered at it from the street, I could just make out bits and pieces of the place that once held such warm and safe memories. A shard of plaster with my paint still showing. A cushion from the chair I once sat in. I was stricken with grief and pain; these were my memories, swept aside and left in place at the same time. These scraps were the things that I had burned myself trying to recover.

My wounds ached, and for a moment it seemed that I would go back into that pile of debris to once again attempt to recover something of positive value from the experience. But then I remembered awakening to flames, and the searing of my flesh, and I realized that I already had everything I needed from that old house.

Time to walk away. Hopefully, this time, for good.