Monday, January 28, 2013

Not Haunted - Turn on the Lights

Today I clicked on a story with this headline: Woman Sues Over Home's Dark Secret. I clicked on it knowing what I was likely to read about, and I was right.

A Pennsylvania homeowner is suing the people who sold her the house because they did not disclose to her that the previous owner shot his wife and then himself inside the home.

I'll admit that I have a fascination with this topic and with people's reactions to it. Whether that fascination is healthy or not, I couldn't really say. I'm just a girl clicking around on the Internet trying to figure stuff out.

There is no doubt people have strong feelings about this topic. Last year, Apartment Therapy posted a question from a reader who wanted to know if she should purchase a house with a "dark history."

"The owner's young wife recently committed suicide in the house. Now we are second-guessing our choice. I want to ask other AT readers: does your home have a past? How does a home's dark past affect how you feel about it?"

That post elicited 233 comments. If you browse Apartment Therapy, you'll see that most posts don't get that many comments. A popular story might have 50. It might have 10. It might have four or three or zero. Very few have 233.

The responses were mixed. Most of the people with actual real-life experience with suicide and its effects said buy the house and make it a happy place. People with no experience and strong opinions tended to say, "No way! I'd never buy that house."

Should places where tragic things have occurred be torn down? That seems silly. The planet is quite old and tragedies happen every day. If we start avoiding places where bad things occurred, we're going to have nowhere to go.

I often say this when people express fear about a place where someone died: Did you give birth to your child in a hospital? Because thousands of people have died there. I mean, seriously, why are hospitals never haunted?

If you want my opinion, houses are not haunted. Movies have convinced you that they are, but those are just movies. Movies have also convinced you that Prince Charming will save you at just the right moment, that love conquers all, and that high-speed car chases involving gunfire are a totally reasonable response to every crime. Movies have convinced you that after sex, the same bed sheet magically leaves the man's chest visible while covering the woman's breasts.

Houses aren't haunted. People are. Last winter I wrote about my fixation on The Shining. It kept coming up in conversation for some reason. And I wrote this about Stephen King: "Sure, he's telling you a story that, on the surface, sounds like a ghost story about a haunted hotel, but it's really about people and how people are haunted. The monster you're afraid of is within."

A tragic event happened in my home. My ex-husband, Charles, committed suicide in the garage. I'll be frank. If some stranger came here and acted like it affected him or her, or that it had anything to do with his or her life, I might laugh in that person's face. No, more than laugh. I would scoff. Excuse me, but my tragic event has nothing to do with your life. Get over yourself. Buy the house or don't, but don't act like someone else's tragedy has anything to do with you.

And that is wrong. I do understand that some people feel weird about a thing like that. I realize that I have had 3 and a half years to fight the fear that comes after a tragic event. My brother visited a few months ago for the first time in several years and, when we pulled into the garage, he said his first thought was about how this was the place where Charles died.

It is not my first thought anymore. It's not even a daily thought when I go to and from the grocery store or I chauffeur children around town. And that is an amazing thing. That is called healing.

My opinion of this homeowner in Pennsylvania is that she was fine in the house before she knew what had happened there. She should accept that it has nothing to do with her and live her life. Of course, everything is about money. Will it affect the price of the home in the future? She wants money to make up for the fact that it might be harder to sell the house with the "dark history."

If I sell my home one day, am I required to disclose to strangers the worst thing that ever happened to my family? What if, every time you sold a home, you had to tell every prospective buyer the worst thing that happened to you in that place?

When the time comes, I will disclose the information if it's necessary. I have no problem with that. I can disclose how I had someone come in and burn sage. I can disclose how I painted the door that leads from the kitchen to the garage a bright and shiny shade called Raincoat Yellow.

But, honestly, I kind of have the same feeling about that disclosure and someone's reaction to it as I do about people who walk into a house and complain about the paint colors. YOU CAN PAINT IT ANOTHER COLOR, DUMMY!

And you can live very happily in a home where something tragic happened to someone else.

Do you know how I know this?

Because you can live happily in a home where something tragic happened to you. My children and I do it every day.

Here was my answer to the person on Apartment Therapy last year (posted under the name Clooney Girl, of course). I'll share it here because I think I said pretty well what I wanted to say.
"My ex-husband committed suicide in my home two years ago. My children weren't here but I was. It was the most traumatic thing I will probably ever experience. Yet we still live in our home. Every day we laugh together and love and hug each other. Every day we remember this man and how much we loved him and how much he loved us. Every day I go into the garage where it happened. At first it had power over me but each day that space loses a little more of its hold on me and becomes what it is, a place to park a car. The house you are looking at, with its "dark history", probably has a lot of light history too, days when one person told another one "I love you," days when children laughed and chased each other, days when people sang off-key while they cleaned the bathrooms, days when people cried themselves to sleep and then, more importantly, got up the next day to keep living, keep loving, keep moving forward. The days when those things happen far outnumber that heartbreaking day when someone lost his battle with a devastating disease. Give THOSE days weight as well. They are just as important. I hope this helps. I know if I ever sell this home I would love the idea of a happy family moving in and filling it with their own light."
Other things we do in this house? Randomly sing the lyrics to the Farmer's Insurance song. Give each other hugs. Have ten-second dance parties in the kitchen. Sit on the back patio and listen to music. Yell out quotes from Breaking Bad. "I am the one who knocks!" "I am not in danger. I am THE DANGER!" "This is my own private domicile and I will not be harassed...bitch!"

No matter what has happened to you in your life, ask yourself this: Why does the hurt always seem to matter more than the healing? Why does the dark matter more than the light?

Simply put: It doesn't.

This is my own private domicile and I will not be harassed, bitch.

Related links:
The Shining - Notes from the Overlook Hotel

This is my own private domicile
Woman Sues Over Home's Dark Secret

Apartment Therapy: Would You Buy a House with a Dark History


  1. I could never buy a house where I always looked like this:


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