We drove south on York Road, passing the large brick house that always stole my attention. I peered past my mother’s arms that were extended out towards on the steering wheel, to take another long, unblinking glance. The exterior was almost completely hidden by overgrown trees and vines, also hiding acres and acres of unseen farmland. If someone didn’t know it was there, they would probably miss it the first twenty times they drove by.
“What’s that on that house?” I asked. I was a nine-year-old, chubby cheeked girl with stringy hair in a tight ponytail. Despite many repeated questions, I was still unable to hold back.
“What do you mean?” spat my mother. Her eyebrows flexed downward and pointed at her nose.
“The glass thing on the side?” I half-asked back.
The brick house had a two-story greenhouse attached to the side of it, but it was empty.
Mom wouldn’t talk about it though. All I got out of her once was: “bad things happened there,” and when I asked about it again, she denied ever saying so much.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she told me, and “I never said that,” she lied, when I asked about what bad things could ever happen in a house so big and so different from what everyone else had. To my tiny brain, the glass walls made it feel magical, and a part of me, I didn’t have a name for, longed for it.
We drove down dark pavement. In the center was a bright, yellow double line with very few and far between breaks for passing. I was once told the original roads were built with logs, and that the hills were flat on top so the horses who pulled carriages had time to rest before climbing to another steep height.
From my window, the road cut straight through the landscape, past beautiful historic homes of rock, siding, or wood. There were giant fields belonging to old family farms, ones with silos and old abandoned barns, taken back by nature and weeds. We drove by stands of trees and private woods, down towards the city, but not quite. We never really went into the city, just the edges of it.
The powerlines hung on poles high above us, like a link to civilization or a rope to follow to find our way, both in and out.
Our town was small. It was a one stoplight town, and despite all of the side glances I got when I was little, at the time, it felt like home. I loved where the limbs that would hang over the cars, creating tunnels of vibrant, green leaves and strong, arm-like branches. I loved hiking by the Gunpowder or swimming in creeks and streams. I loved it all.
It wasn’t even on the map for the longest time, but that all changed after the 90’s ended and housing development after housing development sprang up like Pop-Tarts from some kind of impossible toaster. What was once rolling grasslands of serenity and a patchwork of hues, a radiant aura of crisp autumn smells, and meticulous apple orchards, became giant, boxy homes on tiny plots, and hill after hill of orange dirt. They came like chicken pox, after one development marred the earth, two followed in toe. The dotted land looked cheapened, while men somewhere else lined their pockets.
Now? It’s on the map. It’s turned more outsider than insider. The farms are gone and the oak trees with them.
And what of the brick behemoth with the two-story greenhouse? I never knew it then, but in the early 1990’s it attracted its own, outside evil.
It wasn’t that late. I think nine, maybe ten at night. A man and woman, young, early 20’s, knocked on the front door. They said their car broke down and needed a tow truck.
Without a second thought, at least not one we’ll ever know, the older couple let them in.
The world was so different then, and new things were new for longer. The woman who lived there got the cordless phone from the base. With one hand on the plastic box and a gentle touch, she explained how to make call on the machine, so the young lady would be able to use it with ease.
POP! The shot echoed throughout the room.
The young man gripped a small handgun. It’s not known what passed between him and the husband, only that the two invaders sped out of there, frantic, into the dark, moonless night.
The husband died there, on the carpet, gut shot.
A tremendous wave washed over the newly widowed woman.
Newspaper articles were short. No real descriptions were given of the couple who murdered the man for what appeared to be nothing, except that the woman wore leather jacket and that they seemed normal enough, whatever that means.
The widow moved out of the county and settled close to the coast in a condo. Her son, a good lawyer in Baltimore, investigated the case that had killed his father, but in thirty years, it’s remained ice cold.
The town never really talked about what happened, at least not where my family circled. Though we were only ten minutes away, it might as well have been another state or another world. By the time I started watching the news or reading articles, the vast murders in Baltimore consumed the headlines. Even so, many of those remain frozen as well, with murderers walking free all the time in Maryland, no skin off their backs.
Our tiny town saw bodies dumped in ditches and speeding teenagers impaled on poles. We saw pot growing farmers uncovered by helicopters and helicopters airlifting victims to hospitals, an hour drive away, at least, in traffic.
I do know, when I was four, my mother threw out her leather jacket.
I also know America isn’t red, white, and blue, but it’s green instead. No, not green for the beautiful prairies and forests that once gave life and oxygen in abundance.
No, the green isn’t a new, verdant, fresh start. The land isn’t young. This world belonged to many other people before it became Americanized, by both force and invasion.
America is green, rather, from the bills, the Benjamins, and the great cash that continuously feeds the money machine. They said it was a robbery gone wrong, but we wonder, what about a robbery ever goes right? The machine starves and we feed it either with money or the blood of our neighbors.
The house has a new life now. The overgrowth was cut back and the grounds are groomed. Some beautiful outsider, with a large supply of cash, bought it, and she feeds the machine from her very own Instagrammable paradise.