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We Have Always Lived in the House

Victoria Comella | Longreads | July 20, 2018 | 3,784 words
Posted inEssays & Criticism, Featured, Nonfiction, Story

We Have Always Lived in the House

In the face of tragic loss, Victoria Comella searches for the home she left behind, only to find it seventeen years later in the last place she expected.
Spiffy J / Getty

Victoria Comella | Longreads | July 2018 | 16 minutes (3,784 words)

It was a good house, the one where we lived together as a family. It was — still is — a white colonial with black shutters in Loudonville, New York, a small suburban hamlet just outside Albany. Built in the 1920s, it was old but solid with a strong foundation and sturdy walls that housed a perfectly wonderful childhood. I was happy there with my parents and my older sister, and we did what most families do in their houses: We built memories. We built them not knowing at the time they would become memories. That someday in the not-too-distant future we’d look back on those times in the house and wonder where it all went. Wonder who we were in that house, and if those people living that life could have in fact been us.

But it was us. In that house.

And the house would be the last place I’d see my mother alive.


A week before I left the house, set to head east to Boston to start my freshman year at Northeastern University, the twin towers fell 150 miles south of where I was standing. The floodgates opened then as I hovered on the brink of adulthood, and in rushed the awareness of just how rocky the terrain of life outside the house could be. How big the world was but also how untenable, how volatile, and how those strong, sturdy walls I had been so desperate to break free of as a teenager were also, perhaps, more important than I’d thought.

During college I would move into three different apartments — Back Bay to Allston then back again. I would see the depression of an entire city the day after the Red Sox lost the 2003 American League Championship Series against the Yankees, and I would be there the following year to watch the city break an 86-year curse to win the World Series before graduating eight months later. In January 2006, I left Boston for New York City after having landed a dream publishing job as a publicity assistant at Penguin. I slept on the floor in an apartment in Williamsburg — before Williamsburg was cool — that belonged to two friends who were in a band. We’d brush our teeth in the kitchen because the bathroom didn’t have a sink.

Everything I had was in a duffel bag. It wasn’t home, but it was New York and it was where my stuff was.

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