Amanda Seyfried’s song, “Little House,” is a beautiful one about love and loss and… oh, geez, I don’t even know. Something deep and important, probably. But when I sing along, I’m not thinking about meaning; I’m just remembering one particular little house.
When my sister was a junior in high school, she went after a wayward basketball during a heated game against a league opponent. She collided with their point guard, a feisty bundle of sass named Lisa. My sister’s knee got all torn up—“blown out” was the term we used—and she crumbled to the ground, all grimaced and clenched. Lisa stood stock-still, the ball resting between her inner elbow and her ribcage. The gym was quiet. My sister rode on the team bus home, because that is what one did. The emergency room doctor shrugged his shoulders and prescribed something to help her sleep. My parents took her to an orthopedic surgeon the next day, who gamely went inside her knee to tie things back together again; she determinedly dug herself out of the whole thing with crutches, an ugly brace, and weeks of physical therapy.
Not long after the surgery, Lisa called my sister to apologize, a move I found to be ballsy and kind. Unnecessary, too, but that’s what made me admire it so. After all, everyone knew injuries happen frequently in sports; bodies collide, and thus there are broken bones and ripped tendons and torn ligaments. It’s no one’s fault.
But Lisa was sorry anyway. That it wasn’t her fault—? Irrelevant.
My sister and Lisa developed a friendship over the phone. They talked every night for a couple weeks. Lisa had the wit and timing of a seasoned comedian, and my sister gamely repeated every bit of their conversations to me. I loved Lisa. It was a crush by proxy.
Lisa’s parents invited our whole family for dinner; I was giddy with excitement. Lisa had a whole gaggle of brothers and sisters, and I loved big families who made lots of noise and laughed a lot. I pictured them all living together in a huge, fancy house with high ceilings and big, open rooms for everyone. One of Lisa’s sisters was my age—JoAnn. She and I played basketball on opposing eighth grade teams. She was full of spunk just like her sister. I imagine us as best friends. Forever, probably.
We set off late in winter, the time of year when the sun sets before dinnertime. My father drove, squinting at a ragged scrap paper with an address scrawled on it. We pulled into a short gravel driveway. Then, it was I who squinted.
The house was tiny. Tiny.
Three rooms, unless you count the bathroom. Four, then.
The kitchen and living room were one. The three girls slept in the second room; the three boys slept in the third. I don’t know where the parents slept; maybe the couch, or with one of the kids.
I couldn’t have called the place charming. It was anything but. It was a house hard at work to contain a fire-y family of eight. It was cluttered with stuff. The rug was frayed and tattered, and smelled like the black Lab that slept atop it. The corners were dusty and dirty. Paint was muted, peeling. There was a clock on every other wall that was stuck in time, batteries and cords not working.
But it didn’t matter, not one little bit. When we knocked, all eight of them met us at the door with hugs and handshakes and laughter about basketballs and busted knees. I felt like a queen who’d been invited to a very important and exclusive party. Lisa’s family found cleverness and humor with the simple and the stupid. I felt my ribs crack-y from laughing.
We had lasagna. Vats of it, it seemed. It was so gooey and cheesy that some mozzarella flopped down on my chin and flung sauce on my chest. The garlic bread was that delicious frozen grocery store kind—drippy with salty grease and piles of parsley and garlic. There was a salad of iceberg lettuce, chopped carrots, red-ish imitation bacon bits, all mixed up with Kraft French dressing. We ate together, all of us squished together, the six of us and the eight of them, brought together only because of a wayward basketball, and I thought the house might pop with all the personality and joy.
I hated leaving. I’d never been in such a small space where there was so much love.
They came to our house a couple times, and we to them a few more times, and then time and life’s stuff faded the family friendship into a memory. But I’ve never forgotten that house. It was as small as anything I’d ever seen but oh, oh so big.
When I’m old, I want to live in an itty-bitty little house, just like that one. I want it to only be big enough to fit me—and anyone who wants to come and help me fill it up with happy laughter and lasagna for dinner.