The House That Built Me
BY SAVANNAH D’AGOSTINO
I remember it like it was yesterday, sitting in my sophomore English class, reading a poem that at the time was solely a poem. But as I sat down to write my college essay as a senior, the connections started to float into my head; my childhood is almost an exact representation of “The Small Cabin,” a poem written by Margaret Atwood. Whether people realize it or not, homes are what help build up families. Without my home, in which my parents designed and built when they were just married, and all of the memories I have living in it, my family would not mean as much to me as it does to this day.
Atwood creates a whole new picture of what she describes as a burning down cabin, when in reality, she is discussing how it emotionally affects her to see her family falling apart in the past and present. She was not there to initially witness the burning down of her family cabin, therefore she does not accept the fact that it is gone, essentially creating a state of denial, and with it are a plethora of her childhood memories. “collapsing like a cardboard carton thrown on a bonfire, summers crackling, my earlier selves outlined in flame.” She uses similes to replicate how it truly made her feel when she heard the news that her childhood was gone. In a flick of a switch, her childhood crumpled to the ground.
In my college essay, I had to capture my childhood with all the pleasurable moments, and then bring in how much of a turn my family took when just one relationship fell apart. It was unnoticeable in the beginning, sort of like background noise. Of course, all parents bicker every once in awhile. But it progressively got worse, to the point that I do not know if I could define us all as family.
The point is, in “The Small Cabin” Atwood does not realize how her family is falling apart until it was all taken away from her, putting her in a sense of despair. I did not realize how heart wrenching my parents relationship had gotten until it was all done. In Atwood’s case, the small cabin held her family together and built them to be who they are. “The house we built gradually/ from the ground up when we were young/ (three rooms, the walls/ raw trees) burned down/ last year they said.” My parents were living together in a house in which they raised my three sisters and me, and neither of them wanted to let the other have it, but they did not realize the stress it put on us. They built it together at the beginning stages of their marriage, never imagining a divorce twenty five years down the road.
At one point in her poem, she asks “Where did the house go?/ Where do the words go/ when we have said them?” She is wanting to know where it all went wrong. She did not see it at the time, how her family was crumpling apart, just as mine was. I only realized that every aspect of my life is changing when everything was said and done. As I move forward in my life, memories of my childhood flow through my head, just as Atwood’s small cabin did as she saw it burnt to ashes on the ground. My childhood will always be a special memory that flashes back in my head, even if my parents divorce affects more of the day to day aspects of my life.