We Have Always Lived in Hill House

“No live organism can continue to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill house itself, not sane, stood against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, its walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

– – –

“I feel very empty, like an eclair with all the creme sucked out of it,” I told the group. “I mean, I know the creme was awful, it was full of high fructose corn syrup and artificial ingredients. But I’m so hollow without it. I don’t know why I’m coming here. I did not want to come tonight. But I will keep coming.”

“That was really genuine,” my sponsor Scott said, a few days later. “I know you struggle with performing and it was significant for you to be so real.”

“I don’t feel real,” I said. “I feel like a motel of all vacancies. Just empty. I can see things are better: almost a year sober, not staging a rebellion, not plotting a relapse, truly repented. I can see that, but I don’t feel it.”

“You’ve been making progress,” Scott said, “but ‘it’ keeps changing. Or, like, your perception of ‘it’ keeps changing. You thought it was sex addiction. You were quick to label yourself that. You talked a lot about it at the beginning. Of how bad you were. Not so much now. What you’ve done is not who you are. And you’re not a bad guy.”

– – –

“The writing was large and straggling and ought to have looked, Eleanor thought, as though it had been scribbled by bad boys on a fence. Instead, it was incredibly real, going in broken lines over the thick paneling of the hallway. From one end of the hallway to the other the letters went, almost too large to read, even when she stood back against the opposite wall…the doctor, moving his flashlight, read slowly: HELP ELEANOR COME HOME. ‘No.’ And Eleanor felt the words stop in her throat; she had seen her name standing out there so clearly; it should not be on the walls of the house.”

– – –

Driving home from the gym, there were two men attempting to push a stalled car out of traffic. One looked up at me, his eyes asking a question, his hand raised halfway. I turned onto a side road. By the time I parked and approached, they had slid the car into a legal spot.

“And you’re already done. Sorry I wasn’t more helpful,” I said.

“No, no, thanks for stopping,” the one who had waved smiled, opening his arms. “I’m a hugger,” he said, advancing, and I could not retreat; I could not strategize; I was artless of war and the hug was declared. He turned back to the car and opened the trunk. “I just got this car 2 days ago. I put all this shit in it,” He muttered, motioning to several containers of fluid that appeared to be intended for automobile use. His eyes followed mine to a plastic head with synthetic hair. “I do hair,” he said. I imagined the head rolling around the trunk every time he stopped, or turned, or accelerated; the painted eyes staring into darkness.

“Hey,” he said, “we were going to the club. Could you give us a ride?”

“Oh,” I said. “Sure.”

I moved some things to my trunk. The other one sat in back. The one who waved sat in front.

“Can I ask you a personal question?” He said.


“Are you gay?”

“That is personal.”

“Then I’ll ask another. Where were you going?”

“Just home.”

“What were you going to do?”

“Just go to bed.”

“How’d you like us to come with you?”

I tried to swallow. It felt like I was swallowing my whole throat.

“Um, no,” I said. “No. I’d like to, actually, but I’m – trying to be good.”

“Oh,” he said.

“Can I ask you another question?”


“How big is your cock?”

“It’s not. I’m not into size,” I said, insecurity disguised as pretention. Then his hand was on my crotch, a layman taking measurements.

“You’re huge.”

“No, I’m not,” I smiled, trembling, pulling his hand off of me slowly, as though I were removing a band aid. Exactly how many times he touched me and I said “no,” I tried to remember; the other one touched me once and I said “no” too, I remember that; I tried to remember everything as I told Scott:

“I said no. I did. But obviously I didn’t mean it, otherwise he wouldn’t have kept doing it.”

“That is not true,” Scott said.

“I pulled over to help them. To help them.”

“Yes, and this is a victory. You dropped them off at the club. You didn’t take them home. This is a victory.”

“It doesn’t feel like a victory. I feel manipulated. I feel conned. I feel…”


“I feel like – like – ” I was shaking now, with the hyperventilating sobs of a toddler who has been cheated for the first time and is telling a guardian. “I feel like – God doesn’t have my back.”

– – –

“‘You will recall,’ the doctor began, ‘the houses described in Leviticus as ‘leprous,’ tsaraas, or Homer’s phrase for the underworld: aidao domos, the house of Hades…it might not be [too] fanciful to say that some houses are born bad. Hill House, whatever the cause, has been unfit for human habitation for upwards of twenty years. What it was like before then, whether its personality was molded by the people who lived there, or the things they did, or whether it was evil from its start are all questions I can’t answer…there are popular theories, however, which discount the eerie, the mysterious…people…are always so anxious to get things out in the open where they can put a name to them.'”

– – –

“My first time -” I started. “Well, not my first time. I haven’t had a first time, really. But the best time…I was 20 and he was 42,” I sipped a third glass of champagne, more buzzed than a cicada. The champagne was the most expensive I had tasted; the wedding was the most expensive I had attended. It was the perk of being plus one to my friend Tina. Smiling, she listened to my romantic math: “that’s a 22 year age difference, for those who are counting. Who are not us, Tina. You won’t hear me protesting you and your new old beau.”

“I’m sorry, is this a trigger?” She asked, a little concerned.

Im the trigger. And the gun. And the shooter. And the shot. This is why I’m in recovery. I’m the problem.”

– – –

“You worry too much, Nell. You probably just like thinking it was your fault.”

“It was going to happen sooner or later, in any case,” Eleanor said. “But of course no matter when it happened, it was going to be my fault.”

“If it hadn’t happened you would never have come to Hill House.”

“We go single file along here…Nell, go first.”

Smiling, Eleanor went on ahead, kicking her feet comfortable along the path. Now I know where I am going, she thought…I will not be frightened or alone anymore; I will call myself just Eleanor. “Are you two talking about me?” She asked over her shoulder.

After a minute [he] answered politely, “A struggle between good and evil for the soul of Nell. I suppose I will have to be God.”


The TV screen was thick with vultures – “news anchors,” “experts,” “friends” – circling her corpse, clawing for their carrion carryout. There will be no viewing at her funeral, I thought, there will be nothing left to see.

A co-worker sat in front of me, back to the TV. She was a fat anime character, eyes squinting smug stupid, magnified by glasses, and her sausage link fingers bloated white as she gripped a foot long sub and sunk her itching teeth into it. And so began her monologue, despite the sandwich’s preemptive strike.

“I’m not surprised,” she jabbed a thumb at the screen. “You saw the interviews, right? She kept saying she wasn’t doing drugs and then she’d get all crazy excited talking about how they used to roll up joints?” She grinned mayonnaise. “Come on. You’re not kidding anybody.”

“Yes,” I started. Like a bad actor, she paused with her eyes blank and mouth open, already ready for her next line, already ready to interrupt if I took too long. “But in the last few years she had made some changes and was -”

“Oh I’ve got nothing against her. She was really talented – ”

“Addiction is really hard,” I started again, “It’s a lifelong struggle, and you have to celebrate any amount of recovery – ”

But I was just a gunshot, and she was off and running again. The voice blabbered and the lips smacked and the teeth chomped and I smiled and nodded and looked across the room. There he was – the ’80s Robert Smith hair, the beautiful Egyptian nose, the jeans that held things I wanted to hold – I was mad about the boy, some boy, any boy, oh boy oh boy –

“She was always using. She never stopped using. She was only fooling herself…” Then she swallowed, and I snapped.

“One of my best friends is a recovering addict.”

Through two scopes I had a view to a kill. The target squirmed. “Yeah, yeah. I don’t mean, you know, that’s – yeah,” she nodded, stuffing her mouth with the rest of the sandwich, eyes darting at her cell phone. “Oh,” she said, “sorry, I’ve got to go to the bathroom before the end of break,” and her white ass wobbled away.

That night, at the gym, I was on the treadmill, keeping my pace, walking in place, not watching the flesh sculptures flexing, watching the TV. It was all about her. The talking heads talked and the bobble heads bobbled in agreement. The interview played and replayed. “Is it alcohol, is it marijuana, is it cocaine, is it pills?”…”It has been at times.”…”All?”…”At times.”…”If you had to name the devil for you, the biggest devil among them?”… “That would be me.”…”So, for the people out there who say, ‘we want to help,’ what do you want them to pray for?”… “Don’t pray about the drugs.”…”Why?”…”Pray for me. For my soul. That I’m stronger. No, man, I don’t care what anybody says or did or what they claimed I was. I know I’m a child of God. And I know he loves me.”