Each one of us has the desire to belong; not only to somebody, but somewhere. Our sense of self can be determined from where we came from, and perhaps where we are going. In modern times many people do not reside in the family home, the place they were born in – but another place, and sometimes not even in the same country they originated from.
I am sure you have all heard the “There’s no place like home,” which suggests that home for us is a safe place, one that brings us fond memories. I awoke in 1967 in the same place- Collinwood, but in a different time from the one I came from, and in a sense I was no longer “at home”. When you have lived a life as long as mine, and travelled through different time periods, home takes on a different meaning.
I was essentially orphaned, for my family were long dead and I found myself with people who bore my name- Collins, but they were strangers to me. So, I invented the story that I was a distant cousin from England- in order to account for my sudden arrival that would not raise too many questions. I was at once a stranger to them, but also a member of the family. Eventually I became part of their family, and loved them dearly.
I needed to belong to them, and them to me, even though I could not tell them the truth of my origins- that I was their ancestor and belonged in Collinwood as much as they did, if not more so.
It may surprise you to know that despite all the terrible things that had happened at Collinwood, I felt a deep connection to it, and many years before my curse was placed upon me I had spent many happy times at The Old House where I was born. Of course we did not call it the Old House back then, it was simply Collinwood, and when the larger mansion was built we called it the New House for a time until my family moved there.
The Old House was to be given to me and Josette for our new home after our marriage, but that was never to be, and I found myself instead living there in a marriage I was forced into by the threat of the murder of my little sister Sarah.
A house is much more than bricks and mortar, more than shelter; it holds our dreams, reflects who we are, and in some ways reflects back at us what we long to be. It can become a symbol of love, hate, take on our name or even be a place of menace and foreboding. Collinwood was all these things and more besides. It had a kind of presence to it, which was noticed by everyone who came to live there; it changed people- nobody was ever the same once they had been touched by the spirit of Collinwood.
The Collins families down the centuries had all shown an unusual relationship to the mansion- fighting for ownership, at times willing to commit murder in order to possess it. I often wondered if the house was possessing them rather than them possessing it. What was it about this house that brought out the worst in those who bore the name Collins? I do admit however, that it wasn’t only those named Collins who also were so affected- Gregory Trask in 1897 was so powerfully led by his desire to own Collinwood that he murdered his own wife and, contrary to what his Christian faith taught him, enlisted the help of the black magician Evan Hanley in order to do it.
What drives us to seek this sense of belonging so strongly? In some people the need to belong is less to do with a physical home, but an identification with others they share kinship with. Magda and Sandor Rakosi, the gypsies who lived at The Old House in 1897 were such people. They were travellers, never settling in one place for long, and whilst glad of the shelter the Old House gave them, they had no attachment to it, nor sought it. Their sense of belonging was with their people. In some ways I admired this in them, for they had less to fight about, and Magda and Sandor had a better relationship than those at Collinwood did. When Sandor died I understood Magda’s loss far more than she ever realized- even though I never told her just how much I understood. For the woman I was meant to belong to- Josette- would never be mine, nor me hers.
I speak of “belonging” not in the sense of possession- for we can truly never own another person, and if we seek to possess another only disaster can follow, as I found out and became what I am now. I shall not go into that now, however, but perhaps another time.
The belonging we feel towards another comes from a sense of sharing, knowing that the other person understands us and accepts us for who we truly are, and brings out the best that is within us.
“What is love but sharing?” Roxanne asked me once, and I found out that she was correct. I was for a time afraid to share what I am with her, and despite her courage and willingness to love me, I felt only fear.
We should never be afraid to love, to belong, to find out who we are, even if it means taking risks, and many risks I have indeed taken- and many of them brought me a lot of trouble.
Elizabeth Collins was one of the most accepting members of my new Collins family, and despite this was not that agreeable at first at my request to live at the Old House. Fortunately for me I was able to persuade her that I could restore it to its former glory. I could not explain fully to her of course why I needed to do this; and it was not only for the reason that I needed a safe place to hide my coffin; but I needed to feel that I had come home.
My heart ached when I first opened the door to my childhood home.
The air of desolation hit me as the Old House mourned with me- it felt as lonely and bereft as I did. Under the layers of dust and cobwebs the sweet voice of Josette echoed in my ears and heart. Her portrait hung over the fireplace just where I had hung it in 1795 all those years ago, and I felt a strange sense of the past and present mingling. I felt disorientated- almost 200 years had passed since I had hung her portrait there and gazed at her beautiful face, and my wife had been angry that the one I loved would look down upon us, ever present, a shadow reminding us of how we had caused her death. It felt only hours away rather than over a century away.
“Josette…Josette…why won’t you come to me?” I begged as I stood looking at her portrait in 1967. Young David Collins had told me he had seen her ghost many times when playing in the parlor, and he was distressed when he told me that since I had arrived Josette had gone. I once more belonged to the Old House, and would make it my home for the next few years, but Josette did not belong to it; only on a few more occasions did she return from the grave to help me, out of her love for me when I needed her most.
The Old House became my sanctuary, a place of secrets, both of heart and mind. Alone of a night with only my memories as company, I sat by the fire, reliving what I had done, wondering how I could have done things better, my eyes warmed by the flames of my desires, my love, my pain.