The House That Was My Home

You know that melancholy feeling of looking back on your childhood once it's over? This piece will give you that feeling.

I don't even bother folding up my clothes. I just toss it all into a suitcase, zip it up and flop onto a bed that doesn’t smell like me anymore. The looming stress of a new quarter lurks in a corner of my brain, mixed with the typical confusing melancholy of visiting home. I try to take a deep breath. It doesn’t work.

The house I grew up in had felt less and less like home each time I visited from college. Bedrooms turned into offices. Furniture disappeared or rearranged. My obnoxiously turquoise bedroom had been painted over in gray and now held my little brother's drum set and music equipment. But they tucked a twin mattress into the closet in the corner, so there’s technically still a place for everyone to sleep.

Dad started job hunting about a year ago, so the shock of moving out of this house has subsided. Even though he's landed a position in Thousand Oaks, it doesn't seem like groundbreaking news anymore. I only wish they would stop prepping the house for moving, because it's started to feel more unfamiliar every time I visit.

I start lugging my bags downstairs and look around. It strikes me how much this house has changed over the years. The living room to my left used to be carpeted, covered in Logan's LEGOs, and mostly occupied by a pool table that was too big for the space. Our three dumb little dogs - bless their hearts - had marked their territories on the carpet thoroughly enough that the smell had whacked us in the face when we entered the front door. It didn't take long for hard floors to replace the fluffy carpet. And when Mom and Dad came to the conclusion that the pool table's primary purpose was to stage Logan's Bionicle stop-motion videos, they sold it. Now Logan's most prized LEGO creations (specifically the Black Pearl, Boba Fett's Spaceship, and Jabba the Hutt's Desert Lair) decorate a ledge above the front door.

Logan comes up a lot when I remember my childhood in that house. We spent hours in that living room playing LEGOs, pretending Princess Leia got kidnapped and that the Medieval Knights had to save her with their pirate ships and race cars.

When Mom and Dad explained to me in their room upstairs that Logan had Asperger's Syndrome, I didn’t really know what they meant. But now that I'm older, I understand it more.

It was why Logan got upset at me when I grew out of playing pretend – because he thought he could always rely on me as his LEGO buddy, and all of a sudden I changed the pattern. It was why Dad would take Logan to LEGOLAND on school days – because he had a difficult time connecting with the other kids and sometimes he just needed a break.

That was Dad's job, most of the time. Reminding us to enjoy ourselves in the midst of otherwise mundane activities. When Mom drove us to school, he'd stand in the driveway waving his hand with his pinky, pointer finger and thumb out. It's the sign for "I love you" in American Sign Language. He did it every morning.

Every time Dad barbecued for dinner, I would follow him outside. Our backyard wasn't much, but we had a basketball hoop and a ball. Dad and I would practice our shooting while dinner cooked. We challenged each other to see how far away we could shoot from. He taught me about pivoting, driving to the basket, keeping my hands up high. And when I decided to quit basketball and join yearbook after my first year of high school, Dad gave me a big hug and said, "It’s been fun watching you play."

We could always tell when he was in a good mood. He'd use bigger gestures, he'd tell longer stories, and after dinner I'd be able to hear him playing "Tennessee Waltz" on our great-grandmother's old piano. Sometimes, we'd all gather around to listen or join in. We still do. I usually sit on the stairs.

Miranda is pretty consistently the one to suggest those "family jam sessions" these days. She's always convinced us to get off the couch and gather around the piano. I remember and grin slightly as I dump my suitcase on the piano bench before heading upstairs for more. I think about all the times we belted Billy Joel's "Piano Man," with Dad on keys, Logan on drums, Miranda and I harmonizing, and Mom laughing at us proudly. Miranda got us to forget about anything that was distracting us from each other – that started after she moved away.

I always went to her for giggles and creativity before she left for college. Once we stayed up late eating cheese – just straight cheddar cheese – because we read online that it was supposed to give us weird dreams. We wrote a breakup song before either of us had ever scored a boyfriend, and it actually wasn’t too shabby.

I can't help but smile – and cringe a bit – as I think about those stupid, quirky songs we used to write together. For some reason the one that stuck was "Purple Eyes:" a tragic tale about a girl who falls in love with a boy who likes purple. She wears exclusively purple clothing and begs her mother for colored contacts to impress him, only to find out that he actually hates purple and her. She gets the contacts anyways.

I still don't really understand our sense of humor back then – all I remember is laughing.

I think Mom really enjoyed having Miranda and me to play with when Logan was still young. As I rush through the living room, I glimpse her collection of tea sets in the fancy cabinet (it used to be tucked away in the corner, but now proudly boasts her display next to the dining table). She has Delft sets from her Dutch parents, hand-painted teapots from her old friends. She'd carefully select tiny cups and set up tea parties, just for us. One afternoon we sat in the kitchen, daintily clinking our fancy cups. Mom pulled out a new box of tea bags.

"These are special tea bags," she smiled. "They're dancing tea bags."

She proceeded to bob the tea bags in the hot water. We watched in amazement as they flopped around. I was enchanted. Whenever I make tea now, I think of her. It still makes me smile.

I pass the cabinet and take a final scan of the house. I check downstairs first.

The family room is cluttered as usual. My favorite old blue couch, a wedding present of my parents', is long gone. So is the ugly lumpy green couch. And the schnazzy leather automatic couches. Only two rocking chairs and an office chair are left. The room looks empty.

I check the kitchen, snagging a few tea bags from Mom's overflowing cabinet. All of our childhood paintings are gone from the cupboards – the only artwork left are the two cards I painted for Mom on her birthday and Christmas.

The living room is mostly occupied by the giant brown couch that sucks us in when we sit on it for too long. Game consoles have replaced Logan's LEGO sets. I make my way upstairs.

I dodge the most recent pee stain on the first step (we couldn't get rid of all the carpet). Climbing these stairs feels natural. I pop into the room I stayed in. It's lost its identity over the years. Originally Logan's and still painted blue, it's no longer covered with – you guessed it – LEGOs. When Miranda left for school, Logan swiped her bigger room immediately and this became Miranda's (and sometimes Dad's office). Meanwhile, my unoccupied room accumulated a plethora of music equipment. I had chosen this unfamiliar bedroom over sleeping in my old closet.

I skim the bathroom. Pictures from our beach day nearly a decade ago – braces, buck teeth and all – still cover the medicine cabinet mirror from that one day years ago when Miranda decided to be artsy and decorate. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror before I turn to leave.

I seem taller. Almost too big for the sink that rises only to my thighs. For a moment, I'm struck with the feeling that I’ve outgrown this place. I cherish the time I spent in this house, but it isn't the same as it used to be. And neither am I.

I'm late. I walk out and call to my family that it's time for me to head back to Santa Barbara now.

I don't want to say goodbye, I don't want to drive, and I'm not ready to face the all-too-familiar stressors of a new quarter. I don't want to drag it out. Let's make this quick.

Suddenly Dad suggests taking a family picture. Why now? I tell him I'm in a hurry. But he just chuckles and slowly – ever so slowly – gathers the five of us into position.

"Why do we have to do this?" Logan groans. We all look up at him (he's a full head taller than us now) and share his pain. Mom is emotional. Miranda is stressed. Logan is over it.

Dozens of fleeting negative thoughts whiz through my brain, none lingering long enough to dwell on. I’ll just take the picture and go. That's all I have to do. I'll smile for a few seconds, hug everybody, and get out of there.

Dad sighs.

"I just thought it would be good to get everybody in a picture in front of the house," he shrugs. "Since it may be the last time we're all here together."

For the first time all day, my thoughts are still. All those memories come to mind – the LEGOs, the basketball, the songwriting, the tea parties – and I realize this is it.

We line up for the photo. I imagine Mom's and Dad's future house in Thousand Oaks as I hug them goodbye. I squeeze Logan extra hard and pray that he won't change too much without me. Miranda tells me she's proud of me as she lets go. I don’t let my lip quiver.

I get into my car and back away from the house.

Dad puts up the "I love you" sign and waves goodbye from the driveway.

I wave back and swallow the lump in my throat.

I drive away.

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About Cassidy Emenger

I'm Cassidy, a writer specializing in digital marketing & creative journalism. If you like my work, drop me a message. I live for collaboration.

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