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The first summer night in our home, we were not equipped to tolerate the Texan heat. It was a sleepless night with moaning winds that swirled gusts of hot air around my room. And when I heard alien sounds nothing similar to the expected chirping crickets or distant howls, their peculiarity did not smooth me nor did it offer any calming relief. So my restlessness persisted as I fought to determine the purpose of the distant wails. The comforter was on, off, and eventually thrown across the floor as I tossed and turned in my sheets dampened with sweat. When the alarming noises seemed as though they were growing even too loud for a heat-struck brain to imagine, my mother rushed to my bedside, abruptly stopping herself from shaking me awake. For a second, she seemed doubtful, but scooped me in her clammy arms as she whispered, “Already?” under her breath. Whether or not she remembered eight year olds are equipped with two perfectly functioning legs never crossed my mind—her fear was apparent. While the family superheroes cooed for the tomcat, my dad flipped frantically through television channels at lightning speed until he was satisfied with the blinding screen that flashed ALERT. Setting me on the cellar steps, my mom ran around shouting words like flashlight, water bottle, and blanket from an imaginary checklist. I just watched, nobody expecting anything of me. Flustered and tense, my mom returned with a bundle of junk in her arms, urging me to move. With the sound of shattering glass, no time allowed us to freeze or cry, and we were all forced downstairs in less than ten seconds. The subsequent impact that we had all feared lasted no more than a few minutes. Ironic, that our first family experience in our new home took place on cold cement, but I just laid my head in my mother’s lap as she braided the same strands of hair throughout the night. When the time came, we did not need to be told of the devastation—we saw it all around us. And even with our broken window panels, we decided that our house was left unscathed. We never said it, maybe because we all doubted whether or not it was too soon to say, but it was decided at that very moment that we would never move.
I cling to my house like smoke clings to fabric. It still smells and feels just as it had when I walked through its grand maple doors with my Walkman in hand. The same pewter bricks mold the exterior, the same faded paint covers the inside walls. Outside, underneath one of the garage lights just a few inches higher than my head, lays a crack that grows along the brick. In the hoarded garage, the right side is filled with old toys and worn things I used to be proud to call my own. But now they sit for people who will come by just to share and then sell them one day too. Our walls are inviting, but the paintings lie askew no matter if straightened each day. The dining room table is beautiful, and always has been, but the seats have been occupied on occasions that can be counted by fingers. Peer into my hideout decorated in blue and yellow, and you will find books upon books stacked delicately on shelves, inside drawers, and hidden in undiscoverable places. Countless things, memories, and permanent images that will never be forgotten exist in a home that has taught so much more than any textbook.
When I was seven, I learned that our house is good for eating breakfast, not making it. Our first real meal, eggs and bacon, and our father made his first announcement that he had 1. quit his relocating job and 2. planned on starting his cholesterol-free diet tomorrow. I had been stumbling over my own two feet when we lived in Fairfax. I lost my eleventh tooth the day before we flew out of Dorchester. But at that very moment in Austin, my brothers and I sat around the table, mouths half-full, silent but full of joyous disbelief and already a sense of home. That same morning we also learned that the vent above the stove could not seem to do its job, thus forcing me to stand underneath the smoke detector flapping an embroidered cooking towel until the endless smoke from frying bacon had disappeared. The youngest sibling, I was deemed the most worthy of being our home’s personal fan. There were a few rare occasions when one of my brothers would pause, roll his eyes, exaggeratedly exhale, and then snatch the towel from my hands before nudging me on the shoulder to go protect his half-eaten pancakes.
In a concealed drawer in my bedroom, my stolen pack of cigarettes lay idle for months until my thirteen-year-old curiosity finally conquered my rationality. My immediate distaste was apparent, but the realization that my carpeting was on fire was slightly delayed. Two fire trucks and a police car arrived only to have husky men pep-talk my family about the dangers of leaving burning cigarettes unattended. The entire room was re-carpeted, but it still smells faintly of smoke that has embedded itself throughout the entire room. When my mother turned towards me with lingering, disapproving eyes, I thought that I had permanently broken her heart. But then I learned that life has far worse disappointments.
The family Pontiac was eventually passed down to me: 200,000 miles, beat, and a beauty. A little rust made her perfect to work with. When I learned to endure the summer’s heat, I sat for hours in the newly remodeled garage with my cigarette-half-hanging-out-of-mouth father who spent the majority of his free time underneath some neighbor’s car. But he taught me to appreciate the art of the repairing and modeling of an automobile. I later learned that my house and parents proved that they had decided to become close allies. Maybe it was only natural for me to test how well they knew each other’s tactics, but in time the friendly key was eventually snatched from underneath the welcome mat, and the lights were dimmed in every room of the house. Traitor echoed in my mind as I stared at the outside lights, but my house seemed to think no better of me. I paced for a few minutes, threw rocks at the upstairs windows, and banged the knocker until my arm ached. After nothing, I persisted, just as stubborn as they were, refusing to surrender in a stalemate. But after curling up on the porch for no more than fifteen minutes, a sleepy figure appeared outside and pulled me underneath his arm against my mother’s rules. He kissed me on top of my head, not once forgetting to tell me how proud he was no matter how many nights he waited sleepily at the kitchen table. Two cups of coffee lasted us both until the sun’s early welcoming illuminated the kitchen, signaling my time for bed. My dad became my best friend.
In high school, I knew how to describe Jay Gatsby’s infatuation with the past, but when anyone put the words “fashion” and “sense” together, I was instantly dumbfounded and felt as though I was plopped in the middle of some foreign country without even knowing how to say, “You know how I get home?” Junior year, I finally developed some hills on my chest and somewhat of a curvy figure, so I tried whatever I could to finally make a fashion statement. When I showed my mother the ripped magazine page called “Do-it-Yourself Hair-Do’s,” she didn’t even bother to take one look at it before shaking her head and laughing. After weeks of persisting and multiple warnings that “it won’t turn out that way,” and that “styling hair is an art,” my mother reluctantly seated me in the wooden bathroom chair while she lathered my hair with pungent, gooey chemicals. Two hours and a shrieking cry later, I ran straight to my room with my “done-it-myself” perm and swore that I would not leave my room for a month. Or until my father dragged me out of there the next morning and forced me out the door with my lunch, not a hat, in hand.
Now I have learned that my house has not equipped me for saying goodbye, but when has a painful goodbye ever been planned? I cling to my house because I cling to familiarity. Almost every memorable experience and moment in my life can relate back to my home. It is not to say that I will not come back to these memories that have shaped who I am and what I see in people, but even a home must learn to move on with a person in some way. These moments that would seem so seemingly unimportant to a wandering stranger passing on the side of the road are what motivate me to keep enjoying life and all that it has to offer, whether sweet, sad, or a little of both.





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