I glance at my father when the first low sound fills the walls, covered with torn pictures of our once complete family in our otherwise silent home. When I sit up from the leather couch, attentive to the unfamiliar noise, my father shifts in his seat, as well. The occasional movement of his body has me even more preoccupied than the irritable noise. At first, I think it is a fly attracted to the oppressive heat of our home, the heat that sticks to the back of my neck and makes an oven out of my father’s pickup truck. Life without air-conditioning in a smoldering California August was no easy one, and as I stood up from the couch to throw away the empty takeout box from the noodles my father and I were having for dinner, the wave of heat reminds me of how badly I longed to feel the coolness from our air conditioning.
The buzzing was becoming a persistent and steady noise. I wasn’t quite sure where it was coming from, but I intended to find out. As I walk from our outdated and unused kitchen, glancing at the cracked dining table, I count the months my father and I had been eating every meal on the couch with the television chattering in the background. I started to think my father used the noise of the television to fill the silent void there was between us ever since our family broke apart. The table was old as it was, and as it deteriorated over the years, my father never made an effort to replace it. I grew used to the way we ate all our takeout dinners on the couch in our living room, never having anything to say to one another.
I glance back at my father, who was sitting on the couch, drowning out the perpetual buzzing by dozing off to the sound of the infomercials on the television. Resisting the urge to ask him to help me discover where the peculiar noise was coming from, I walk out of the kitchen and searched carefully through the house, trying to trace where the noise is coming from.
As I walk through the hallways and peek into my bedroom, the noise becomes more persistent. I step over the stack of art portfolios and notebooks that are sprawled across the floor, looking around my disheveled room. I became used to the mess my bedroom had become, because the one dresser I had owned could no longer withhold all the books, clothing, and photographs I filled over the years. When my father stepped into my bedroom for his occasional visits and noticed the disarray of items across the floor, he had promised to find me a new one. Those drawers continue to overflow, but I became used to having to step over piles of clothing and books to get from one corner of my room to another, the same way I grew used to my father’s empty indications.
I step over a pile of boxes and into my bathroom, flicking the light switch on, searching for any evidence of a buzzing noise. My eyes glance over the sink and mirror, to the shower and towels that hung from the railing of where the glass shower door used to hang. The buzzing was more faint in the bathroom than it was in the living room, but I knew I was going to have to grow used to the noise over time, the same way I grew used to taking nippy showers without a door. You never really understand how necessary a shower door is until it haphazardly loosens from its hinges and you are left exposed, shivering in the cold. I lost a sense of feeling to the forbidding temperature a while ago, and I had forgotten what it was like to paint flowers into the glass when it would fog up. It was as though the broken shower door broke a piece of my childhood away with it, too, and for that, I grew upset towards my father when he never made an effort to replace it.
Staring at the towels that now replaced the shower door, I dig my teeth into my lower lip and step away from my bathroom, back out into the hallway. As I walk through the rest of my home, peeking into each room, I eventually make it back to the living room, and glance at the photographs on the wall. One picture hanging off to the side of the living room catches my eye, and I pause to stare it. A younger, more exuberant version of myself smiles back at me. It feels like ages ago since I felt that way, even though it has only been a few years. My father, who looks less weary in the picture, and my mother are also smiling at the camera lense, their eyes crinkling at the sides. I think back to when this picture was taken, unable to remember exactly what the occasion was. Instead, I just appreciate the smiles on our faces and turn away from the photograph once I have it imprinted in my mind.
This time the periodic noise it is louder, and the faint hum behind the obnoxious buzzing reminds me of every night my mother sang her way through cleaning dishes and doing laundry. The way she folded my father’s trousers every evening is imprinted in my mind. Every fold and impeccable crease corresponded to a soft note. One day, the melodious singing became a slight hum, and the slight hum became the mere sound of sniffling. The precise folds in my father’s trousers were replaced by a rumpled mess, and when I noticed that the dishes still had specks of residue on them, I became attentive to my mother’s newfound tune. It was a beat I had never heard before, and the lyrics did not sound familiar. The expression on her exhausted face matched the way the song resonated- empty, hollowed. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be the last song I ever heard slip past her thin lips, because later that night something within her shattered the way the filthy plate did when she threw it against the wall with all her might. My father watched as she unleashed every demon she withheld, watched as the paint on the wall chipped and disappeared into dust, watched as she left us alone to clean up the mess.
When I looked at him through a child’s perspective that day, blue eyes wide, as if to ask him if he was ever going to fix it, he looked at me with the same blank expression he has on his face now, and said, “It’s just a little crack in the paint. Easy to fix.” I nodded my head because I was young, but that was not what I was asking him to fix. The crack in the wall still remains.
When I sit back down onto the couch, my thoughts cloud my ability to notice that the buzzing has only gotten louder. Ignoring the persistent noise and focusing on the thoughts racing through my mind instead, I stare at my father, then at the single photograph hanging on the wall. Tears brim around my eyes at the sight of our complete family as I wonder for the first time where my mother had gone, and what she was thinking to leave my father and me all alone. My father looks at me from the corner of his eye, and becomes attentive once he realizes the tears falling onto my cheeks. Before he even has the chance to say anything, I ask the one question I was afraid to know the answer to before.
“Where is she?” I ask, feeling a little numb. “Why did she go?”
My father looks at me baffled, as though he couldn’t comprehend who I was talking about. Our family was something my father could never fix even if he tried. He looks between me and the chipped frame, unable to put together the right words to say. Instead, he sighs unknowingly.
Now, the room is darker, and when I glance up at the ceiling, I notice one of the light bulbs have gone out. The persistent buzzing was now absent. The darkness of the room resonates the overall atmosphere within our broken home.
A flicker of light illuminates the room, going from what was once a beaming light bulb to a subdued glimmer against the ceiling. My father stares at it for a little while longer, making anticipation grow within me at the slightest hope that he would reach up and even attempt to give the bulb a little poke. He looks at the light bulb in an exasperated manner, as if he was annoyed at the way yet another part of this home was broken. The look on his face filled me with a flicker of hope, because it proved that he was not so far gone to where he no longer realized things were breaking in our home. Realizing that the only movement I was going to receive from him was a twitch from his mouth and a disgruntled noise, I close my eyes briefly and breathe in the muggy air. Having yet another malfunctioning thing in this home added an extra weight to my shoulders, and though I was beginning to feeling suffocated, I wasn’t certain that it was due to the humidity.
And, as I had expected, he turns to me and gives me a familiar nonchalant nod. I look at him, blue eyes wide, only this time through the perspective of a child who was forced to grow up much too quickly.
“It’s just one light,” he says, shrugging. “I’ll fix it later.”
Looking up, chewing on the inside of my cheek, I count the number of lights that have already deteriorated. This would only be the second. I sat back, silent, wondering how dark the room would have to become until he realized there were no more lights left to burn out.