I felt my body grow lighter and lighter. I closed my eyes.
I thought I was hit by a train of memories, carrying my 93 years of life.
Suddenly, the train stopped in front of 7 Harlem Street, the house with the red-framed door. I got off the train.
I imagined opening the red-framed door. First to meet my eyes was the wall filled with paint and doodles. At five years old, I began to decorate this wall using markers, crayons, and watercolor pens. Red, purple, orange; blue, gray, and brown crossed the surface. Nightingales, swallows, jasmines, roses, and mulberry trees filled the wall. My dream of becoming an artist started here.
I started walking towards the right of the wall, and I stopped at the mahogany table. I leaned forward and ran my hands over the three-foot-tall table with the patterns of jasmines and butterflies carved over the entire surface. During my childhood, whenever I argued with my parents, I would hide inside the garage, where a mahogany table had been abandoned I used a chisel to carve the old, dusty table as a way to air my grievances. Originally just an approach to unleash my anger, carving became a way to calm me down and inspire me to create. Years of effort transformed the table into a work of art. I gave it to my parents as a Christmas gift, and they decided to put it next to the creative wall.
I looked around and decided to walk over to the windows where I could see everything in the back of the house. Peeking through the blinds, I saw the outdoor steps of my house. Recalling the construction process of those steps, I laughed lightly. One day, when I was sixteen years old, the outdoor steps fell off. My father appointed my brother and me to repair the steps. We worked together through many hot summer afternoons and cool autumn mornings. By spending so much time together, we opened up to each other more than we ever had before. We talked about our sports teams, our crushes, and our dreams. “I want to become an artist,” I told him one day.
My brother suddenly stopped his work and gazed at me seriously, “You should definitely pursue it,” he said. “Let’s start here!”
“Here?” I asked, perplexed.
“Yeah!” Saying so, he ran into the garage and retrieved all of the paint we had. “Let’s paint on the steps!”
While we were reconstructing the steps, I painted them, creating a big piece of artwork—I called it “Two Men by the Sea.” I imagined my brother and I were standing by the shore together, enjoying a pleasantly cool breeze as the sunset colored the clouds. That year, working on the broken steps with my brother triggered my passion for art to grow stronger.
I saw a wedding picture—portraying my wife and me—on the wall next to the window. When we got married 70 years ago, we bought this house—the one with the red-framed door on 7 Harlem Street—from my parents. We moved in, painted the walls using the colors of our choice, and replaced all the old furniture. I designed our living room by making all the soft, velvet sofas, painting the wallpaper, and building a dance floor. We spent many memorable nights together lying on the velvet couch, watching Casablanca, reading Jane Eyre, and listening to the Beatles. We waltzed to Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty and cha-chaed to Latin music on the dance floor.
A year later, my wife and I had our first child, and then five more. The original house was not big enough for eight people anymore, so I worked on expanding it. After half a year of work, I added two bedrooms, a game room, and a swimming pool for my kids. Once in a while, they invited friends to have a pool party or a sleepover. In the summer, the children relaxed in the pool and enjoyed the sunshine. Many nights, the kids shared stories with one another and chatted until midnight in the game room. The house brimmed with the children’s laughter.
Across the room, an extensive red sandalwood bookshelf spread out against the wall. When my kids grew up and left the house, I was triggered by the empty house to befriend words and knowledge. I thus built this red sandalwood bookshelf to store all the literature. I was obsessed with Gustave Flaubert’s books Madame Bovary and Sentimental Education; I was inspired by Stefan Zweig’s biography Decisive Moments in History; I was struck by Guy de Maupassant’s stories “The Necklace” and “Butterball.” Gradually, I found myself a wiser person after absorbing enormous wisdom from literature. Using the wisdom I gained from books, I began to counsel people who were suffering. When a young man lost direction in life, I recommended W. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge to him and guided him to find his path. When a teenage girl was depressed because a devastating disease took away her eyesight, I read her stories of Helen Keller and helped her to find light in life.
I looked around the house, and I saw all the pieces I constructed over the years. The doodled wall represented my early creativity and my dream to become an artist. The mahogany table no longer carried grievances towards my parents but understanding of their love and guidance. The repaired outdoor steps brought up so many precious memories with my brother, and the work “Two Men by the Sea” served as a cornerstone in my pursuit of art. The nicely arranged living room continued to remind me of the beauty of love. The game room and pool represented the energy and joy of youth. The extensive bookshelf was the medium to make a difference in other people’s lives.
Throughout my life, I worked hard to construct the house on 7 Harlem Street. Now at the end of my long journey in life, I realized I was not only the architect of the house itself but also of my dreams, my relationships, and my passion to help others. I was the architect of my own destiny.
I imagined closing the red-framed door for the last time and giving 7 Harlem Street a last gaze.
The train of memories drove me far away. I breathed my last.