You were ironing clothes or watching reruns of I Love Lucy on the television behind me. The windows were open, letting in the first smells of spring, and the walls of your bedroom were painted in sunlight. I sat on the edge of your bed, my feet dangling a foot above the floor, and stared out the window. Our backyard was being renovated and I couldn’t take my eyes off the mounds being pushed around by massive trucks, big heaps of metal that reminded me of the yellow Tonka truck I’d push through midday shadows on the cream-colored carpet. Soon I’d have a yard to throw the baseball with Dad in on warm summer weekends, a green place to play war with Chris from across the street, a swamp to wade through on my blue plastic sled when the rains came. I felt drawn to the trucks’ powerful force.
That’s when the bird came soaring through one of the open windows and landed miraculously on the bed, supplanting its pronged feet atop two of the tiny dancing women on your bedspread. The bird’s wings were a fluttering blue-grey explosion. You shrieked, “Oh my god!” As the bird stared back at each of us, you started to giggle. I think of you so differently then, married and caged within the confines of a young suburban family – you cried when Dad bought you that house. Did you wish for a hint of excitement as I did while watching the trucks tear through the forest behind our home? Do you remember how the bird left the room? I don’t.
After the trucks flattened the earth and workers planted grass seeds, we waited. Eventually, we had a lush backyard for cookouts, baseball, and make-believe. On hot summer days, you would place the sprinkler in the yard so my friends and I could cool down. As the narrow streams of water stretched toward the sky, we would leap through pale rainbows glistening across our bright green lawn. But after several brilliant summers, the lawn began to show its age. Patches of once-furtive grass were burnt yellow by the sun. Weeds crept through jagged cracks in the stones Dad and I laid for a patio. Our dog, Emmett, dug deep through the garden.
Chaos came several years later when you and Dad divorced and we sold our home. This time, though, it was unbearable to watch. The warmth we had built there – sun-streaked mornings in your bedroom, backyard birthday parties, delicious meals on the old oak table – was fleeting by the second, gone with each item we hurled into the rusted dumpster living in our driveway. You had a new partner now, a man named John. On a grey humid day in the heart of summer, John helped you pack.
When everything was finally gone, I snapped a photo of you from where I sat in one of two bleached-out beach chairs in our otherwise empty kitchen. You stand in front of the big window by the sink, staring out at that massive dumpster in the driveway with a calm smile. You look older, crows feet spread from the corners of your eyes. But you are more vibrant than I’ve seen you in years. There’s a new confidence surging through you, a vibrating energy that opposes the thick numbness cocooning me.
I am stoned – a gritty roach stinking up my chest pocket – unable to cope with the sudden disappearance of a life I thought would always continue as is. I can’t see any evidence of my childhood from my chair in the kitchen, but I know I’ve already stored my time in this house as snippets, juicy moments ripening until they’re ready to be plucked, like this one now. In my final moments in that house, I was already gone, shoved into one of the boxes, and waiting to be unpacked.