Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What makes home

Two days ago I drifted awake in my childhood bedroom. For a minute I had no idea where I was. By an act of God was I (finally) waking up in some seaside hotel room in Barcelona? Heaven? (The thought flickered when the glow-in-the-dark stars above me came more into focus.) Was I back in DC, surrounded by unpacked boxes, just waiting for the smell of my neighbor's chicken curry to waft down the hallway and under the gap beneath our front door? Then I heard what sounded like muffled warfare in Kuwait in the next room and instantly knew.

I was home.

And not only that, both my brother and sister were home too. (The simulated warfare was thanks to my video-game loving brother.) Just like in The Royal Tenenbaums my parents had, once again, found all three of their children living together under the same roof. At least for this week.

I smiled to myself in bed, wiping the sleep from my bleary eyes, half-surprised by the hot water pad lying next to me. My mother insisted the night before that I sleep with it to keep me warm, and I think in some odd way it's supposed to make me feel okay without J here. The strange thing is it almost does. Granted J is not made from rubber and poured full of boiling water every night, but the warmth was calming, like most things here are.

There's something so comforting about being home. Always has been. No matter how many places I've lived in and apartment keys I've carried, home to me has always been this house, where some centerpiece made of citrus fruits always adorns our dining room table, where there is no dearth of ice cream in the freezer, and where the same green lamp I've had since I was a kid sits on the new nightstand in my old bedroom.

To most the lamp would look like nothing more than a dated relic from the '70s, but I see so much when I look at it. It makes me think of slumber parties I had in elementary school of now faceless girls I can't remember the names of -- girls I thought would be my best friends my whole life, the lamp behind them shining as the only constant. Then I remember the familiar click, click of the light switch as I'd scramble to switch the lamp off when I'd hear one of my parents' approaching my bedroom door to scold me for staying up so late (in my defense I was reading -- even at 12 I was a book nerd). I remember, later, the lectures I'd have to listen to from my parents in high school, the lamp on behind me, as I'd roll my eyes and cross my arms in defiance against whatever it was they were reprimanding me about. (Usually it had to do with boys. Sigh.) They couldn't possibly understand, I'd think. When they were done talking they would leave and I'd remember how angry I was as I'd click that green lamp off for the night and fume. Then college came and I packed up most of my things, excited to embark on a new chapter of my life. The lamp was left on my nightstand, the clutter gone but it and other staples remaining. And it's still here, to this day. Some of the furniture has changed and the walls have been painted over and I'm older now and married, but the lamp remains. This is what makes home for me.

Of course, it wouldn't be home without a few stock occurrences, either. Like having my picture taken by my over-zealous, camera-wielding sister. Having pics taken is fine; I'm definitely not camera shy. But photogenic I am not. And the routine is always the same: She shows me her pictures seconds after they're taken, I balk at how disgusting I look (Josie Grosie, anyone?), and she disagrees. Seriously, I look good in 1 out of every 5 pictures, and that's on a good day. So I remind her to please not put them on Facebook because the last thing I want is them going public, then an hour later I get a new Facebook email: "You have 8 new photos tagged of you!" I sigh loudly, click over, and yup. There they all are. All of me in my talking-with-my-mouth-frozen-halfway-open-and-eyes-mid-blink glory, which usually looks something like this:


Anyway, once I was wide awake in bed and certain I wasn't in Barcelona or Heaven (I'd hope neither would include the staccato of distant machine guns I heard coming from my brother's room), I hopped out of bed and thrust open my blinds a la Carrie Bradshaw in Paris when she flings open her curtains on her hotel balcony and sees the Eiffel Tower. Except there was no Eiffel Tower here. Only California sunshine. Buckets full, streaming in through the window and slopped across the carpet I stood on. It was a beautiful day and I had had an excellent Friday the day before. I smelled the ocean in the air and smiled. Today was going to be excellent, I could just feel it. So I headed upstairs to the living room, the smell of the ocean reminding me that I really needed to pick up more Steinbeck, maybe I hadn't given him a proper chance when I ...

My foot suddenly landed in a giant, cold puddle on the top step. The blood ran from my face and I froze, slowly lifting my foot up. I looked down in horror at the glistening pool on the hardwood floor, a yellow puddle that had obviously been sitting there overnight, eating away at the wood like a termite in heat. Steinbeck, sunshine, everything fell from my mind as my lips were unable to form any cohesive words. My eyes rose from the puddle to Moxie, my sister's Maltese who some of you might remember pooped on her lap a couple months ago and who I'm convinced has some severe learning disorder. (At times Moxie reminds me of a schizophrenic mallard.) She sat in her bed nearby, beady black eyes fixed on me, looking quite content that her arch nemesis had stepped in her elaborate scheme.

And I was about to yell...but I couldn't. Maybe it was the sunshine coming in from the skylights above us. Maybe it was the fact that I couldn't be mad at a mentally disabled dog. Whatever it was I grimaced at her and hobbled back downstairs to my bathroom on one foot. As I sat on the lip of the tub, sudsing up my sole, I realized that whether I liked it or not, Moxie had become a part of our home. Just like Lola had done before her (although lets face it, if pitted in a game of intelligence Lola would be solving global warming while Moxie would be finding some lap to defecate in).

But that's what a home is. It's all the bad with the good. The hard times with the easy times. The beauty with the ugliness, the tragedy with the success, the sanguine with the gloom. Without each side it wouldn't be a complete home. So no matter how uncalled for some things are, like fights or yellow puddles, they're a part of the entire cocktail. And the inanimate constants, like my green lamp, are the reminders of it all.

4 comments:

besswess said...

I loved this post. With my parents just selling our childhood home, I'm going to miss the times that the five of us are all under one familiar roof.
As far as the pictures.....totally with you.
And you made me laugh with the tinkle part. Evil creature!

Carolyn said...

LOL. Lola once got sick one night and shat all over my bathroom floor. When I got up in the middle of the night to pee, guess who stepped ALL in it? Uh huh...

Mandy's Life After 30 said...

You have such a beautiful way with words. From your detailed descriptions, I felt like I was right in the room with you. I know what you mean about home. I'm always so calm and relaxed at my parents' home in Louisiana. I feel lucky that we lived in the same place from age 4 - present. I like having those roots to go back to at any moment. Great post.

Alexander said...

"Then I heard what sounded like muffled warfare in Kuwait in the next room and instantly knew."

"Anyway, once I was wide awake in bed and certain I wasn't in Barcelona or Heaven (I'd hope neither would include the staccato of distant machine guns I heard coming from my brother's room), I hopped out of bed and thrust open my blinds a la Carrie Bradshaw in Paris when she flings open her curtains on her hotel balcony and sees the Eiffel Tower."

Pwahahaha! Too funny! Now I know what it's like through your eyes...definitely made me chuckle. The best part was the reference to Kuwait though...classic, sis. Makes me feel like writing a blog about why most men love video games...specifically war video games. Haha.

~Brother~

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