Home

Once, walking by my mother’s room and seeing her settling down for bed, it occurred to me that this had not always been her bed, this room, her room. She lay down on the right side – had she always slept on the right side? – and turned her face towards the lamp, preparing to read herself to sleep.
“When did you start to see this as your home?” I asked, standing in the doorway.
She looked up, the pillowcase hiding half her cheek, “What do you mean? I have never not seen it as my home.”
“No, I mean, when did you…” I faltered, wondering how to phrase the question. I used myself as an example.
“I’m home right now, right? This is my home.”
My mother nodded.
“But you once had a childhood home like this too. When did you feel like your childhood home was no longer your home?”
Edward Hopper, Cape Cod Morning, 1950 

My mother paused for a minute, fingers lightly holding the thin book she had been reading, “I guess when I got married. I lived with your grandparents until then.”

“Was it a strange transition?”
“No, not really.”
“You marry someone and move out, move in, and it’s home? Automatically?”
“It ought to be, but it’s different for everyone. Why?”
I shrugged, not knowing why I was asking except that I had, in that instance, caught a glimpse of my mother as someone younger, without husband and children, living in another house, sleeping in another bed.
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Five years ago, my father caved in to the leaky faucets, peeling wallpaper and yellowing fluorescent light covers of our house and announced that he would renovate. Among the things that I pushed for (including a ten-foot kitchen expansion and an entire second story with a game room) was my own bathroom, preferably en suite, and a walk-in closet, every girl’s dream. My father was receptive at first, nodding and taking notes to pass onto a Japanese architect with a fancy pedigree who came back with thousand dollar drawings of my dream house. But on the third or fourth floor plan, my father came to his senses. Among the things that my father actually implemented in the renovation: none of the above. I argued with him for a whole day, though knowing in the back of my head that he was right.
   “Why would I turn it into a two-story house,” he protested, “when you and your brother are about to move out?” 
    He painted a picture of life a few years down the road when the house would be home to just him and my mother, an aging couple with separate but faintly overlapping spheres: my mother’s being the backyard where her orchids and African violets threatened to overtake the lawn, and the dining room, where her Chinese school textbooks and papers had already smothered the smooth wood of our long table. My father’s territories included the living room couch where he often fell asleep in front of Jim Cramer and other Wall Street types and the small round wooden table to the right, where his computer sat and from where he generously doled out more spam than necessary. The kitchen was shared between the two of them, though more and more becoming my father’s territory as he neared retirement and discovered a passion for cooking and entertaining.
In my father’s vision, I saw my brother’s and my bedrooms, shuttered and empty, void of life except for a past life, embalmed in our childhood knickknacks, items that never made it to our new homes, shared with new people. The most recent thing among these relics would be the odd piece of mail that my father would inevitably bring in. Like a lonely mailman on the edge of retirement, he would come down our hallway every so often to set these envelopes upon our dusty desks, wondering when we’d swing by for dinner and pick up the mail. It was a cold, almost cruel image, one that would be realized, soon enough, and vividly so that I did not need to remind my father.
In a sort of compromise, it was decided that my brother and I would move out to a relatively new apartment complex in Irvine while the house was stripped down. My parents would hold down the fort until the renovations crept up to their side of the house, upon which they would then relocate to an Extended Stay on the outskirts of town. My brother and I rented a beige two bedroom in a beige complex behind a beige and purple shopping area. I took the master bedroom, which had an en suite bathroom and a walk-in closet that was sadly, larger than my parents’ at home. We would bring the old furniture from our rooms for our apartment and when the year was up and our house was done, we’d sell it and buy new pieces for our refurbished rooms.
On moving day my brother recruited several of his strongest friends to help us move into the apartment – we worked swiftly and within a few hours our childhood rooms stood empty with compressed patches of carpet lining the ground, where the furniture had been. Here had been my bed. Here had been my desk. Here had been my bookshelf. Only flat circles and rectangles remained from that former life. In the corners, corpses of unfortunate bugs had gathered, my ex roommates. As my brother and his friends drove off to our new apartment, I stayed behind for a while, tying up loose odds and ends, squeezing my belongings into the car. Our apartment was only fifteen minutes away, but it seemed much further than that, now that our rooms were empty. I returned to my room one last time, wondering if I’d miss the flowery wallpaper and matching drapes, adornments chosen by the elderly white couple who had lived there before us.
It was late afternoon as I walked back towards my room. I heard the familiar whirr of our old Kenmore vacuum cleaner, but aside from that, the house was strangely quiet. My mother was teaching Chinese school. I followed the whirr to my room, where I saw my father my father standing in the middle, vacuuming up the dead bugs on the compressed carpet. It clenched my heart, that sight. We were leaving only temporarily, but it was a preliminary stage to something absolutely necessary – my father knew it too. I stopped in the doorway, observing my father move as the afternoon sun danced around him. He did not see me and was framed by the squares of my old window, the view from which he often used to remark upon: “It’s quite nice, isn’t it?” Now he was no longer looking out the window for I was not there to enjoy it with him, not there to receive the old remark. Rather, he moved his arm back and forth with a mute, methodical sadness, stared intently down at the carpet, the fibers of which hinted faintly, only faintly, at his daughter’s footsteps.  
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