So here I am again, in the sky, at 35,000 feet. I have the best spot on the plane, as it is both an aisle and window seat, which puts into perspective the size of this aircraft. If I could stand up straight, I would be able to put both arms out and touch either side of the airplane.
I left this morning, eating at Michael’s, a must if you visit Taos, and leaving by some dusty highway in a large red pickup truck driven by one of my closest friends, a future Marine, headed toward the Sante Fe Municipal Airport. She and I talked about how fast the month went by, and how things were slower, relaxed, older in this little town.
The talk turned to the future, of times after college, when we would have to be real people. This was scary, the worst being the lack of friends, how when you are a real adult, friends aren’t always there, just down the hall in the next dorm room. For the last three years, I have been living with friends, eating with friends, drinking (water) with friends, going to Rangers games with friends, talking story (what people call ‘chatting’ in Hawaii) with friends, and just BEing with friends. You come to love them, and cherish their company. They are your family. They are the ones you come to depend upon because Mom is 4000 miles away on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Then, just like the leaves on a tree in Autumn, everyone falls slowly away, floating listlessly this way and that, landing far from the leaves they had been with since spring. The season of college is over and Jennie, the Marine, may end up back in Taos, while Tyler, an old roommate, may end up in New York at Columbia Law. Some get bagged up with a few other leaves, ending up in the same city, reminiscing about the time you sent an email to the provost and got a school cancelled because of excessive snow. Some leaves fall into the neighbor’s yard, mixing with the leaves from other trees from all across the neighborhood, never to see them again. Some leaves are meant to get married, have children, be happy, and others find misery and disappointment. Some die young, struck down by cancer, and others star in movies, sing at Madison Square Garden, and act in plays on Broadway. Many have their hearts broken and some never do, which for the lucky few can be a curse. Some become lawyers, doctors, engineers, bankers, accountants, and science teachers. Many do great things and others break the law, spending life behind bars. Others save lives in Africa, reminding us that there are good people in the world. Some have plans, ideas, dreams, and they reach them, meeting wild expectations. Others fall short. Some dreams die.
This leaf is unsure. He looks down at the gathering pile. Yellow, red, orange, brown, and some green leaves litter the yard. He wonders where he will land, which way the wind will blow and if those leaves around him, the future lawyers and accountants, will fall with him. The last days of summer are slipping away. The air thickens with anticipation and fear. This leaf looks down again, and his sees his feet sitting on top of his backpack, which is stowed beneath the seat in front of him. Below he sees fields, some yellow, some red, some orange, some brown, some green, some circles, some squares. He wonders if he will end up in the little town below, the one where the river runs through.
This leaf is unsure. He spent the past month in the mountains of New Mexico working on a novel, which when completed, will be the greatest accomplishment of his life. He hasn’t finished yet, but he will soon. He is headed to Oxford University in England to study Shakespeare and the Gothic Novel for six weeks. Autumn approaches.
Airplanes make me feel this way. There is something surreal about sitting in one place, in seat 4A, and going nowhere, unless the potty calls, and yet going somewhere, usually somewhere far away. It is like purgatory. I am in the “in-between”. I feel transitory yet stationary, vulnerable yet safe, here yet not. I think of leaves on airplanes and of falling (which is maybe why I do not enjoy flying).
With that, goodbye, Taos. I do not know if I will return, if my leaf will blow your way again. I do know that you got me started on something that will change my life.
“I wrote there,” I will tell my children. “I started my first novel there.”
“Where did you finish it?” They will ask.
“Somewhere else,” I will say. “The wind blew me away.”
I started my life in Hawaii, floated in to Dallas, and will finish somewhere far away. These sentiments have haunted my writing lately, because just like an airplane, college is a transitory thing. I am here, but only for a little bit. You are at your home, your childhood home, but only for a little bit, because home is not a place, home is a time, and home was yesterday.
Here is the opening chapter of my novel, My Father and the Goodbye Home…
This house was ours from the wooden floors to the glass windowed doors and I called this place my home because it was where I felt we belonged. This home, this house, our home. Home was where the rooms were a collection, a catalog, of our lives. Home was where I was supposed to end up and home was where I belonged but that home is gone. You should have held on to us like we held onto you: furiously. Remember what we had? Well, that isn’t here anymore. This home was ours, yours, mine, from the wooden steps to the glass windowed doors until it disappeared, slowly behind us. We cut the ropes that held us here. Drifting away, we couldn’t go back and we left you in an empty house, by the ocean, where it echoes when you breathe. A steady gust came around and blew us away and I always look back and know that I never will return to this home because home is not a place, it is a time. Home was yesterday.
* * *
We built this home for you, for me, and we filled it full with the armoire, from that antique shop on Highway 51 where the sullen man made Mom pay twice its worth. You thought it was a waste of money. We had many things from other parts of the world, from places we had never been to. My grandmother’s home was full so they sent us their spillover; Hopi Kachina dolls, Russian eggs, and two glass vases made in Venice. There were the tribal masks that my grandmother gave to us, which hang on the wall by the front door.
There was a Papasan chair upstairs that I used to come home to, curl up, and read in. Mom called it my decompression chair. It sat in the guest room upstairs by the Murphy wall-bed. The guest bedroom faced out toward the ocean and I would look out through the large sliding glass doors that made up the entire east wall. We never had any guest use the Murphy bed until I slept there after coming home from Basic. Those doors led out to the lanai where the old wicker rocking chair sat after having been relocated from Mr. Chee’s front porch. Mr. Chee died last year and we bought the wicker rocking chair at the estate sale because we couldn’t bear seeing anyone else in that chair. He used to rock back and forth on his porch all day and carve wooden utensils out of maple wood, the same wood that baseball bats were made of, he told me. A long time ago, he brought over an entire set of wooden utensils for our family and Mom only used them when your clients came over for dinner. When you talked real estate, we left and went upstairs and played Monopoly on the lanai by the Murphy bed. When Mr. Chee died, my brother cried. Mr. Chee taught my brother how to tie a bowline knot for scouts a little while after Mom came into my room one night and told me about you. The masks watched you go but I never saw you leave; you were just gone.
Your friend David, from college, is a painter and he gave me a cat and a dog for my sixth birthday. They were painted on thick flat wood and each wore human clothes. Dog smoked a corncob pipe and Cat drank from a fish bowl. All of the fish were dead in the fish bowl because you said David had a sense of humor and vodka killed fish. Dog liked Cat the best and didn’t like it when Cat got drunk and threw things. Dog and Cat hung on the walls over my bed and I was trying to re-hang Cat after he had fallen down during the night when Mom came in to my room and told me that you were leaving home. After a while, it became normal that you weren’t around and when you gave me your old truck because you had a midlife crisis and bought a BMW, I finally got something out of it. You thought that would make me talk to you more but it didn’t because you were different and you weren’t here.
In the living room, there was a carpet that had a stripe of every color, each a different size, except the colors weren’t of the normal rainbow. Forest green next to burnt red next to pastel blue, that combination was my favorite. Henry, our dog who liked you the most, rolled on the carpet and his hair was everywhere so we had to vacuum on Sundays. We didn’t have a cat. I preferred watching the television from the floor because I didn’t like to sit next to you, Mom, or your son — my brother, or my sister — your daughter, because it made me uncomfortable. I needed space and my brother, your son, would touch me with his feet when he curled up or you would elbow me because you are a very tall, big man. Sometimes I would go, sit, and read in my decompression chair when everyone was watching Wheel of Fortune.
There was a tree that hung out over the water behind our home. I had built a treehouse in it and nailed a sailor’s wheel to the highest platform and when the wind and rain swirled around us, I was up in the tree turning port and then starboard. I was the captain of a sinking ship because you cut down the tree and had the men put in a dock for your latest toy, only I couldn’t dock there and I was lost at sea, boat in half.
I parked the gold truck to the right of the front steps, Mom parked her car to the left, I remember when you came home from the hospital, and we had to help you up the steps because the stroke had made you weak. You are six and a half feet tall and we could hardly do it so Mr. Chee came over to help. You were different after the stroke and even though I was twelve, and my sister was six and crying, and my brother was five and still thought you could do anything, we knew you weren’t Dad. Mr. Chee lived in the guest bedroom before he died so that someone could always watch him. We helped him up the steps and we didn’t need you.
Our dining room table sat eight and sagged so you and I bought some wood and sanded it and made another leg to prop up the middle. You helped me get the Woodcarving Merit Badge. When you left, I stopped going to scouts because I hated camping and only did it because I liked being with you. I went to the first few meetings but when you never came, I stopped going. Mom, my brother, my sister, and I would sit down for a family dinner every night because Mom believed in that kind of thing. Even when you were home, you usually ate upstairs in your office but we always told you when dinner was.
When we cleaned the house on Sundays, it was my job to wash the sliding glass doors upstairs by the Murphy bed because the salt would collect on them and it looked unkempt. Henry would follow me up and lick the salty water running down the glass. From the outside looking in, I would see you in my Papasan chair watching the TV by the Murphy bed while Mom, my sister, my brother, and me, cleaned the house. I would work quickly so that I could leave and ride my Schwinn cruiser, which we kept in the garage, to Ian’s house. Ian didn’t like coming to my home because you scared him.
The garage had room for two cars but we parked them in the driveway. Inside the garage was a punching bag you decided would be a good Christmas present for my brother because you had decided he had an anger problem. He punched my sister after she had hot glued his hair to the upright piano you bought Mom for Mother’s Day. She had told him that it was an experiment and when he tried to get up, he pulled out a chunk of his hair and so he hit her. There was still some glue on the piano next to the dent where the Texas-shaped dinner bell that hung in our kitchen slammed into it. You threw that at me when you found out I had unwrapped one of your Beatles albums, Rubber Soul, and played it because I had never heard it before. The album was no longer “mint” and so you threw the dinner bell at me. Mom yelled at you and so I took my brother and sister into my room and read them Elmer Blount Has an Open House, my sister’s favorite children’s book. Elmer Blount leaves the door open to his home and all of the forest animals come in to see what’s inside. My sister especially loves the foxes that play with Elmer’s underwear.
Our home was old and in the hallway was a cubby, a nook, where we kept the phone. Above the phone was a small bronze faced clock that hadn’t worked since we moved in before I was born. You tried many times to fix it but old things aren’t supposed to be fixed sometimes. After you left, we bought a digital clock that sat next to our cordless phone and we never looked at the bronze faced clock. Our technology was new so when you called, we knew it was you. Mom made us answer the phone when you did and sometimes we didn’t do that. You told me once over the phone that you didn’t know how to be a Dad because yours had died when you were thirteen and you just didn’t know what to do with me. By then, there weren’t any pictures of you on the wall and Mom had replaced them with paintings that her Father had sent as wedding gifts all those years ago. You never liked those paintings but now it didn’t matter. The one that I stared at when you called to talk to me was a watercolor of three children on a beach in Ogunquit, Maine examining the sandy beach. Their faces were turned away and they wore winter clothes, which is not beach attire.
You stayed married for a long time after the masks watched you go, almost 4 years, as you battled Mom for everything, until one day, she gave in. The piano was hers. The masks were yours. You hid behind those. Cat and Dog were mine but you took them because the judge said they were yours. Henry was yours. The Texas-shaped dinner bell was hers; it was ours. The armoire was hers because the judge said it was hers. The Beatles albums, including Rubber Soul, were yours but she, and we, didn’t care. The many-colored carpet and black leather couches were hers. The punching bag was yours. The Papasan chair was yours and you thought that would make me come sit in it. The table was ours, not yours. Mr. Chee’s wicker chair went with Mom because you didn’t deserve to sit in it. Our home, you demanded half of, and so we left the house and took the things that the judge said were ours. But, by then, I was gone and didn’t live there anymore and my mother, my brother, and my sister had found a new home. You came back and lived at the house. Then, you took the bronze faced clock, ripping it straight from the wall when you finally realized the clock was broken and could never be fixed. Sometimes, things aren’t meant for fixing.
The things that made this house our home were scattered across two by a tidal wave. I felt like I should wander down the beach and pick up the lost refuse, most of which had been floating for days. Steadily coming in, the things I found, the wooden utensils, spoon and fork and knife, wash up separately. Many people take and take, and soon the house is empty. Everyone has a piece. This home is gone and a house remains.
* * *
You are an old withered man who walking through our old home and telling this son how this stunning waterfront property has five bedrooms and three baths, with a guest room that looks out onto the murky sea. You don’t see. The lanai by the guest bedroom is great for company, you say, and this house has character; it has history. This house has our history but, history is forgotten and then misremembered. You never saw, would never see, and I knew it. You are dead but this old withered man is still here in your place. There is a ghost inhabiting your floppy skin, waving your arms, and speaking unfamiliar words with a familiar voice. Sometimes your face contorts and I faintly see the “you I knew” grappling for control of your familiar features. It was a face I had traced with my eyes many times before but, it was a face that had changed, different in the way only a child would question, like feeling the freshly shaven skin of where a mustache had once been and asking, why?