This is the second in a series of blog posts I’ve published after losing my beloved father Bruce and, two months later, my only brother Zachary. I write about my life after the dust settled, trying to make the most of each day with the help of my mother, husband and three children.
On the face of it, it’s really quite simple. My father got cancer and died. My brother was sick, had an operation and didn’t survive it. Two sentences tell the whole story. But like anything in life, nothing is simple. It’s complicated, messy, heartbreaking and beautiful, all at once.
It’s the same now ― my mother is selling the house that I grew up in. It’s just a house ― a bunch of rooms ― but it’s the last concrete remnant of my nuclear family. I’d like to say it’s where I learned to ride a bike but I don’t actually remember. We always described it as “the blue house on the corner.” There is a huge maple tree in front and the Japanese garden my father built in the backyard.
Every room in the house holds countless memories. My brother’s bedroom, where, one day in anger, he scrawled “I HATE NIKKI” on the beautiful grasscloth wallpaper. Nikki was our hundred pound Samoyed who had destroyed Zach’s Hulk Hogan toy figurine. A map of Washington, D.C. was hung to cover the area that had been defaced and poor Zach moved to the room up the hall that wasn’t wallpapered.
Two sentences tell the whole story. But like anything in life, nothing is simple. It’s complicated, messy, heartbreaking and beautiful, all at once.
There was the pink and grey bathroom my parents built off my bedroom for me, because I was a teenage girl and there was no way I could tolerate sharing a bathroom with my brother. The kitchen, where all our family discussions took place at the dinner table. It was where we always cooked our turkey for Thanksgiving (and the tofurkey for Zach) and where we prepared for the Jewish holidays. It was where my father had his glass of red wine upon coming home from work and his late-night bowl of cereal before going to bed.
The family room, next to the kitchen, was where my father and brother spent countless hours watching football, screaming at the television, always in their Giants jerseys. And where my father would stay up until the early hours of the morning on every election night, too excited to wait for the results in the paper the next day.
There was my parents’ room with the fun laundry shoot where Zach and I passed notes back and forth to each other. It’s where I spent many nights, on the floor next to their bed, tiptoeing in after having a nightmare. I’d set up a blanket and pillow and immediately fall back asleep knowing my parents were next to me and all was right with the world.
Then there was my room. So many nights spent at my desk, cramming for a test or writing a term paper, hours after everyone else had gone to bed. There were the times I was curled up under my covers, crying over a breakup while a mix tape played in the background. My twin bed is where I slept the night before I got married, butterflies in my stomach, acutely aware that my childhood was officially ending.
More recently, it’s the house where we had my son’s first birthday party. Most grandparents wouldn’t have agreed to host fifteen one-year-olds and their neurotic parents at their now child-free home, but mine were more than happy to do it. My father cut the Elmo birthday cake and I remember feeling so lucky that my son would grow up around the corner from his grandparents. We had my youngest son’s bris there too, one of the happiest days of my whole life.
[That house] was a little cocoon, where the harshness of the world could easily be shut out because inside, everything was as it should be.
Finally, it was the house my father died in, in the living room. It was his favorite room, the one he used to escape to so he could read, though without fail he’d fall asleep, mid-sentence, his feet propped up on the love seat. It was the room I slept in with him that last night, curled up on the couch next to his hospital bed. It was the place we held the shiva for my father, and then, two months later, the shiva for my brother.
They say you can’t go home again. For me though, I never really left. I went away to college, came home and stayed. My childhood home was a fixture of my adult life, just five minutes from my own house. It was a second home to my own children. I remember a photo from Halloween the year my father got sick. My children sat at my parents’ kitchen table, candy spread everywhere, ready to start stuffing themselves with sugar. My mind saw Zach and I sitting there, doing the same thing, so many Halloweens ago.
Above all else, that house is where I felt the safest of any place in my life. It was a little cocoon, where the harshness of the world could easily be shut out because inside, everything was as it should be. That house was the place every important thing in my life happened. And between all those memorable days, there were thousands of others ― ordinary days, where nothing happened at all. Those days have become a blur in my mind ― like watching a movie on fast forward. Little things stick out, but the details escape me. The specifics aren’t what matter. The image conjures a quote I’ve always loved by Walt Whitman:
“We were together. I forget the rest.”
We were together. That I know for sure.