This house is poetry. But I’ll never know that. All I know is I can’t stand driving up this goddamn slope every day. Screw the seven hundred feet elevation, the Los Angeles city view is not worth sweating my ass off climbing this thing. Of all the houses in the world, my parents just had to choose this one didn’t they?
The good thing about this house is that it is huge, which means I can throw parties. Friday night, I invite everyone over. I let them trash the living room and play the music as loud as they want. Sometimes we just chill in the hot tub outside the balcony, the one that gives a full view of the city. I used to think it was pretty cool, but now I’m just used to it.
According to my mother, the foundation for this house was lain one night, eighteen years ago. My mother and father (at the time unmarried), budding entrepreneurs, had embarked on an exhaustive search for investment capital, and had finally captured the attention of a few venture capitalists in Las Vegas. Gathered around a booth overlooking The Strip, tonight was the night to deliver the final pitch and seal the deal. Mother, at the peak of her beauty, had on a backless red evening dress. As she recalled, the subtle shaking of their wine glasses on the table top, which she told everyone was attributed to the activity of waiters constantly walking in and out, was actually caused by her nervous legs, quietly quivering beneath the table.
At the night’s close, both my parents would claim that this was the dinner that unraveled the rest of their lives. After the VCs left, they talked on in an excited babble, intoxicated not so much by the liquor as the enchantment of the night. Words rushed out of their mouths as quickly as the future that was suddenly racing towards them. We could have a child! We could travel wherever we desire, drink to our heart’s content! We would have a mansion, no a palace, I want a palace! It would have a hot tub, overlooking the magnificent Los Angeles cityscape at night! Yes, oh it must be it, Henry, I can’t wait for our lives to begin! At midnight, in a drunken stupor, they stumbled upstairs to the hotel room. Long story short, as much as that night marked the creation of our ‘empire,’ it also marked the creation of me.
When I was younger, my mother would tell this story so many times that I memorized each minute of it. She would describe every moment in precise detail, with such vivid imagery and passion that I told her she should become a novelist.
I have lived in this house for as long as I remember. I was here when the ceiling was painted, when the east wing was remodeled, and when the second swimming pool was installed. I have run, skipped, and crawled through all twenty one rooms of this house. Out of these twenty one rooms, there are two in particular that I especially cannot stand. I haven’t stepped foot into both of them in months.
The first room is the upstairs study. Though I know that the maid has cleaned it numerous times since the ‘incident,’ I still cannot bring myself to enter that room, for when I imagine myself walking in, all I can see are the remains of a conquered battleground. I imagine walking through the entrance and gasping just as my bare feet miss the broken pieces of porcelain on the floor, lying there in horrific angles. I look up to see the frames on the wall titled in dreadful angles, evidence of the rancorous disagreement that last transpired. I see books ripped off their shelves, an upside down chair, and papers scattered across the rug.
Then I hear infuriated screams of my father, You don’t understand, Asia is the rising economy and these trips are crucial networking opportunities! I’m generating thousands of dollars in revenue every day! You should be thanking me, followed by angry retorts from my mother, I don’t care about the money. You’re always gone now! ALWAYS! Hong Kong. China. Taiwan. Japan. When is it going to stop? How can you even say you’re part of this family anymore? There things in life more important than business.
I’ll never know exactly what happened that night, but when I look at the brass doorknob, I see my father gripping it in anger, slamming the door on his way out, not to return until Christmas six months later.
The aftermath of my parent’s battle was silence, but not peace. The vigorous spirit and excitement that defined my mother’s character not so long ago had seeped out. Drained of her energy, she became lifeless being, sitting at the same computer desk every day, burying the troubles of her personal life beneath a sea of paperwork.
At first I admit I was kind of glad. I was suddenly liberated from her incessant rambling and strict rules. She no longer protested when I brought my friends over for parties. In fact, I began to throw one every weekend. First it was just small gatherings of acquaintances, but soon these transformed into lavish affairs. Before I knew it, people I didn’t even recognize would be pumping up the volume on the stereo system, diving in the pool, and barbecuing ribs on the balcony.
The other room I never go to is the west guest room past the foyer. I used to love staring into the half-length parallel mirrors that lined the opposing walls of the room, transfixed by the way they created an illusion of the infinite. Father once tried to explain to me the physics of it all-concavity, reflection, and the speed of light. He said that the mirrors only created an infinite amount of images in infinite time, but that within twenty seconds they will have already created enough images to keep me counting until both he and mom were great-grandparents, living together in peaceful retirement by a house near the beach.
Here are the words that changed this room forever: Hello? Henry honey, are you there? Look, I know you don’t really want to talk to me since last time I got mad at you for leaving, but I’ve missed you. Can you please come back to stay this time? I apologize in advance for ruining any elements of anticipation or suspense, but the answer was yes.
After nearly six months, my father finally came home for Christmas. Mother welcomed him with open arms and a foolish child-like smile on her face. He nodded a polite hello and told me that he had a special present for me: a MacBook Pro for college, exactly what I wanted. It was the happiest I had seen all of us in a long time. At dinner, mother even popped out the grape wine and offered me some.
I don’t know if it was the wine or my own naive oblivion, but sometimes I can’t help but think that if I had just paid a little more attention, I would have been prepared for the disillusionment that was to follow. I would have noticed the way he kept glancing at the clock behind me with a distant expression on his face. I would have seen him fidget while half-heatedly giving his input on a few insignificant matters. I would have seen his Blackberry, surreptitiously tucked in between the legs of his trousers under the table. Had I not been so caught in the captivation of our reunion, I would have not had those foolish thoughts of us being a ‘family’ again.
To be honest, my memory of that night is as fragmented as the mirror in that room now is, but the most important parts I remember vividly. I was slightly intoxicated when I stumbled into the guest room that night, looking for the gift he had promised. Suddenly his cell phone rang and I impulsively picked it up. Although many things were a blur, I remember very clearly the voice that came out of that phone, the aching of my brain as it rapidly tried to process the information entering my eardrums, and the pulsing of my blood as a combination of anger and hurt arose through my veins.
Hello? The voice was unmistakably female. Must be some business associate of his. Or one of those annoying telemarketers. Henry honey, are you there? Honey? Wait. Why is she calling him honey? Must be a clingy old friend. Shit, please be a clingy old friend. Look, I know you don’t really want to talk to me since last time I got mad at you for leaving, but I’ve missed you. No, no, no, no. NO YOU DON’T YOU DON’T YOU DON’T. Leaving? Leaving! He was leaving her to visit us! Can you please come back to stay this time?
At that point I could no longer hold it in. I slammed the phone down. In intoxicating fury, I threw my fist against the mirror and watched as the infinite shattered before my eyes. I let the shards of glass rain on me and in some perverse, masochistic way, took fleeting pleasure in the pain searing through my body, for no amount physical torment could match the emotional anguish coursing through my body. Then I was screaming, at my father for his infidelity, at my throbbing hands for bleeding, at my mother for not being able to stop this, and at this house, this stupid goddamn mother fucking house. Physical and emotional torture simultaneously found release through my vocal chords and I screamed until I could scream no longer.
I cannot recall at which point my father came running in, but there he was, appalled by the sight before him, his eyes giving the same shocked expression mine had worn six months ago. Unable to bear anymore, I ran out of the house. Living together in retirement by the beach? Yeah right.
He left a couple of days after the incident, and I watched as he rolled his suitcase out of the door.
How could you dad, how could you?
Johnny, I’m so sorry.
I don’t care. I will never forgive you.
I contemplated telling my mother what had happened. In the weeks that followed, however, seeing her defeated figure, I realized that I did not need to. I was the only one who had been fooled all along.
I haven’t been in that room since last Christmas. I hate the stupid revolving door and the cream-colored walls. In fact, I despise all of the walls in this house. I cannot stand staring at them as they mock me, laughing at us for our inability to emulate the stability they had exhibited for eighteen years. These unmoving walls, inundated with memories of the past, now snicker at us as they remain standing tall, unscathed throughout the violent earthquakes that rippled through their rooms and tore our family apart.
Those who come to visit the house for the first time always seem so amazed. Wow, this mansion is an architectural splendor! Just look at those grand arches leading into the library, those brilliant paintings on the wall, that dramatic staircase. My, this is a work of art, poetry even! I usually just smile and nod, hoping that my calm and pleasant demeanor does not belie the sinking truth inside: that I would prefer to live anywhere other than this mansion of a broken family.
When all the guests leave, it’s just my mother and I. The ten thousand feet of emptiness swallows us. The trickling of the fountain and the ticking of the clocks form hollow echoes throughout the empty rooms.
Yesterday I came across her red evening dress, laid out on her bed. I touched the silky fabric, hoping that somehow some of the magic of that night would diffuse through my fingers. Then I rushed downstairs to the library. Mom, mom, can you tell me the story of that night again? I haven’t heard it in a while. She looked up from her sea of documents, eyes puffy red, evidently upset and annoyed. Not now, I’m busy! Can’t you see I have work to do? Go to sleep.
It was then that I knew once and for all that the story had died. The story had been dying all along, a victim of the virulent diseases of apathy and division, and now it was at a point of no return, for its burden was too great carry, its wound too deep to mend. There it lay, withering and lifeless in its death bed, begging for a cure, a finale miracle to remedy the mistakes of the past and once again bring back the spirit it was born to display. And just as the birth of the story signified the birth of our dream, it’s destruction beneath layers of indifference and beguilement, had too, signified, the demolition of the dream.
This house is a dream house. But it is not our dream anymore. This is a house, fitting for my parents eighteen years ago, but not today. This house deserves better. It deserves someone who can read its poetry. Someone who can appreciate the rhythmic meter of the ticking clocks and tricking fountains. Someone who can discover the assonance of its echoing halls and answer its beauty in endless strings of hyperbolic rhymes. It deserves someone who can appreciate its structure and symmetry, who can rightfully say, see how this Gothic revival style suddenly transitions into Hellenistic Greek though this hallway? It’s a Volta! It deserves someone worthy of its grand motifs. Someone who realizes that its theme is not corruption and fragmentation, but rather stability and prosperity. It deserves someone who is not me.
Sometimes, I wish that night had never happened. Maybe then my parents would not have chosen to pursue these twisted aspirations. My dad wouldn’t have been gone so often. Then he would be home. Then we wouldn’t have this home. Who needs this house anyways? It is just ten thousand square feet of loneliness. Maybe my parents would have opened a nice small bakery in town. We would rent a nice cozy apartment and take the bus each morning. We would save up quarters every week to use at the Laundromat. We would eat porridge and cup noodles. We would be together. Yes, that would be nice.