Cedar Heights


The Hardest Thing

The house was large and unfamiliar. The stairs led up to a place I didn't know and the corners led to rooms that I wasn't accustomed to. The smell was foreign—like dust and abandonment. The soft colors—peach, kumquat, brown—adorned the walls, giving it an eerily serene atmosphere. The rooms were all bare; void of any life. The only sounds audible were the quiet hum of the ventilation and the smacking of Miles' gum.

I felt apprehensive stepping inside, like I shouldn't be there. Like I was trespassing. But I wasn't trespassing. This was my home. The erect "SOLD" sign posted on the front lawn and hulking Uhaul truck sitting in the driveway made that realization all too clear. I glanced over at my two younger brothers; both looked like they were feeling the same as I. My father had a forced smile written across his face, arms crossed. My mom clapped her hands together and then pulled me into a one-armed embrace.

"Well, we're here!" She said, false excitement dripping from her voice. "Isn't it nice?"

I nodded. Located in one of Washington's nicer suburbs, it couldn't be argued that the house was tacky or anything. It was actually pretty big with plenty of space: five bedrooms and three bathrooms with three levels including the basement. The previous owners had taken good care of it because it appeared almost unlived in; barren of any form of human life. The house's first inhabitants had hired a good landscaper as well since both the front and back lawns were neatly manicured, boasting lush green grass.

No, there was definitely nothing wrong with the house. But there wasn't exactly anything right about it either. It was just kind of there. It had no memories—it knew none of my experiences. It had no personality and no amount of furniture or family portraits could change that. I wandered further into the house, past the foyer and into the spacious room beyond it. I tried to picture what it would look like with our long, cream-colored leather couches sprawled across its carpeted floor but no matter how hard I studied it, the room remained empty.

The move had been bittersweet for me. More sweet than bitter, I guess. I was going to have to start over at a brand new school in an entirely different state for my senior year. But it wasn't like I had a foundation back in Arizona anymore. Everything I had built back in Phoenix had crumbled; my friendships, my grades, my morals. They were all nothing but ruins now. At least here I had a brand new start. Nobody here thought I was a traitor or an envious witch with a hidden agenda. No, here I could re-write myself. I could start over with a clear slate. All of us could.

We all had our demons to run from back in Arizona. So that's exactly what we did. We ran. We picked up and we ran. Our lives had all been torn to shambles in one way or another and instead of attempting to rebuild and construct what we once had, we left. My dad had always been good at doing that. It's where I get it from.

My dad owned a sporting goods store back in Phoenix. Anybody who knows my dad wouldn't be surprised at this—sports are his life. He was a star running back in high-school and he never let us forget it. He always had stories about how he saved the day by sprinting through steroid-pumped barbarians to the end zone. Stories about how he should have won state; would have if he hadn't broken his ankle in the third quarter. Stories that we heard all the time and that we could never measure up to.

His store went under in the middle of April, about the same time I became the school pariah. A Sports Authority had moved into his territory and started stealing all of his business. Dad was friends with a lot of the local high-school athletes since he was kind of a local hero, so they still came around. But they weren't enough. Before you could even say "hut, hut HIKE!" he was out of business and scrambling to find a solution.

Life is cruel sometimes. Most of the time actually. It was almost like Fate was triumphing in the Wiseman family misery, because not even a week after dad's store fell off, my grandmother died. My mom didn't come out of her bedroom for an entire week. Our phone was ringing off the hook with people offering cordial sympathies. Our house was being bombarded with pies and fruit baskets. My brother Jadon, who is a year younger than me, got arrested for drug possession and that was when my dad decided that enough was enough. We spent the summer in Phoenix while our parents searched for homes anywhere but there.

Cedar Heights was a quiet community just a few miles outside of Seattle. At least I thought it was a quiet community. I had no idea how quickly and mercilessly I would be proven wrong about that. Most of the businesses around the suburb were family-owned or private. It was pretty busy, like a little city and had well-known chains such as Blockbuster, Wal-Mart and every fast-food place you could think of but it was a lot friendlier to privately owned businesses. My dad had leased a shop here and planned to re-open. It was a lot smaller than what he had back in Phoenix, but I think he was slightly defeated—crushed, more like it—and would settle for mediocrity after the failure that was his first store.

My mom, who was almost never home back in Phoenix due to a time-consuming and strenuous job as an advertising executive, had accepted a job as professor of a beginner's marketing class at the community college. She had no problem with the move—everyone back in Arizona had been constantly asking about her mom and walking on eggshells around her. She was ecstatic to get away. As for my brothers and I, our fate was to attend Roosevelt High School. It was a few blocks from the new house, so we could walk. Did I want to walk to school as a senior? No. But beggars can't be choosers. In Arizona I'd had friends who could give me a lift—key word: had.

Jadon and I were pretty close as brother and sister go, but I didn't really know much about his drug situation back in Phoenix. I never asked. I just know he started hanging out with this kid Spider—the name just screams bad news—back at our old school and my dad caught him snorting heroin in our bathroom. Jadon claimed it had only been his second time and I believed him. He hadn't gone through any withdrawal symptoms after quitting, but my dad was still convinced that he was addicted. There was a good rehabilitation program for recovering teen addicts out here and it was another factor for our moving. He wasn't too thrilled about being forced to take part in the program, but he wanted a clean slate as much as the rest of us so he begrudgingly went along with it.

My youngest brother, Miles, got the best of the move. This was going to be his freshmen year of high-school. He didn't have to leave any old school behind—he could easily become a part of this one and create new memories of his own. The rest of us though, we were all leaving things behind. Sure they may have been negative things, but they were still unfinished pieces of us. Failure, isolation, loss, addiction. All things that we didn't want to face but would soon catch up with us.

And catch up with us they did.

If there's anything I learned from the disaster that was our move to Cedar Heights, it was that you cannot escape things unfinished. No matter how hard you try.