Who wouldn't be nervous traveling halfway around the world to a family they hadn't even spoken to in over a dozen years? Especially at the request of a friend.
And request is putting it mildly.
I don't even know these people anymore; I have refused their calls and tossed their letters away unopened for so many years. I know that is childish, but if I hadn't been forced to run away from this house as a teenager, I might be a mature, well-adjusted adult now. I've come because I said I would, because I was told to. But is it really growing up to do something simply because you are told to, even if it is something you probably wouldn't have done on your own?
The neighborhood looks the same as it did when I was a kid, different colors of paint, different curtains, different Christmas decorations, but on the whole the same. Except older, dumpier, more dejected, like our old neighborhood looked after we moved in to this house back when it was new.
The taxi driver rolls his eyes when I ask him to drive past my parents' house. He must think I'm crazy. Even without the address I would have recognized it, still yellow with white trim. Or yellow again.
I remember the first time I saw this place, back before the house was even finished, back when there were only two other houses on the block. My father bundled the six of us into our station wagon after school one spring day without telling us where we were going. The trip led us into the suburbs and a subdivision, which was mostly just streets and mud.
He let us out near a corner on Alder Street to the side of a primed house and we raced across the muddy lot to look in the windows. As we slogged around the nearly completed building, my father told us whose room was inside each window. We were moving out of Grandma's duplex and in to a house of our own.
Matt was angry to learn he would not be going to high school with his friends, but he was mollified by the idea of having his own room. The duplex only had two bedrooms, so Matt was sleeping on the couch.
My mother was angry as well, but she didn't show it by shouting and waving her hands. She showed it by firmly insisting we take off our shoes and making us roll up our pants to our knees before getting back in the car.
She didn't even yell at my father late that night after we were sent to bed. I would have heard it; that sleepless night should have given me fair warning that my life in the new house would be a painful one.
The driver drops me off down the street and for a second I look around for my luggage, but I left it at the hotel. I give the driver a hundred and tell him to keep the change. He responds with a Merry Christmas before driving away.
I walk down the block, coming upon the house from the Blake Street side in an effort to get to the front door before I am noticed. I don't really want to be doing this, but if I must do it, I want to do it at my own pace and not be greeted in the street.
A Suburban is parked on the street in front of the house and two minivans are in the driveway in front of my parent's room, which was converted from a garage a few years after we moved in. A quick glance, as I walk betweens the vans, shows me that one is spotless while the one nearer the front door has crayon marks on the windows and cereal o's in the car seats.
My mother's floral patterned bedroom curtains are gone, replaced by a clean white, but I don't look in the room. I've never willingly been inside and feel no need to see how it's changed, so I look back at the street. The Suburban is glossy and new. The same goes for the dark blue Camry parked in front of it.
The Suburban is probably Matt's and the minivans could be my sisters', but whose is the other? Has my mother learned to drive? And if she has, why is this car parked the farthest from the front door?
The Camry is the same color as the one I rode in last night, whose owner took me in as one might take in a stray. Took me in and kept me as his own. And I want to be kept.
At least I think I do.
I've never been very good with one-night stands. I've never been very good with long term relationships either. In my case long term means two years tops as lovers and after that just friends. If I'm lucky.
After a series of 'thank you, you're a nice kid, but goodbye', I stopped even looking for someone who would love me for who I am, not just what I could do for them. It's been four years since my last bad experience—four years since I've woken up beside a lover, since I've even wanted sex.
I thought that this part of my life was over, but Seth changed my mind. He makes me want things I've never dared want before and gives me hope I will get them, like a home of my own, a happy family around me, and waking to the same loving face every morning.
I know I'm jumping the gun, but I can't think of a person I've meshed with better. Like I am a puzzle piece that has finally found another piece that fits it exactly and together we will find the rest of our puzzle and see if we are part of the ground, the trees, or the sky.
I've never been this happy before, so this time I am going to make it work. No matter what.
I mean, I am moving to the States anyway, Liesl's idea, but last night makes me believe that I will be happy here, that I will want to stay.
I wanted to stay this morning. If Seth hadn't left before me, I could have found something to do to keep us busy until noon at least. Maybe longer.
With a shower afterwards and a light lunch, definitely longer.
But that would have made me late to see my family. Liesl told them I would be here at noon. I'm twenty minutes early, but staying in that hotel room alone was killing me. I had nothing to do except think of ways to keep Seth in the bed once I see him again.
It's not really a one night stand, is it, if we both have keys to the hotel room where we plan to spend at least one more night together?
I really have to get his address and phone number, so I can look him up once I move here. I should have got them yesterday, but I was too busy enjoying myself. Much too busy.
I can't imagine this Camry is as tidy as the one last night. Its owner, Seth Ito, keeps everything neat, but only with great effort. He is always tossing down his coat and then picking it back up again to put it away. A walking contradiction like his name: his family name is traditional Japanese and his given name is one his ancestors couldn't pronounce.
I want to peek in the car, but that would just be putting off the inevitable. And, as the car is parked in front of the kitchen window, give my early arrival away before I can even ring the bell.
The living room windows are crystal clear, the way they always were when I was a child, except near the bottom where several tiny handprints declare louder than words that small children are within.
The living room looks empty, but the back of one recliner twitches, so there must be someone watching the game on the huge TV. The couches are different, floral now rather than plaid, but there are still two of them plus two easy chairs where there use to be only my father's.
The Christmas tree twinkles with tinsel and colored lights from the corner when my father always set it when I was a kid. He would bring one home without notice sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. He would then complain if my mother hadn't cleared out the tree's corner during the time it took him to put the tree in its stand. If he was in a generous mood he would hang the lights, but otherwise it was left to us kids to decorate. We had about twenty-four hours to finish before he would declare us apathetic and uncaring and tell us if we didn't want a tree after all the work he went through to get us one, then he would take it away.
My mother would usually finish the tree for us, but the last Christmas I was home my father brought home a tree on a Tuesday before vacation began. Matt was still at his college, Stacy and I were busy with school, Jenny was too small to decorate more than the bottom few feet, and my mother was staying with my grandmother, who was ill. That year my father dragged the half trimmed tree though the laundry room and into the back yard, knocking off most of the ornaments. Jenny ran crying into her room to look at the sorry tree though her window. Stacy just stood outside by the tree in shock, petting the branches. And I let my father drag me into his room and beat me until his anger subsided. When he was feeling better, he brought the tree back inside and then took my sisters to the store to get new decorations. I waited until they left before I went back to my room, so Stacy and Jenny wouldn't see me. So they wouldn't learn what had happened, what he had done.
I bear scars on my back, legs, and arms from my father's belt, but my heart still has wounds caused by my mother who knew and did nothing. My only solace is that Matt and my sisters never found out. I look at them, their pictures on the living room wall, smiling faces all around and I am happy that I saved them from this grief.
I see what must be Jenny's senior picture sharing a frame with a photo of her in cap and gown. Around that frame are many more: Jenny's school pictures, snap shots with friends, what looks like a school dance where she wears a shiny dark dress and a white corsage, while she stands next to her college aged date. My eyes are drawn to her wedding picture where she stands with a bright smile and the same young man, neither looking much older.
Interspersed between the Jennys are two small children, a girl with dark brown hair—from her father or my mother?—and a boy with hair so fair that it is almost white. A family picture shows Jenny and her husband sitting, the girl on his lap, the baby boy on hers. Time changes from one picture to the next—from old pictures to new to old again, from small frames to big and back. There is no rhyme or reason to the arrangement of the pictures, as far as I can tell, but the whole is pleasing to the eye.
Next to Jenny and her family, above the wide screen TV is a huge picture of my parents taken before I left. To the right of the TV is the Christmas tree obscuring most of Stacy's pictures. The few frames I do see are lined up in columns and rows starting with her hospital baby picture. The lights from the tree reflect off the glass in the frames, so that I can only make out the pictures I am familiar with. I strain but can see no more of the girl who was often mistaken for my twin.
On the nearer side of the Christmas tree is the door leading to the laundry room, then a large section of blank wall. Of Matt's pictures, I see two where he is in cap and gown and one where he is wearing a white tux standing by a young blonde in a white princess dress—his wedding picture. In her arms she holds a small dark infant—Hispanic? Asian? Matt holds another dark child a bit older, but not much more than a toddler, dressed like Matt in miniature. The rest of his pictures are concealed by the angle I'm at. I would be able to see more if I leaned against the glass, but resist the urge. There is no point in leaving a nose print on my mother's window and letting everyone know I was too scared to go right in.
But I am, scared that is. What do I really have in common with these happy people, these people who know where they are going and know where they've been? These people who aren't embarrassed about their pasts and hang pictures on the wall for all to see.
I gather myself for the final assault. Not on my parent's house, but on myself. I can do this. They want me here.
Or at least that's what they said. To my friend, not to me. Liesl's is the only address my family has, even though I haven't lived with her in twelve years. She talks to my mother every Easter to keep her up to date.
Liesl has always respected my wishes to be left alone. Until now. But this last Easter she heard that my father was dead and felt it was time to put her long delayed plans into action. She told me it is time to face my fears now that my abuser is gone.
And really, what's the worst that can happen? My family might reject me or go out of their way to make me feel uncomfortable and awkward. I might spend an excruciating hour in the living room. I only promised Liesl that I would stay an hour, but I'll be good and wait until one before I call a cab.
Then I can return to Greece, the job I love, and my little girl with a clean conscience. I might even be back home by the twenty-sixth.
No. I guess that's not the worst. It's the best. The only thing I would miss is my young paramour. I really want to see him again.
Well, not just see. I want to spend at least one more night with him and hear him say he wants to see me again. I wonder if I can get him to come visit me.
The door opens abruptly. I haven't even rung the bell. But that isn't even a shock compared to who is on the other side.
There stands my trysting partner, looking too young for words. Why didn't I check his ID? He looks like a child. Is it too much to hope that he is eighteen?
I glance back at the Camry. It is his, isn't it? Who buys that kind of car for a teenager? What teenager would want one?
His Asian features hide his age, but his clothes proclaim it. His black turtleneck and heather green t-shirt are tight enough for me to see the hollow of his bellybutton. And his nipples.
My fingers twitch as I fight the urge to trace the path of the black and silver Chinese dragon that coils across the chest and sides of his shirt. His Levis, tight enough to show his shape without being a second skin, are carefully distressed and his black Nikes unscuffed. Was this what he was wearing when he left the hotel this morning?
I can't remember.
But I think it was the same nice suit and fancy shoes that he wore yesterday. If he had walked out in this outfit, surely I would have noticed when he woke me for a kiss goodbye.
He stands there looking at me, absently pushing up the sleeves of his shirt. Now I know why he wears those concealing clothes; I left marks on him. Hickeys. If they are on his arms then what do his back, chest, and neck look like?
I try not to think about the shower we took together or how beautiful he was. Is.
His smile broadens as I look him over then he steps back and yells into the dining room, "Hey Dad!"
Matt comes around the corner in two leaps and pulls me through the doorway and into a bear hug. I can barely breathe, but without his support I might not be able to stand at all.
What have I done?