- For Mom and Dad
In the picture, you see the siding bent and decaying, carrying splintered traces of what was once grey or light blue paint. You see cobwebs that fill the crevices of everything – the garage door, the windowsills, the cracks in the brick façade, and you can imagine the daddy-long-legs and black widows wrapped up tight in their silk, waiting. There are the Christmas lights of course, five, maybe ten years old, dangling from beneath the gutters, those trusty gutters that caught the rain and dispelled it back to the earth, keeping your ceilings and hair dry. You see the pebbled driveway, the concrete cracked in several places, the wooden joints between the slabs alive with weeds too green to be weeds. You see the pine tree you planted, the Japanese maple that started as a simple twig and grew into something big and beautiful. You see the remnants of fireworks. You see the lawn upon which the blow-up Frosty and Santa stood and waved in the wind, ready to greet you. You see the pathway you built, the flowers you nourished. There is the speed bump some city worker put in a few years ago, the same speed bump you never wanted to park on but did anyway. You see the Sentra, the Galant, the Scirocco, the UPS van, the Sonata. You see the broken address light, the corner split into shards, but the 8782 still shines there for those that remember.
In the next picture, you see the garage, all three spots filled with junk, and it is junk, you know it’s junk, but it’s yours. Wow, you think, there are tons of golf clubs everywhere, and not one helped your golf game, not even a little. You see the Ping-Pong table, where you played and called yourself the best in the family, where you bounced small, white balls into red, plastic cups while your cousins drank beer and pretended to be rappers. You see countless boxes and locked up drawers and chests, the same boxes and drawers and chests you spent whole summers looking through, hoping but failing to find an adult magazine. You see the jacks you used to raise your car and change the oil when you thought you knew what you were doing. You see the pool table and the Win/Loss columns on the whiteboard. There are tools and bags of clothes and baseball cards and tires and the garage sale signs and parts from all the cars you drove and three license plates from other states that you knew could be the beginning to an awesome collection someday.
The backyard is next, a series of photographs of the spa that you never understood why no one really used, the pool that you constructed and deconstructed every year, the spots where all the dogs pooped, the fences bent and broken by misthrown balls. You see the weird, blue plastic tiles that somehow turned into the family basketball court. And there’s the hoop of course, the one you practiced your free throws on, the one you practiced your step-back jumper on, the one the family played H.O.R.S.E. on, the one you lowered for dunk contests, the one where you and your brother played one-on-one and you learned of victory and defeat and competition and brotherhood. You see the orange tree you planted, the tiny rubber balls scattered over the dirt that the dog forgot about. If you look close enough, you see the wasps, the patio table tucked in the back corner, the fire pit around which guitars were played and songs were sung and whispers and secrets were shared.
The next photographs are of the inside. Through the open front doors you see the triangle where your mom always placed the Bible or a prayer or one of those corny sayings about home that always made you feel warm, though you would never admit it. Next to it, that strange, forgotten plant that weaved through the bannister bars, the tile upon which piles of confetti (and sometimes cash) fell every New Year’s Eve. You see the spot where you always took your prom pictures, the same spot you practiced your between-the-legs-dribble and spin move when it was raining or too cold outside or you just had a basketball in your hand and felt like you needed to do something with it. You see the rows and rows of shoes. You see piles of dirty clothes your sons dropped from upstairs. You see the cage, the green and yellow birds that annoyed you when you were on the phone talking to your girlfriend, the birds that found ways to escape and you’d find chillin’ on the bathroom sink. You see the stairs where the older cousins sat on Christmas, feeling like children but too cool to be by the tree with the kids.
The family room is next, with its ceiling that always reminded you of a paper plane. There is the old baby grand it took almost the whole family to move, with its ivory keys bent and torn, and though it was never tuned, you remember its harmonious sound. There are the picture frames with your headshots, every year from kindergarten through high school. You see the furniture you moved when you throught you were breakdancers and needed space to practice your windmills, the piles and piles of gifts that looked like Santa’s workshop, and of course, Santa himself, you and your brother and your cousin and your uncle and your other cousin and your other uncle, lipstick making your cheeks red and shiny, the cotton balls stuck to your face, the pillows under your stomach you had to hold in place, the babies that cried when they had to take a picture with you.
In the next photograph, you see the formal dining room, the one Japanese cabinet that held figurines and china you knew existed but never actually looked at, the table with the bench with the broken arm. You see pocket rockets, poker chips in the middle of the table, cousins and usually one uncle shuffling cards and betting and bemoaning their bad luck. You see the patch in the ceiling that was the spot you/your brother/your son threw a golf club into. You see that framed painting of Sacramento you always stopped and looked at, even though no one knew you did. You can almost hear the games: those stupid name a one word movie that starts with ‘M’ games, those stupid "and this is a pen, a what?, a pen” games, those Black Magic games, those games you knew were dumb but loved anyway. You see the mounds and mounds of food, the boxes of cheap pizza and sinigang and adobo and teriyaki chicken and suman and lumpia and your auntie’s famous spaghetti.
The kitchen comes next, the old wood cabinets and white ceramic tile and the ceiling that was replaced when you clogged the toilet and came home to water pouring from above. You can almost smell that sweet but sour, thick odor of the Filipino household, vinegar and Spam and fish and that damn rice cooker that never seemed to cook enough rice. You see the burnt pots, the same pots you used to make everything taste like beefsteak. You see that alarm that alerted you when doors were opening, and you wanted to destroy that alarm because doors were always opening. You see the photographs on the refrigerator, the ones of your nephews’ and nieces’ birthday parties, the same refrigerator where you drank orange juice straight out of the bottle, and when your mother admonished you, you drank even more. You see the grandmothers/mothers/mother-in-laws tossing mahjongg tiles across a pink, foldout table. You see your Lola sitting at her normal chair, the one blocking the way to the small refrigerator that held all the drinks, the same chair that you sat in those eight months after you quit your job to write a book. You see aunts and uncles sitting at that round breakfast table, the top stained with who-knows-what, crying about marital problems and health problems and financial problems and the mistakes their kids made and the mistakes they made and the deaths of loved ones, and after all that, finding ways to laugh and smile and push through because that’s what brothers and sisters do.
Next, you see pictures of the living room where boyfriends and girlfriends came as strangers and left hours later as family. You see that alien-looking TV, the karaoke words streaming across the screen, several tone deaf people (and maybe two or three divas) shouting lyrics into the microphone just to score that rare 100 from that random judge in the karaoke machine. You see the Kings beating the Lakers (then you see Robert Horry and hate him), the early seasons of American Idol, the tense countdown of 24, Eat Bulaga!, the Wimbledon matches your grandfather/father/father-in-law watched when he wasn’t guffawing at the absurdity of Judge Judy. You see the family rooting on Pacquiao and those three Mexicans who always happened to be there rooting for the other guy and egging you on. You see the floor you slid across when you were Dancing to the Oldies with Richard Simmons, the beginning of all those times you lost weight. You see the couch you did your homework on, the couch where you tried to kiss your girlfriend when your parents went upstairs for a minute. You see that rocking patio bench that was, for some reason, inside the house. You see a huge, framed photograph of your trip to Canada. You see your mother/wife on the phone and you can hear those rapid-fire Tagalog words, that big laugh that always told you you were home.
You see pictures of the downstairs bathroom, the one where the fan went out a long time ago, the easter-colored plaid wallpaper that always made you shake your head. You see the floor your Lola/mother coated with Baby Powder when she lived with you. You see the crossword puzzle your dad always started but left unfinished, as though an unspoken agreement existed for you to finish it. You see the mirror you looked into, all those times you held a comb like a mike and pretended to be a star. You see those books and magazines in that wicker basket that you wanted to read but didn’t want to touch because you knew how many different people used that bathroom. You see the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit magazine, the one with Kathy Ireland on cover, and you couldn’t remember if you, your brother, your dad, or your son hid it there under the sink behind those old shampoo bottles.
The next photographs are of the downstairs bedroom, where your parents put you up and you slept for a month in the dark when you ripped your Achilles and realized you’d never play basketball the same ever again. You see the room your/your brother’s/your son’s friend stayed in when his life got turned upside down. You see the room you moved into when you became a teenager and wanted your privacy. You see the room your Lola stayed in, when it became the go to spot for random visits from the family. You see the room your other Lola stayed in with your Lolo, the room Lolo spent many of his last days laughing and good-natured as he always was.
The photographer moves upstairs, and you see the master bedroom, where you argued and made up and argued and made up. You see runs in the carpet, those spots where you swung golf clubs and banged them against the floor. You see the massage chair, the recliner you slept in when your back got worse. You see the old bed, the bed where you talked about how proud you were of your sons and how they drove your crazy, the bed with the dips in it, those dips contoured to your body because there were days your arthritis was so bad you couldn’t get up, much less walk. You see the dirtier spots on the walls, where your nieces and nephews sat cross-legged on the floor, leaning their oily hair against the wall when they came just to talk to you. There is the spot on the floor your younger son slept on when he had nightmares. There is the door you kept ajar when your older son started clubbing, those nights you pretended to sleep so you could see him creep up the stairs at 2am and know he was okay. You see the wedding picture above the bed, that picture with your face turned to your spouse, when you were in your early twenties and full of youth, when you were on the precipice of a life you never knew could be so wonderful.
In the next picture, you see the den, the desk you crunched numbers at and paid bills and did your taxes and sat scratching your head when the numbers didn’t make sense. You see the unsteady iron board you spent hours at, making sure those pants were ironed perfectly at the seams. You see the old wall units, filled with photo albums and yearbooks and books your parents got before you even knew you liked to read. You see the closet filled with the clothes you hope to sell in the store you hope to open. You see the old desktop where you wrote late night papers and chatted on AIM, asking for people’s age and gender and location, long before you knew a face and a book could go so well together.
In the next photograph, you see the other spare bedroom, the room you slept in when you moved back in the first time and your younger brother took over your old room. You see the white shelves you put up, the pencil markings on the wall that made sure those shelves were put up perfectly. You see your old high school books, that weird collection of encyclopedias you always intended to read but didn’t. You see the bed your Lola and Lolo slept in before walking up and down the stairs became too much trouble. You see your old notebooks, that old Ikea furniture, the hats hanging on the walls that you never did know who they belonged to.
Then there are pictures of the hallway, the Olympic Dream Team puzzle you put together with your dad, your brother, your son, and the pictures of those high school basketball teams you always tried to flex your arms in. You see the spot in the corridor, right at the top of the stairs, where you slept on Prom Night to make sure your son and his friends didn’t sneak down to the room downstairs where their dates were sleeping. You see the floor your older brother ran across (probably from a spider), and being as heavy as he was, knocked all of your trophies down in your bedroom. There is a picture of the bathroom, the mirror dotted with toothpaste, where you and your brother, for a little while, shaved side by side and put gel in your hair and took each other’s deodorant and cologne when the other one wasn’t looking. There is the shower with that ugly wallpaper that seemed to peel as soon as you put it up, the cushioned toilet seat that somehow still remained cushioned all those years, the shower you spent hours singing in, thinking you sounded like Bon Jovi, or Daughtry, or Justin Timberlake (and maybe you thought you danced like him, too).
And then there’s the last room, that big room where you spent many wee hours talking to the girlfriend that you would end up breaking up with, and you’d spend a whole year fighting the tears, and when you got back together you lit up again because you knew you’d be married and happy all those years later. In those pictures, you see the red guitar, the glow in the dark stars and galaxy you made, the timeline of Jordan’s shoes, your trophies, your SB shoeboxes, the dartboard, the basketball hoop you once set a record of 73 swishes on. You see the signed cast, the signed graduation animals, the game consoles you played Madden and Guitar Hero with your cousins on, the things the kids broke when they were running around, the window you would sometimes just stand in front of and watch the world outside. You see the room you grew up in, where you learned about yourself, the room you became a man.
And then it’s done and there are no more pictures, and you close the photo album and you feel like laughing and crying at the same time, you feel like saying farewell to the house that became everyone’s second home, the house where it seemed like you might have lost something but then you’d see your son or your brother or your mom or your dad or your wife or your husband and knew that you could never really lose, because even though pictures fade and children move out and homes are sold, memories are not bound by doors or walls or ceilings or the edges of a photograph, and though that 8782 may belong to someone else, you realize that family, life, and memories are not bound by addresses either.