We left Texas when I was 14 years old, just before I turned 15, the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school. I felt like I’d been forced to leave a lot behind; Duncanville was the first place we’d lived that I really felt connected to, the first that felt like home. I had friends; I had good friends. It ticked me off to no end, once I realized what I would be leaving behind. Who I would be leaving behind.
When we got to CA we stayed in a multiplex while the hunt for a house to buy was on. I was bored out of my mind and spent a lot of time watching TV and writing, and one odd afternoon making up math problems, because God knows I loved math. I loved it the way one loves a root canal; that’s how bored I was.
Still, bored or not, I really didn’t want to go looking at random houses. In typical teenage wisdom, my thought was just go buy one and be done with it; it’s rooms and a kitchen and bathrooms, any one was just as good as another. I would have been happy to stay in my room with my pen and paper, writing my way out of the frustration wrought from being plucked out of a place where I was perfectly happy in order to move to someplace I might not be.
I often wasn’t given the option. If my dad said to get dressed, we’re going house hunting, I got dressed and went house hunting. He just was not someone to whom a kid said no.
I don’t remember how many houses we looked at; it was more than a few, I know that. I mostly remember finally getting a house and moving in, and settling in so well that it quickly became home. It was comfortable. I loved the school I went to. I made friends, lifelong friends. Orangevale is still what springs to mind when I think “home.”
Tonight I sat here playing online with the TV droning on across the room from me; I had it on mostly for the noise and wasn’t paying particular attention to it until a news story about Test Drive House Hunting came on. Some sellers are now offering potential buyers the chance to spend a day or two in the house so they get a better idea how it fits them; they can have a party, let their friends weigh in, or just sit in the yard and soak up the neighborhood atmosphere. Whatever works for them.
I blinked, and the squeaky door in my brain that I often keep locked to save my own sanity creaked open, and some very clear images clouded my vision.
Standing in a dark living room, watching my dad look out into the back yard, a teenaged boy I’d never see again spread out over a recliner as he oozed pretended disinterest in the people who might buy his house.
Wandering through empty bedrooms in a much brighter house, peeking in the closets to see how much room there was.
Cringing in an unclean kitchen, wondering if there was anything alive in the cupboards and drawers.
With every one of those I can see my dad; in the darkened living room he turned to me and semi-shrugged, telling the real estate agent that we’d think about it. When we were outside he said, “Sure was dark in there, wasn’t it? It didn’t feel right.”
“No room for your things,” in the house where I peered in closets.
Leaving the kitchen with the questionable wildlife, “Your mother would never let things get like that.”
I can hear his voice; I may have the exact words wrong—I surely do—but I can hear him speak, and more than that, right now I can see what I didn’t see then.
He was carefully gauging how I felt about the places we looked. We never made it to the bedrooms in the house with the too-dark living room. He turned and saw the look on my face, the near-fear that this would be the place they chose. He noted my disappointment with the house with the small closets. He acknowledged my disgust with the dirty kitchen, the reassurance that I would never live in a place like that, not under his watch.
When we looked at the house that became home…we looked the whole thing over. Inside and out. He and my mom listed the things they liked, but this time he came straight out and asked what I thought. Was this the one?
He could see I was actually excited. I’m sure he paid attention to my sister’s reaction, too, but what I see in front of me right now is my father brightening because I loved that house right off the bat. I was excited about it; I asked if we could keep the basketball backboard over the garage, and I said I would help paint the back patio cover.
He made an offer on the house right then and there.
I don’t pretend that he did it because I wanted to live there. But it was a major factor.
My dad was never demonstrative. I don’t remember ever hugging, not until I was an adult with a kid and we were moving away, courtesy of the USAF. I don’t think he ever came straight out and said he loved me. I don’t recall him ever touching my mom. Touchy-feely was just not how he was.
They didn’t drag me around to look at houses because they wanted to torture me; they didn’t do it because I needed to be ripped away from the story I was writing or from watching the Olympics on my tiny black and white TV.
They wanted me to like my next home. My dad in particular wanted me to feel safe there, to love it. He paid attention to the look in my eyes, the disappointment or excitement on my face.
Thirty seven years later, I see what I didn’t see then.
What I wanted mattered. What I needed mattered even more. I know that when’re you’re just barely 15 you’re supposed to by 80% brain challenged, but I wish I had seen it then.