When Home Does Not Exist

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A short story on my family's adventure back home after a pivotal part of our lives was lost.

Submitted: May 25, 2008

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Submitted: May 25, 2008

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I can remember a time when a dead silence resounded in what was once a vivacious family. There were five of us: my grandfather, my grandmother, my father, my brother, and me. We all fell into a collective sigh at the entrance of what had become our temporary home. We were gathered in an apartment in Houston, Texas, miles away familiarity, for one purpose. Our purpose was to see my mother conquer her battle with leukemia, but that morning we found out she had lost. We lost our purpose: our mother, our daughter, our wife, our friend. She was dead, and we were sitting on a couch, staring at an empty television screen, with only the question of our intentions.

There passed several moments with only the insertion of awkward questions to break the ominous silence. Described more accurately, these questions were bland statements with no inflections to reveal an expectation of a returning answer. Our family decided to break this habit and get productive. Suddenly, there was a bustle of movement within the tiny apartment for two. My brother stepped outside, disappearing to a place only he knows. My grandmother headed for the kitchen. My dad and grandfather had a sudden accumulation of papers and were harassing the phone lines. I observed.

My dad and grandfather were the ones taking charge of the situation. I stared through them, caught up in thoughts of who exactly they were calling. How many phone calls did it take for one to procure plane tickets if one was assigning someone else to do it for them? They had formed their own secret society, full of mysterious phone calls and somber looks. They would hold covert meetings outside the door, no doubt an escape to smoke cigarettes and discuss how to lighten the catastrophic news to the more hysterical members of our family.

My grandmother clamored around in the kitchen. This visual of her in a foreign environment perfectly paralleled the activities she pursued at home. She presented the idea that no matter your circumstances or where you may be, if it's applicable, you'll always turn to what you're accustomed to. One can be at home anywhere. She opened cabinets, asked us if we were hungry, and named off specific foods she could prepare. She was begging for a distraction, for something to do with her trembling hands. No one answered affirmatively. I watched her as she leaned against the counter, propping her face on her folded hands, and joined me in reluctant observation.

My brother broke the systematic occurrences the remaining four members of our family had established in his absence as he burst through the door. He entered in his usual stance. He began glancing around the room, running his fingers through his hair as he thought out the prospective opening sentence to his audience. He settled his eyes on me, giving me a familiar pointing look that showed strong intentions. "Do you want to go eat at that place Mom took us to?" he asked. This was the dramatic initial question? I replied with the proper name for the restaurant, The Spaghetti Factory, and accepted his offer.

I finally stood and rushed into the bedroom adjacent to the living room. I gathered my camera with the intention of documenting the restaurant my mother had thought of as a serendipitous find in a remote part of Houston. I spent another moment in that room to wipe dried tears from my eyes and run a brush through my hair, a crude effort at keeping up appearances, before running out the door with my brother.

Outside the apartment, the sky presented us with a disheartening demeanor. It promised us bleak, gray clouds and blubbering raindrops. We proceeded on in despite of this. We held insignificant conversations as we waited for the metro. I was on the verge of tears, so my brother did not persist with many questions. He was, however, as stoic as ever. We stared and listened to the inconsequential conversations of others. I recall one in particular; that of a child mimicking the computer generated voice of the train's which stated the destination. First, the train would tell everyone where they were in English, then the child would repeat. Second, the train would reiterate its previous statement, only now in Spanish, which the child would once again copy. My mom would have enjoyed this little exchange; she would have thought it was cute. I turned to tell her to listen; only she was not there.

My brother and I finally arrived at our destination. We sat down, ordered the same food as our last visit, and paused to capture pictures of the architecture in the restaurant that my mom adored. Halfway through the meal, I excused myself to make a phone call. I walked around the corner and dialed the number of a close friend so I could inform him of the horrible incident. I can recall not mentioning the occurrence. I waited for him to ask the question of if I was okay, and responded negatively. When asked what had happened, I burst out with the overwrought, shaking statement of "she's dead." I can't remember the conversation that occurred after, just the realization of how I mimicked my grandmother in informing people of my mother's death.

My brother and I returned to the apartment. Everyone in the family held private conversations over the phone in the bathroom. There they could disturb no one and no one could overhear them. I slept in a chair, refusing to sleep in the same bed I had claimed back while my mother was in the one adjacent to it. The next morning was a chaotic mess. We tried to save as much as we could: the many get-well cards, articles of my mother's clothing, my mother's recently acquired hats, trinkets and gifts, as well as our own possessions.

We managed to arrive at the airport with a collection of actual luggage, odd boxes, and random trash bags. We looked like a hodgepodge of confusion. There was the occasional odd occurrence that would follow alongside our odd appearances. I carried around a stuffed dog my mom had given me on the previous Thanksgiving. I had forgotten it in their apartment on my last visit. My overall appearance was unkempt and childlike. I was mistaken for a ten year old by an airport attendant when just months earlier I had been mistaken for my twenty-one year old brother's wife. Loss aged me in the wrong direction. My grandmother asserted a narration to airport security, as she gave up her lighters, of how my mother was the only one who did not smoke in the family, yet it was her lungs that killed her. Life plays ironic tricks on the living.

The plane ride was a blur of helpless attempts at sleep and uncomfortable shifts in an effort to become comfortable. When we landed we met my uncles, my mother's brothers, in the parking lot. It was a silent, lamentable night. As we walked toward the cars, I turned around, opened my mouth and started to ask where my mother was. I was ready to cling to her arm, guide her to the car, so I could be the one to procure a seat next to her and fall asleep in her lap on the way home. I realized my mistake before I ejected any of my inner ruminations outwardly. This is where it became apparent, to all of us, that even though we were home something would always be missing. This loss was an indefinite change. Our last moments with my mother occurred in the wrong place. That apartment is where we must return to initiate the return of our most descriptive memories.


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