The House (Essay)

Words by Brandon Caldwell.

Inside this house lie cracks that aren’t visible unless you truly search for them, but they’re there. They hide when company comes over, or when the dread of the next bill or a check is washed away by laughter and loud, classic 60s or 70s R&B. Upstairs, there’s a brown recliner that has turned into a makeshift bed whenever fatigue sets in and a white couch that has aged right along with the house. Things come and go from the house, people have come and gone aplenty from the house. Yet, it still stands.

This is not the home of my childhood yet it has essentially been the home I’ve known the longest. The street is still the same. One of my best friends lived literally across the street. I can peek over to the right, to my room for nearly 20 years, and see that only the bed has shifted positions. It was once flush alongside a window until a hurricane and collapsed roof dictated it to be moved. The original mattress was given away and the next one thrown out. The decor doesn’t resemble any of the gold and red chests and drawers I brought here 20 years ago. It’s wooden, more adult and less frivolous. Girls have slept here. Some for a few days. Some for a few months. My parents knew. They probably heard every dirty conversation or loud moment of amazement through these walls. Lows of heartbreak, and orgasmic and spiritual highs of connecting with someone. I’ve fallen in love in this room. I’ve lost love all the same.

In this house, my stillness doesn’t skip a beat. For it’s in the recliner, in this home, that my father normally sits. He wouldn’t have done so often if he were still 61, or even 62. Death has come calling for him, only to go unanswered twice these past four years. He’s 67 now, and often stands at the top of the stairs, asking me questions about what he’s been assigned to do.

“I just say whatever, don’t I?” he asks me one Saturday, as if he wants to attribute all of his random musings to the earliest of Alzheimer’s. I look around for the answer and merely just say, “Yep.”

It is here, in this house, that I’ve seen the two rocks of my life encounter all of the pauses life can bring. Pause in their marriage, pause in their dreams.

It is here, in this house, that I’ve seen the two rocks of my life encounter all of the pauses life can bring. Pause in their marriage, pause in their dreams. I candidly recall them joking and dancing in the breezeway one night. I frequently recall one trudging upstairs after a long night hauling the important, the rich and the beneficial to sleep while his wife enjoyed her space in her own room downstairs. They’ve done this for two decades now, buying into the concept that this house, which will no doubt be their last, has flaws they were willing to accept.

She paused the most when her youngest brother came here. He lived downstairs in the living room, closer to her and closer to me. Our resemblance was uncanny and he was the one who introduced me to hip-hop and rap music from Too Short to LL Cool J. He had a lovable rasp and was a star athlete in high school. Now he had cancer and mostly sat upright in a chair near the fireplace. Chemotherapy drained him, his gold chain still flashing as if it was a siren for all of his old girlfriends to come running for him. My uncle didn’t teach me about love. He taught me about Doggystyle and to be smart. I didn’t worry much about the promise of death, or even the certainty of it. I just wanted to run upstairs and play Nintendo.

My mother came home to announce his passing one June afternoon. She cried hard. When our family went to the funeral, we cried harder. She knew he was gone and merely had resigned to the idea of watching him slowly pass to the other side. He never made 40. She gave birth to me at 35, a damn miracle in itself.

Brandon Caldwell and his father, Mr. Caldwell.
Brandon Caldwell and his father, Mr. Caldwell.

Loss is built inside of our home. The hurricane that cracked ceilings and made us throw a blue tarp on the roof. The foundation that’s slowly starting to slip away from the deck. As time has passed, so has my mother’s need for remembrance, and so has my father’s. Both of them look for days of youth, back when they first fell in love. When they began the awkward path to being married yet never wearing rings to signal it to the world. Their love is confined to this house, this holding pattern where they’re too old to make love and deal with one another in order to make things go by. When he had cancer in one of his kidneys, she was there by his side.

He was the class clown, the one who made everyone laugh. Now, here she was deflecting all of his jokes because she had long stopped finding them funny. Death was serious to her and all her husband could do was laugh it off.

Shit, he made it this far. Death may be a hell of a lot easier than living in some ways.

That brown recliner is where he spends most of his time. Asleep. His routine doesn’t travel any farther than nine minutes away from home. Half the week, he’s in a dialysis center. The other half, he’s asking me how can we keep the bills off our asses for one more month or two. He’s cried before when I’ve bailed him out of situations, not knowing that I’ve cried internally for him more often than I can think. When I leave to visit places like New York or California or even Austin, he calls them vacations. When I leave to those places, his wife attaches them to a phrase, “Your son is living his life.”

I never moved out of this house completely. I’m resigned to it because of them. Their routine has bled into my routine, of often yearning and wondering.

I ask often, am I? I know many places, yet I know this house the best. I know how it moves when someone makes a step. I know how the backdoor has a minor hitch and when my dog races upstairs to fall asleep on my lap. I never moved out of this house completely. I’m resigned to it because of them, because I am their only child.  Their routine has bled into my routine, of often yearning and wondering.

When am I going to detach? Can I?

My mind is restless, then still. When I see my father, a cancer survivor who shoehorned my love for music through his massive vinyl collection, I realize what wasn’t meant for me. I was never meant to take care of him and my mother inside of this house. I was never meant to save his life as a child from drug use, or hoist the two of them on my back through his chosen profession. I was never meant to see him barely be able to bend down or watch his brain misfire on computers or questions that begged for his short term memory to kick in.

I was supposed to go off and do great things, occasionally check in and call. When I landed my first major cover story, he told his friends that his son’s wild dream was starting to pay off.

It’s in this house where the love for writing first kicked up. Where the new pattern of sleepless nights and the thirst for more arose. Never satisfied and never completely sure. Constantly asking questions. I’m told of the nobility that exists in sticking it out, not letting go of the two people who put their neck out for you the most. The transition from when it’s over to when I’ll be taking care of myself and my own family sometimes terrifies me. Yet I yearn for it more and more as the days pass. Some days it’s visions of a woman in yellow. Other days, it’s looking at the woman on stage belting out music of her own.

I fear and cry and adjust to what marriage and love has appeared to look like in this house.

I dream within this house. I fear and cry and adjust to what marriage and love has appeared to look like in this house. I’ll shed tears when the two people who’ve helped built this house are gone and smile when I help create a house of my own. This happy home has stood for 20 years through smeared makeup, parties, ambulance visits and banging on the walls calling for God to bless it and save it from itself.

This house is my family.

This house is me.



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