Home, not a place, but a feeling.
I loved my family. I loved seeing the girls playing in the yard, I loved having the lines drawn on my walls that measure how they grew, and I loved the smell of home-cooked food that their loving mother always prepared for them. I loved their father, although I hadn’t met him, he was a hero fighting a war so his children could grow up in peace. It was a happy family, and I was a happy house. They looked after me, and I, in return, looked after them.
You may be wondering how a house can look after a family, but let me ask you this. Have you ever heard a door slam? That’s us stopping a gust of wind that could have blown over something valuable. Ever heard the pipes clank at night? That’s us cleaning them so your toilets don’t clog. You ever lock yourself out but miraculously find an open window? That’s right, we’re looking after you. And I loved looking after this family.
But as the old saying goes, all good things must come to an end. And our happiness certainly did.
It started with good news, their father came home! There were tears of joy and plenty of cuddles. Those first few weeks were good. The father went to all of the girls’ softball games and they ate dinner as a family together every night. But eventually the euphoria of being home wore off, and the horrors of war eventually found the father and began to plague him mercilessly.
It started with night terrors; screams and fits that left him an exhausted wreck of a man. The mother was worried about him, but he had begun to snap at her attempts to help. He still treated the girls as if they were angels, but he slowly became less present in their lives. He was tired because he wasn’t sleeping, and he medicated with alcohol because it helped him to forget. He spent most of his days at a bar, and when he wasn’t there, he was either angry or hungover.
The mother and the father drifted apart. They slept in separate rooms, ate separate meals and only were together when it was for their girls. It saddened me deeply to see this family I loved so much being torn apart at the seams by something that I could do nothing to stop. A silent intruder that I didn’t see coming had infiltrated this family and I was afraid there was nothing that could be done to protect them.
It all culminated on one day. I think about that day often, I consider it the worst day I remember. The husband came home from the bar just as the mother was ushering the children out the door for school. She was tired from a worry-filled sleepless night, and stressed from trying to organize the girls for their day. The father looked hungover, but I guessed he was still drunk too. As he teetered up the driveway the mother, having finally used up her supply of patience, berated him. She accused him of being selfish and putting his wife and family second. He yelled at her to stop, claiming his head hurt. But she continued, eventually asking him why he had come home at all. The father struck her. There wasn’t much force behind it, and I could see the regret on his face as soon as he’d done it. But it was enough. The children were young, but I think they knew the significance of what they saw and I’m not sure they’d ever look at their father the same way again. The mother, now silent, ushered the children to the car, they all left for school. Leaving the father standing, swaying, on my doorstep.
The front door was open and as he stepped to enter, I slammed it shut. I was furious. I was a happy home, I had a happy family and he had ruined it. Every door and window in the house slammed shut and locked at once and I’m sure that father must have thought he was going crazy. He eventually lay down on the porch and fell asleep. I think I saw him crying.
He was still sitting on the porch, unable to get into the house when the mother came home that afternoon. After sullenly admitting he’d locked himself out the mother admitted she was only there to grab some things, her and the girls were staying with the mother’s sister for a while. The father did not appear shocked, he bowed his head, offered a muttered apology that trailed off and follower her inside. I was horrified, and heart-broken. I had watched those girls grow up and now they were being ripped from within me. There would be no more marks on the wall, no more shrieks of laughter as they played in the garden and no more bed-time stories, I loved the bed-time stories.
I couldn’t bring myself to stop the mother leaving. She looked so defeated, so crushed, so I let her pack and I watched her leave, the father squeezed her hand as she walked out the door and she smiled sadly at him, but they said no words to one another.
I was furious. The father, this man, had cost me everything I loved. I planned on making his life as difficult as I could. I began working to clog every pipe in this house, I’d ruin myself if it meant ruining him.
But as I began my nefarious deeds, something unexpected happened. The father grabbed every bottle of liquor, beer and wine in the house and poured it down the kitchen sink. I felt the alcohol travel down the pipes, I cleared my recently created blockage and watched the alcohol disappear.
He then went upstairs and showered, and shaved and cleaned the house.
I was still angry, but I was curious to see what was happening. This was behavior that I hadn’t ever seen from this father who had come home so afflicted from his cursed war.
He went back downstairs and he made a phone-call. I could only hear his side of the conversation, but he was crying, and he eventually asked for help. A few hours later a man showed up, they embraced and they talked for hours. The father spoke of the war and what he had done, and how he felt and I felt my anger dissipating. He finally talked about his family, he spoke of his wife with such fondness and such sadness, he said that he believed his marriage to be over, he had crossed a line and whatever that could’ve been salvaged had been destroyed by the weeks of drinking and his absences.
He then spoke of his children, his face lit up as he talked about how much he thought of them while he was away, and how excited he was to see them and hug them again. But his head dropped and he began crying again. All the guilt of the last weeks and months surged to the surface of his consciousness. He had abandoned them just when they thought they had their father back. And he had struck their mother in front of them, he was not sure they would ever want to see him again. But he would do everything in his power if it meant even a tiny chance of being in his children’s lives.
I decided I would help. What good was a house if it couldn’t make someone feel safe, and warm, and whole.
I flicked on the CD player, Uptown Funk played through the speakers. The father laughed, he explained to the man that the whole family and sung this song together one night after ordering pizza. He walked over to the CD player and hit pause, before placing a loving hand on the wall next to it. He made a comment about this house having a mind of its own. I creaked in appreciation.
2 years later.
It’s the girl’s birthday today. Christmas was always at their mother’s, but the father had birthdays. The girls and their friends played outside in the sun. They all ran onto the grass and I turned the sprinklers on, they all shrieked and ran away laughing before the father quickly ran to turn them off. All the parents laughed, including the mother.
The father called everyone inside and sat the girls down at the table. He excitedly went to the kitchen and there sitting on the kitchen counter was a huge, 4 layered chocolate cake. It was poorly decorated, but made with love. And it was cooked to perfection. I would know, I had to turn the oven off to stop it burning.
The father carried the cake, candles and all, back to where the children were and started a chorus of happy birthday that everyone joined in on. The girls beamed. I was whole again, if only for today.
The girls opened their presents in a mad rush of torn paper. There were plenty of toys, and one special present from the father.
He patted his pockets but couldn’t find what he was looking for. I rang the living room phone, he quickly darted off to answer it only to find no one on the other end. But next to the phone was an envelope. He grabbed it and hurried back to the party. He handed the girls the envelope, a huge smile on his face.
The girls opened the envelope carefully, making sure their excitement didn’t damage whatever treasure was inside. They screamed. 4 tickets to Disneyland. I listened as the father explained that the fourth ticket was for a friend, they could bring anyone they wanted. The girls didn’t hesitate as they screamed that they wanted their father to go with them. They rushed over to him and both wrapped their arms around his waist. The father looked at the mother and she smiled, nodding her approval.
The party wound down and all the children went home until it was just the mother, the father, and the two girls left. They talked for a while, not the intimate talk of a family, but happy talk nonetheless. Eventually the girls yawned and they packed up their things to head home. As they approached the front door, I locked it. They giggled together as they struggled to unlock it, the wife put a hand on the wall and made a comment about this house having a mind of its own. I flicked the porch light on and off, my way of winking.
She opened the door and the children said goodbye and ran to the car. The mother turned to the father, kissed him on the cheek and told him she was proud of him. She got in the car, and they were gone. But the father had a huge smile on his face. Today was a good day.
The father went inside, he went to the fridge and grabbed a bottle of water, he left the fridge open so I nudged it shut for him. He went upstairs and got into bed. I’d switched the heated blanket on earlier and it was warm for him. He slept that night, no screams, no fits. I switched the light-off that he’d left on and I set about my nightly duties of cleaning the pipes, checking the wiring and keeping guard.
I was a happy house. And I love my family.