Standing in the room with my father, surrounded by the mountains we’d moved, we passed ancient treasures back and forth, examining them in the sunlight.
It was something incredibly special to hold those long forgotten objects in my hands again, they brought a sense of reality to a time that had grown vague and abstract. I followed them like breadcrumbs to the world of my childhood: My little brother in that tiny blue checked robe, laughing and jumping over my dad who rolled toward him in a game we called Steamroller; combing through the pile of legos on the mustard yellow blanket; the toy shelves in the closet where we kept the Knight Rider dashboard and the snap case of Hot Wheels… My dad in his orange and brown striped shirt raking pine needles in the yard; teaching me to ride my bike while camping in Fort Bragg; holding my hand as we walked the trail to the beach… The curtains in my mom’s sewing cubby at the far end of the walk-in closet, where she taught me to make little purses with her scraps; laughing as I made blanket nests and hatched the plastic eggs her stockings came in… One memory led to another, illuminating the dark corners. I realized that this was all unknown to him—he had no idea that I carried these moments tenderly in my heart, that my childhood had been filled with love and that those gestures had impacted me so deeply—the chance to share that with him was priceless.
We found boxes that held my grandmother’s keepsakes: bundles of postcards from her husband during World War II, newspaper clippings, photographs, pictures my dad had drawn as a child. Pieces of his life and hers and the world they lived in.
Over these weeks, as we cleaned and cried and shared these memories, a sense of ease settled over us. It was like finding no monster under the bed. Just like that we were free of the unspoken tensions that had made us feel so distant, free of the inadequacy and guilt I’d been bringing there for years. We were walking side by side again in the same world, talking about funny things we liked and musing over shared perspectives, talking about our hopes and planning projects together. I saw him in a way I never quite could before: the man he is, the man he was, the child—all of them the same regardless of everything that had passed.
Somewhere along the way to adulthood my siblings and I (like so many in our generation) made a silent declaration—we were independent, we were not the perpetual children of our parents, we were not to be ruled by obligations. Arguments about politics and religion and feelings that made us uncomfortable could just be abandoned—aggrandized—rather than acknowledged and set aside like so much junk. We would choose new families and enjoy being seen as the people we’ve become, the edited versions. We never realized we were abandoning parts of ourselves, and in the process picking up unnecessary burdens of guilt.
Our first room was finally complete. The cobwebs had been cleared, the vacuum had pulled astounding amounts of dust from the carpet that rose in clouds as the tank filled, over and over until it rose no more. This room would never again be a graveyard of clutter and loneliness, never again would it be an impassable range of mountains.