Travelers Welcome

Travelers Welcome

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Last Night at Home

by David Meuel

Alex put his key in the lock, opened the front door, turned on a light, and saw the empty living room of the house on Clara Drive in Palo Alto. Nothing, not even a stranded scrap of paper, remained.

Three months ago, Dad had moved out and into an apartment in Mountain View. That was about the time he and Mom drove to Alex’s dorm room at U.C. Davis to tell him the news. Both were very calm, saying several times that he would always have a home with each of them. Mom had stayed in the house until the sale was final, and Alex had come home to help her move to her new apartment in Menlo Park. Today, they had finished, and at noon tomorrow the house would officially belong to someone else.

Alex walked into the empty kitchen and adjoining family room that, for him, had always been the heart of the house, and he turned on another light. Everywhere he looked, places melted into memories—the spot where he and Dad sat and watched Giants baseball games on TV, the counter where Mom prepared dinners, the floor where he spent hours drawing pictures of superheroes in his notebooks.

Then he walked down the hall to his bedroom, turned on the light, and looked at the empty spaces where, until that morning, his bookcase, computer desk, dresser, and bed had stood. He loved how his bed looked out into the backyard, where Dad would barbeque and the three of them would talk and laugh and eat burgers or chicken or salmon at the patio table on warm summer evenings.

Yesterday, Dad had said that, for him, the house had become a symbol for the marriage—something he and Mom had constantly worked at but never got right—and that he was glad to be rid of it. The comment saddened Alex. But, as he now understood, he had only known part of the story.

He turned off the bedroom light and walked about the house turning off the other lights, each time noting more places and the memories that went with them. Then he closed the front door behind him and walked back to his car.
Both Mom and Dad had said that he could spend the night with one of them. But he didn’t know if he wanted to. Not tonight. He thought for a moment. No, not tonight.

He opened the car trunk and pulled out his sleeping bag, pillow, and sleeping pad. Then he carried them into the house and into his room, and he laid them out where his bed had been—by the window that looked out at the backyard. As he lay down, he smelled chicken on the barbeque and heard three people laughing on a warm summer evening.

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