Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Finding Home: Beacon Hill via Issaquah

After a brief break, I'm back to continue this mini-memoir series that began on March 5, 2015 with this invitation: "In celebration of its upcoming publication, I'll be sharing a series of posts exploring my own search for home—the memories and emotions around each of the places I've lived. I hope you'll join me on this journey." That invitation stands! Also, don't miss the companion series, Finding Home: Other Voices every Thursday.

It was summer 1984. I was back in the Issaquah Valley, now in the third house my father built there, a house I'd only visited on rare occasion during the fourteen years since I'd graduated high school. It was no more home to me than the house we'd moved into the summer before my senior year of high school. It was spacious and painfully empty with all nine children grown and gone. I could not live there. I needed a place of my own, a place to build a life with my Mexican husband.
I found an apartment on Beacon Hill along with an ESL teaching position at the same school where I'd worked as a resident assistant years earlier when I studied at Seattle University. The building was a brick three-story walk-up. I was on the top floor, my living room and bedroom windows facing the four way stop and the fire station just across the street. 

The one-bedroom apartment felt massive by comparison to my tiny place in Mexico City. There was a separate kitchen with glass French doors, a large walk-in closet, and an equally astounding bathroom. Despite the street noise and sirens, I was in paradise. The only fault in my new paradise was the lack of a shower. The bathroom had a dramatic black and white tile floor and a large cast iron bathtub, but no shower. A fault my father quickly remedied one Saturday morning shortly after I moved in when he and Mom showed up ladened with copper piping, a shower head, and a solder iron. "Put on the coffee, Honey," he told me, and he set to work.

Like so many things I failed to photograph, I don't have a picture of the shower Dad created for me that day, but the memories of his desire to remedy my problem, to make me comfortable, to welcome me back into the family-fold in the only way he knew how - with his creativity and labor - have stayed with me. If only all problems were so easily solved.

 I collected used furniture and pulled together a comfortable nest for my husband and me, but truth was, he was spending less time in Seattle than back in Mexico City where he worked to finish a university degree. In his absence, I struggled to understand the home and family I had abandoned, and I did so under a veil of tragedy: my youngest sister was missing and presumed dead. I spent time with my parents and each of my siblings still living in the area in an attempt to understand the past and build a new future, but the past was shadowed and the future as unknown as my sister's whereabouts or the identity of her killer. Still, my parents and siblings seemed determined to show me they were pleased I'd returned "home." The problem was, I still hadn't figured out what that meant. Much of the time I felt like a stranger going through the motions of family, torn between my Issaquah Valley roots with my first family and the family I had begun to build in Mexico City. I spent hours alone in my Beacon Hill apartment trying to figure out where I belonged.
It was in that spacious living room on the rust brown velour sofa I'd scavenged from the basement garage that a social worker told me the words I could never be prepared to hear, "Your sister's remains have been found."

I remember little else. I don't know how long I stayed on the third floor of that beautiful old brownstone across from the fire station in an apartment that was noisier than my place in the heart of Mexico City. I don't remember if I broke the lease or stayed six months. I only remember my aunt contacting me to offer a small cottage in West Seattle at a rental rate so low I couldn't refuse. Or maybe it wasn't the price at all. Maybe I was just running from more memories and pain than I could handle.

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