The dark and hollow emptiness made our tiny house feel like a mammoth cave. Opening the door in the dark, feeling the bareness of the floors and walls, the echo of the clicking lights was almost too much for my senses to handle that late in the evening.
I had left the boys and Mom at the new place of residence. Our nights had been getting later and later as we hastily sorted through boxes while the boys watched things on the computer, occasionally bickering or coming out to tell one of us they were hungry. Then we would realize it was after nine, and knew it would make them more tired the next day.
And all of us irritable.
I had to keep plugging away on the house. The tenants would need to get in sooner rather than later and I suddenly had been thrust into my moonlight job as landlord. I hopped into the van to run to Home Depot, then over to the house. My head ringing from the day, I picked up what I could remember of my list, which I had lost, or packed, and prayed I would have what I needed to start to patch and paint the walls in the boys room.
Dad? When are we going home? The younger one had kept asking for the past few days. I was starting to forget that he was just over two.
Buddy. We are home. This is our home.
No! It’s not!
His little voice would become loud and shrill all at once with no fuse in between.
Stop Yelling! The older one would scold him.
Stop Parenting him! I would scold.
Stop talking. All of you. My wife would float out there. But her reasoning would inevitably fall away to more arguing.
After packing up more of the loads of residence leftovers from the corners of the rooms, and bagging more trash, I had finally created enough space to start to see the tired old walls. After three plus years there, it is hard to describe the lines and dings you don’t ever notice; the bruising from furniture, the holes from pictures and things mounted on the walls. Secret corners where one of them would draw a letter on the wall. Things are stained from the sun, or spills, or sprays. I started to go through with the instant putty, trying to visualize where the pictures had been and map out where my eyes were straining to look.
After I was confident I filled the ones in the Living room, I made my way to the boys room. Patching in the room, wall by wall, filling in all the holes and dings, and trying not to make a mess on the floor. I reached the door and pulled it back to reveal the large narrow hole behind it. The exact shape and size of the door handle. It was pushed perfectly in the heat of an argument with the older one about respect.
He has no respect for his parents! I implored my wife. And I can put up with a lot of things, but I refuse to raise a disrespectful child.
I know honey, but you two yell all the time at each other. He’s only 5! She would argue
He cannot talk back to me or you, and there needs to be real tangible consequences for it! He screams I ‘I hate you’ when he doesn’t get his way and storms off! If I had done that when I was his age…
I trailed off. Truth be told, I don’t know what would have happened. I remember being swatted once or twice with a wooden spoon, and maybe getting the soap in the mouth once. But my father never hit me as a child. When I was a teenager I got slapped once or twice because I rightly deserved it. But even that paled in comparison to a real smack. Sure I can remember him upset, and cracking his belt, but it was much more done with calm words and the understanding you just did not do it.
I was never your friend raising you kids. My father once said as he sat with me out behind the house on a day that the older one was particularly mouthy towards me in passing. We had fun, he went on to say, but I was always your Dad. Not your friend.
I put the sticky steel patch over the hole and pressed it in place. Once it was firmly on, I coated it in patch and spread it like icing on a vertical cake until the lines more or less blended into the rest of the wall.
Dad? Am I going to still see my friends as school? The older one asked me.
Well, you’ll see a couple maybe, but you’re not going to the same school. Remember? You’re going to Mom’s school. And you’re going to meet new friends and even be able to walk there with her every day! Won’t that be kind of cool?
Yeah, but I am going to miss my friends. Maybe I can go and see them all the time?
Well, we can see. You might not have the time to. It can get tricky. Are you nervous?
I know, but I think you are going to love it.
The paint was slightly darker then I thought it was going to be, but it did make the walls start to look clean. I cut the lines slowly and carefully into the night, and then started to bring the roller up and down wiping away the years on the wall.
The bruises and dings.
The letters practiced in pencil.
The tics on the door frame marking different heights.
Making the patches blend in to the rest of the wall.
When I finally made my way into the new house, it was still. There were all the familiar pieces of furniture just in different context. I opened a beer and stood outside in the new night air of our place. How quiet it was. I slid out of my shoes and went to the bedroom to see the younger one sleeping on my side of the bed. How long he had gotten this summer. I kissed him on the head and tucked him in, then went into their room to turn off their light.
The older ones hand draped through the slots in the loft bed rail. I reached up and took it and gave a gentle squeeze, he, without opening his eyes, squeezed it back. And I switched off the light, sat in the darkness of their room, and listened to his deep breaths.