It’s been thirteen years since I last stood in this spot. When I left the hotel this morning, I did not imagine that I’d be quite so nervous as I am. My hand goes toward the doorbell, but I cannot bring myself to press it. I stand here recounting everything, frozen in time. If only we could easily forget the past.
I know exactly what’s on the other side of that door. I know it intimately. The smell of the leather chairs perched in front of the fireplace’s gaping maw in the library to the left, the closed double doors to father’s office on the right, and the staircase leading to the second floor under which the sun filters through the hallway from the kitchen windows. I know the smell and feel of everything. I’m afraid to encounter those objects again. The sunshine in the hallway will recede in horror if this door is opened.
I have to turn around. Having the door at my back feels better, safer. I have to resist the urge to bolt and never return; things need to be settled. I’ve been running for too long and I’m tired. I just don’t know if I have the courage. If only the door would open of its own volition and invite me inside. If only I didn’t have to press that bell and wait. I know if I leave now, I will never come back.
My mind wanders inside to the pictures on the mantle in the library. Pictures of us when we were still a family. Mother with her shining, quiet eyes and her hair up in a perfect knot, father with his stern look hiding a smirk just beneath the surface with his hands on my brother’s shoulders… My eyes involuntarily lower whenever I think of him and they do so now. My brother, the favorite, the promising, the oldest, the charming, handsome and perfect, the dead.
Mother is gone, too. She collapsed when she heard the news and never left her bed again. If I could take back one moment in time, it would be the one where mother heard what happened. It’s only fitting that she would follow brother to the grave, and in the process, make my burden twofold. She tried never to show her partiality, but I always knew. I always knew and her death confirmed it. She couldn’t even look me in the eye. She always knew somehow. This knowledge tore at my heart, but there was nothing I could do about it. I was the cause of her grief and her death. It was all my doing.
It’s been thirteen years since I’ve seen this house in person. Thirteen years since brother died and mother followed. Thirteen years of trying to forget and trying to remember. The only one left is father and he’s old and dying, which is the only reason I’m standing here now on this stupid chunk of concrete in this small and stupid neighborhood.
It all looks so much tinier to me now. After seeing the world, this house which I longed to see again just seems average and ramshackle. If you look closely, you can see that the shutters are beginning to peel. There are weeds in the flowerbed and leaves on the lawn. It’s just a regular house in a regular neighborhood with a regular old man dying inside. There’s nothing else to it.
The peeling paint has given me strength. I’m no longer the boy I was then. I am a man and no one can stop me, least of all some wizened old man on the verge of death. With my renewed courage, I’m going to push this damn buzzer and wait for the door to open. I’m not going to run again. I’m on a mission of mercy this time.