The House on Drexel
At age twenty-one and a half, car rides on family vacations have dominated a sizable portion of my young life. I am curled up in the passenger’s seat with my forehead pressed and sliding against the warm glass, jostling as we cross the uneven pavement of a highway. My dad is seated beside me, his mouth a perfectly straight and disappearing line. In the backseat, my grandma Betty goes on about how beautiful Minnesota is this time of year and how lovely the houses still look and how wonderful it would be to go for a ride on the lakes. All the while, I’m left to my own tugging worry.
It has been nine days since I emailed Curtis Brown Literary my resume and much-revised cover letter. Since then, I have been in an abusive relationship with the refresh button on my phone.
I tear my eyes away and upwards towards the rearview mirror to look at the reflection of us all. Three generations of Morgesons, one representative from each, all sitting in the uncomfortable rental car in which we will probably spend more time than all the destinations combined.
“So, what are we doing next?” Betty asks in that way she does; She’s direct but with a fair point, despite having made us turn off the obnoxious GPS hours ago.
“We are going to the Convention Grill,” my father replies, putting all emphasis on the first word.
“Oh, look how lovely,” comes Betty’s voice from the back seat as we pass another lake. My father and I share another brief look. I face the window again to hide my smile. We have been keeping count of the number of “lovelys” we’ve heard since leaving the airport. We are up to a nice and healthy four.
My phone lights up from an incoming text, and my eyes are quickly pulled to the email icon staring back at me. The temptation is all-consuming. I press my finger to the cool glass of the screen, willing it to show the new message.
The little email symbol makes sporadic, circular motions as the small machine buffers as hard as it can to bring me the answer I want. I’m aware of my own desperation, but I’m also aware that every square inch of Earth has at least the possibility of an internet connection. And our car is moving very quickly.
I hear my dad say my name. “Mm?” I respond.
“Put down the phone, come on,” he says. His relationship with things that need charging is like the one he has with my mom: halfway between indifference and aggravation.
“One minute.” I haven’t blinked or even moved, still focused entirely on that spinning image that forces me into patients.
“Put it away.” This time he’s more serious. I pretend to be deaf, an old trick I picked up in pre-school to the point where my teachers had my hearing tested.
“Andrea.” He could be so impatient. I just need a moment longer.
“Andrea.” I’m about to respond when the page finally loads —
“Okay, I’m done,” I say, relenting and tossing the device into the side compartment of the rental car. I’m all at once angry for no reason other than that’s just how I feel. There’s a beat in which nobody says anything.
The three of us finish dining at the Convention Grill and decide to take a walk around the neighborhood where my dad and his siblings grew up. My dad shares laughs and recollections with Betty as they point out a house which belonged to a family with a parrot. During the warm summers, they would keep the windows open, and the parrot would squawk for hours upon hours until it finally escaped, much to the dismay of the family and relief of the neighborhood.
I lived my first three years among these perfectly aligned homes. I keep looking for something to trigger a memory of mine, no matter how old or insignificant. The closest I come is the pine trees lined up like soldiers against the road, but I realize it just reminds me of tacky Christmas decorations. The neighborhood is sprawling and gorgeous with homes resembling tiny mansions. I’m reminded of that idiom about glass houses, though, I’ve never quite understood it.
We turn a corner and, in the distance, just beyond the massive backyard of a large Tudor house and from the invisible line projected from my father’s forefinger, I make out a vacant baseball field.
My dad is seven years old, and it’s his first T-ball game. All the moms are seated in their nice summer dresses as they fan their perspiring faces. Betty is sitting next to the junior high version of my Aunt Beth, who is paying no attention to the game and is halfway through The Graduate.
The usual cacophony that always accompanies small children playing organized sports is all around. Fathers have been asked to assist the game since it is everyone’s first season. Each of them is stationed at a different position. My seven-year-old dad is in the outfield next to a parent of one of his classmates. Another parent assistant is pitching, throwing solid balls to each of the kids who sometimes manage to hit one.
A rather chubby boy with a beet red face waddles up to bat. As decent pitch after decent pitch flies past the boy, it becomes apparent that he is not going to swing for quite some time.
Another completely centered ball flies straight into the waiting glove of the catcher. The parents, both those watching and assisting, maintain patience in an effort to be supportive. Still, the boy refuses to swing.
My seven-year-old dad turns to the parent assistant beside him. He states, completely matter-of-fact, “This is bullshit.”
After the game has ended, parents collect their sweaty children and begin to head home. “Where on earth did he pick up a word like that?” the one dad asks, still laughing.
A mother bites her lip to keep from saying but gives in. “He’s the coach’s son.”
That he is.
As we continue to drive again, every street starts to look the same. I’m astonished at how well my father remembers this location. He zips through roundabouts and avoids cul-de-sacs like he’s been secretly coming to visit all of his life.
I try to force my attention to the sights around us, but my phone is still mocking me in the side compartment. I attempt to rationalize the possibility of miscommunication due to trans-Atlantic time zones and wonder what exactly a business day is when the phone lights up again. It’s my roommate.
How’s the trip?
I don’t move to respond. I’m beginning to face the possibility that I might not have anywhere to go once I cross that graduation stage less than a year from now. The idea is as foreign to me as my current surroundings.
“Oh Jack, while we’re here, why don’t we drop by the old house on Drexel,” Betty says, interrupting my humming mind.
“No.” There is no hesitation in my dad’s response.
“Just for a minute. We can just drive past it. I want to see what they’ve done with our — ”
“No.” He says again, this time a bit more firm. “We’re not going to stop there.”
I can’t see the disappointment on Betty’s face from my seat, but I can certainly hear it in her tone, though she’s quieter now. “I managed to email the people living there and asked if they wouldn’t mind. They said it was perfectly alright.”
“We aren’t going there.”
The severity of his words slices through the air just as a pop song bleats loudly through the car speakers. The imperfect timing is almost humorous. Not knowing what else to do, I turn up the ridiculous song.
Betty’s husband drank. Come Friday evening, he would be over the moon with his own joy, celebrating the new weekend with a glass of wine. He would grow more and more sullen as every hour of freedom passed until late Sunday night when he would be seated in his recliner, staring bitterly into the fireplace. My dad would be goofing off at the park for hours on end until my grandfather would finally arrive, eyes bloodshot and steps uneven, dragging him home by the collar of his shirt.
He would climb up the stairs, grumbling incoherent words until he made it to the top, leaving his oldest son and wife below staring up at where he’d just been.
“Why don’t you leave him?” my dad asked her once, his words more earnest than ever before.
“I’m being silly,” she’d say, wiping her face distractedly and following him upstairs.
I think of this and try to visualize the house on Drexel, but we never do stop there. Instead, I can only picture my own.
I abandon the inbox obsession and lean back as stale air conditioning hits my face. Despite my lack of worldly wisdom, I have at least learned to keep all applications a secret to avoid the horrible ordeal of having to repeat explanations to anyone who may ask. I tell myself I have plenty of time left — an entire year even — before I leave school. There are much worse things in life. I’m almost convinced.
“You know,” my dad’s voice cuts straight through my inner monologue. “We can discuss this more as the time nears, but I was thinking it makes sense if, after school ends, you might stay with me for a bit. And the dog, of course.” It’s as if he knows everything going through my mind. Though honestly, I’ve never had the best poker face.
“Just to get you on your feet before you head off again,” he says, shrugging casually. It’s the nonchalance of his delivery that reels me in. It isn’t a big deal.
“Sure,” I reply, and I really do mean it. “That sounds like a good idea.” I have options, I think, as we pull up to the massive front lobby of our hotel.
Options are a privilege. Options are the entirety of someone’s twenty-one-year-old existence. It’s not exactly a consolation prize; it’s not even really a compromise. It’s something. I’m very lucky.
Andrea Morgeson is a graduate from Florida State University with a Bachelor’s in English Literature. She currently works as a copywriter and is pursuing her Master’s in Education at DePaul University in Chicago. She is very excited to be making her literary debut with Capulet Mag!