I live here
Complicated concepts of home.
When I was 10 years old they trimmed the tree in our back yard. Its verdant branches were reduced bare brown bones. The broad leaves and purple flowers that once painted my sky lay flat on the floor. I nearly had a panic attack. I remember I kept asking my grandparents and my mother why they let this happen. I don’t remember the answer.
I’m sure it was a perfectly sensible response, but in that moment no answer would be suitable for me. I might’ve even cried for the tree. I couldn’t accept that it simply had to grow.
Sometimes I think I’ve made my home in too many places. I’ve left parts of myself in too many people and things. I’ve lived in eight different places in the last 13 years. I don’t know if that’s a lot, I can’t really tell.
As an adolescent, I felt spread out. I teeter-tottered between my mom’s house and my dad’s house throughout middle school and high school. When I moved to Irvine for college, I lived in three different places in a span of four years. Most weekends I’d go back to the teeter-totter.
In all that time, there was only one place I truly felt “home” and it was never the one I was staying in.
My home is the off the west-bound Florence exit of the 710. It has a small front yard and a long driveway. Our porch faces the wires of a telephone pole and the beautiful grayish blue sky of Bell, California. My home has a big tree in the back yard with broad green leaves and purple flowers that fall from its branches like confetti.
This is my grandparents’ home. It always has been. But many people have lived there. My mom, my uncles, relatives and family friends. Before I was raised there, my mother and her brothers were raised there. When I was little, we all lived together under one roof: grandpa, grandma, my mom, my uncle Valdo, my uncle JP and me.
I loved it.
I slept in a tiny room with my mom. It was warm. She read to me every night. Grandpa and grandma would wake the whole house up on the weekends. If it wasn’t the smell and sting roasting chiles, then it was definitely grandpa’s music or grandma’s pots and pans.
Back when the living room had carpet, JP and I would play pretend WWE in the living room. He wrestled, I laughed. Especially when grandma would walk in yelling about how he was going to break something or break me. I’ll never forget those huge wrestling champ belts he would hold up at the end.
Our house was never quiet. They raised me on music. Grandma played KLOVE in the kitchen (or the Beatles when she felt like wildin’ out). My mom had me conditioned to know Luis Miguel’s face before I could form a sentence — she’s introduced me to boy bands.
Of course, I grew up with real bands, too. My uncles made music almost constantly. I remember the cassette tapes from Valdo’s band. Grandpa always said he sounds just like Mike Ness from Social Distortion. Then came the CDs of whatever project JP and Valdo would be working on in the den. I was raised with the constant creation of art in our home. I will always be grateful for their music. Even if it took the form of loud drums in the middle of the day.
The house I remember was full, but not crowded. We hosted parties all the time. The holidays were bustling with food, life and family from far away places. Christmas was like performance art. The painstaking hours my grandma spent making immaculate nacimientos, the chorus of aunts laughing and singing, the colorful characters that filled every nook in our living room. Everything was wrapped in song.
It was my only address for the first eleven years of my life.
Then there were many. And none of them said “Crafton Ave.”
Eventually, everyone moved out except grandma and grandpa.
When I was six, my dad bought a house in Downey. A couple years later, I started to live there for half of the week. The other half I would spend with my mom. Sometime in middle school, my mom moved out of my grandparents house in Bell to a house in Lakewood. Then we moved to a condo in Norwalk. Then she got a house in Downey.
This is how I spent my pre-teen and teenage years. Half here, half there and with two families growing at the same time.
My step mom had my brother Daniel when I was 11. I was no longer an only child. Then she had Olivia and Sophia when I was 15.
The next year, my mom had Aidan when I was 16. Then Agustin a few years later when I was already at college.
Five siblings, two families, one me.
I made my home in them, but I’ll never be able to have them in one place.
When I am with Daniel, Sophia and Olivia, I do not have Agustin and Aidan. When I am with Agustin and Aidan, I do not have the other three. I know that most of them are too young to notice how I manage my time, but I constantly feel guilty for not being in both places at once — despite it being physically impossible.
I know that this is something that I will never be able to reconcile.
I realize that most people my age don’t have such a large age gap between most of their siblings — and if they do, they probably aren’t this involved. I joke that I’m like a second mom to them. Maybe I am. I tell people that I want to be there for them as they grow up, I want to help guide them and celebrate ever milestone. But I think they’ve done more for me than I can ever do for them. They have brought me a kind of joy that makes me feel fully alive. A love that is generous and unconditional.
The only time I’ve ever felt this kind of joy and love in one place is my grandparents home. It’s the place I’ve always gone back to for balance and simplicity.
In the constant flux between my parents, my grandparents were a steady column for me to cling to. Even though they are my mothers parents, they always felt like a neutral space for me and were understood as such by my father as well.
Through my adolecence and my adulthood, I found myself feeling the most whole with them in their home. Maybe it’s some kind of natural inclination to crawl back the the first home you’ve ever known. It’s where I had all those wondrous childhood memories. I went there to put myself back together, even if I wasn’t conscious of it.
I only realized this when my grandmother was first diagnosed with cancer.
I was a sophomore in college. I didn’t know how to cope with this news, but I somehow found my way to an urgent care session at our counseling center on campus. I was completely manic. My concept of safety and serenity was destroyed when I faced the reality that she could die someday soon. I did not know how much of my strength was centered in my grandparents in her until that day. How much of my sanity was based outside myself. They were my home. She was my home.
A few years later, she lost her second battle with cancer. When she died, so did that concept of home.
The house on Crafton is still there. My grandpa still lives there — so does my mom, my step dad and my little brothers. I live at my dad’s now, but I visit often.
Things are much different now. It is no longer the home I knew in my childhood. Shades of my grandmother’s homemaking have faded. It’s also apart of this whole new post-grad teeter-totter I’ve created for myself. But beneath all the new stuff in the house and all that has happened, there is still a home wrapped in song and my grandmother’s spirit.
I still rely on my grandpa for strength, guidance and peace, but he is quick to remind me that one day, he won’t be here either. I have my siblings, too. After long days at work, they are a much-needed burst of energy and joy. They keep me grounded and lifted all at once.
But I now know that I have to find peace with myself. I have to learn to make my home with others, not in them. I started to build a new concept of home after my grandmother died. One strong enough to stand on its own. She now lives in me. Every day, I feel her spirit teaching me to find happiness in my own skin, so that one day I might be a place of serenity for my daughter or granddaughter.
I’m breathing new life where one has left. Like the tree in my backyard so many years ago, I am bare and raw and ripe for growth.