I’ve been tripping down memory lane recently for a reason. See, this time of year, 10 years ago, I went through a pivotal period in my life: the foreclosure of my childhood home. I truly believe I recorded the day and my feelings about it in one of the many old journals I kept, but seeing as how I can no longer find those notebooks, I’m going to have to just write down what I remember now.
Losing your childhood home is traumatizing in general, whether it be by choice or by force. When I was a teenager, I think we all thought we would have the house on Windrush Drive forever. We lost it due to a series of unfortunate events – my parent’s divorce, my father’s subsequent grudge against my mom, which ultimately manifested itself in few child support payments and a total stop in mortgage payments. My mom did her best to reinvent herself as a businesswoman and a florist. But eventually, after several years of legal haggling and money juggling, we had to leave.
I still dream about buying back that house. I dream about one day winning the lottery or writing the Great American Novel and making millions. The house itself was unremarkable, really – a four bedroom home in a tract neighborhood. But my mom (seeing as how she’s such a great florist now) was equally adept at landscaping and interior design. She tiled the hallways and kitchen with Italian tile, put in oak doors on each of the rooms and for the front door, had a skylight installed in the living room, had bookshelves built the entire width of one living room wall, covered the backyard patio the length of the house, had a dining room added to the house, had a sun deck built along one side of the slope. A pool was added to the house, built the year I was born, early on, and later a pool house was added which became storage space, where we even stored 40-ounce malt liquor bottles charred during the 1992 Rodney King riots – they were casualties of a torched 7-Eleven owned by a friend of my dad’s. I had a playhouse when I was a child in the back of the yard, later replaced with a huge gazebo. And that was just the hard construction stuff.
My mom, if she’d been a man, probably could have been a very in-demand landscaper. She bought bonsais and had them put in heavy cement planters all along the pool area. We had a small sago palm garden in one side of the yard, while the gazebo was flanked by guava and lemon trees along the back of the yard, which was all cemented over. The farthest corner of the yard, enclosed by the storage, was “the forest” – a grouping of lush banana, guava, calamansi, lemon, grapefruit and apple trees, with a floor of small decorative stones that we learned to walk on barefoot. On the other side of the yard, next to the garage, my mom established a small Japanese garden, complete with the concrete statues and little bridge that I always stepped on. And the front of the property? Man. She had the entire front yard perimeter lined with bonsai juniper trees, in brick planters. The one plot of grass on the property surrounded another Japanese garden in the front.
Living at that house was a bit like living at a resort – aside from all the silly kid chores and stuff, of course. I remember once whiling the day away on a swing, reading a book in the shade of a guava tree, and falling asleep. I awoke to hear my mom speaking loudly on the phone – my high school nemesis at the time thought I’d been crank calling her, but my mom knew I’d been out on the bench, reading all day. In fifth grade, my class took a field trip to my house — no joke! — to take a gander at all my mom’s cool plants. Everyone took a can of Pepsi back with them — my mom had a veritable pallet of Pepsi in the garage. My name is even carved into the cement near the sliding patio doors.
Our last hurrah at the house was my 18th birthday. My birthday is in May, but my party was in July. We had a luau and I didn’t wear a grass skirt, thank you very much – but I did wear a wild flower-print, floor-length dress that was a bit embarrassing, but not as embarrassing as the pot-bellied hula dancers from Covina.
Just a few months later, we had to somehow pack up a house we’d lived in for 18 years. We had to find a place for the concrete-planter bonsai juniper trees that we could take with us – the rest, we just had to suck it up and leave behind. By that time, also, my mom had a huge store of floral supplies. I hardly remember packing, honestly, but I do remember repeated trips to a storage space, to the homes of friends who had agreed to lend us some storage space. We even took the oak doors, except for the front door. Looking into my mom’s empty, wall-length closet made me feel lost.
The year after – 1997 – was the most difficult ever, and not just because I’d left my childhood home. I was still taking classes at Fullerton College and had a part-time job in Fullerton. My mom refused to take my sister and brother out of school in Hacienda Heights, where my older sister and I had also gone through elementary, middle and high school. So she made daily treks from Temple Street in L.A. – where we’d ended up in a one-bedroom apartment – to Hacienda Heights and Fullerton. During the summer, I learned to take the train back to L.A. and spent countless hours in the computer labs, which ultimately led me to where I am now. And honestly – going from the 4-bedroom house to the 1-bedroom apartment wasn’t the worst part. There’s also the brief residence of my myself, my mom, younger brother and sister, two aunts, two uncles and a cousin in a small storefront with no residential bathroom. But that was thankfully a short-lived memory that I’d rather not revisit.
A few years ago, when Zillow became popular, I looked up my old house. The house, even back in 1997, was valuable – all the upgrades and its close proximity to the Hsi Lai Temple made it extremely valuable. When the temple was finished in 1988, my older sister told us a story about how someone came to our door and offered her a $1 million for our house. Anyway, according to Zillow, neighboring homes have recently sold in the high $700,000-$600,000 range. It also says my old house is only worth about $560,000, which I know is off. What hurts most, though, is the sale history – $30,000 in 2002. Ouch.
Anyway. I wrote this for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is to look back on where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. That reason has been the bedrock of my compulsion to blog/journal/whatever I’ve been doing all these years. But also to just to mark what I once had and how easily it was lost. Doing that makes it harder to take things for granted.