The boy stepped outside onto the porch to fetch a toy he had left there. When he turned and tried the knob on the front door, he found it was now locked. From across the street, I watched him reach his hand through the mail slot in an attempt to turn the knob from the other side, but without success. We both heard giggling coming from the entryway and despite himself, he smiled. Soon after, the door slowly opened enough to reveal a younger girl peering up at her big brother. It was evident that the two had played this game before, with the boy showing no sign of surprise and responding with a kind patience for his sister’s playfulness. I smiled with them, feeling a lightness of heart and giggling, as well.
I had not been in front of my childhood home for quite a few years, having said painful goodbyes to it several times before:
when I bought my first house north of the city,
when we moved my mom to an apartment a month before she died,
and when I returned to request from the current owners that I take the large red rock by the front steps, a rock my mom had acquired on a trip out west and had the perfect story attached to it (curious? Email me for details).
Since then, I had not had a reason to return, until now, with the purpose of capturing my story on film in front of the real places I had lived it.
As I walked away from the camera, I looked back and smiled again. I smiled at the memories of being a little girl just like the one in the house, with a slightly older brother just like him; kind and patient. My brother didn’t get mad either when I locked him out of that same house when he checked the mailbox, nor did he get mad when I locked him in the hall closet around the corner from that same front door. I would put a chair in front of the closet and sit on it, hoping to make the door too heavy for him to push his way out. Looking back, of course he knew why I was coaxing him in there to begin with; he grew up to be a lawyer, with minimal effort, so he is among the brightest crayons in the box. He simply didn’t mind humoring me.
That’s how he was with me. My brother was a gift, put into place before I arrived, knowing how much I would need him.
Taking a final glance over my shoulder at the house, I was overwhelmed by the history it held. Though I ritually buried those years that day when I symbolically dropped rose petals out front, my heart holds onto the bittersweet memories that have come and gone. I imagine the practice of separating out the good history from the broken history to be like the experience of an archeologist on a dig, excavating a fragile find: painstaking, daunting, tedious, time-consuming. I imagine there are losses sometimes, when a small piece of pottery chips or breaks completely.
It’s near-impossible not to look back on the good memories and see them as tainted by the bad, like a film of sadness over the joy. But, if I really focus—or in the case of that moment in front of the house with the film crew—am taken back in time to a specific memory, I can grasp the emotion of then. I can feel the playfulness and anticipation as I turn the lock to the right and duck down out of view. I can feel the joy of being young with my best friend, my brother. I can smile, knowing no life is all one way or another, all good or bad—we all have a mixed story.
While mine has had a lot of loss, I can still call my brother when I need him. He always answers because he knows; he knows what my cult-upbringing was like and he knows how it feels to live with my past. He knows in a way no one else ever can.
We were in it together, and thank God, we had each other.
Can a person be all good or all bad? Why, or why not?
Is there someone from your life whom you’ve categorized as either all good or all bad?
If so, what is the reason for this all one-or-the-other categorization? For example, was the bad so bad that the good has essentially been negated for you? Or, did you love this person so much that the bad has been ignored or hidden away, leaving only the good memories?
What do you think is objectively true of this person?
How have you experienced good and bad mixed in yourself?