My first memory of a house was when it shook me awake at dawn in February of 1971. I sat up and stared out the bedroom door that lead to the kitchen. The cupboard doors swung open and brown dishes, once stacked neatly on yellow floral shelf paper peeling at the edges, crashed onto the linoleum floor. The second door in my bedroom opened to a hardwood hallway linking my room to my mom’s. I ran, heart and feet pounding, and jumped onto her bed. A few seconds later my brother leaped in too, and we huddled under the covers while an orange, tulip-shaped lampshade and our fears swayed to a stop.
Hemmed into a suburban Los Angeles neighborhood of bland, ranch-style dwellings, our white stucco house with brown shutters stood out, and looked miniature beneath pine trees that oozed sticky sap, and whose roots nudged the cement sidewalk slabs until they resembled jumbled scrabble squares. The red barrel roof tiles sheltered nests of baby birds that chirped us awake on weekend mornings. Inside the house, curved doorways sheltered us.
I liked to run my fingers along the fissures of the white plaster walls, laugh lines dug by memories of family dinners, board games, and Christmas mornings. The sound of my mom’s high heels on the hardwood was followed by a waft of perfume, and the glass faceted doorknob of the bathroom, I imagined, was a diamond, forgotten by former royal tenants of our tiny Spanish palace. In every room, multi-paned windows opened outward to our kingdom---the yard.
Warm springs heralded in bumbling bees, and the jasmine blossoms scented our summers. Stately white Calla lilies stood tall next to our wooden front door and the orange tree drooped with sunset-colored fruit. My brother and I preferred the sturdy limbs of the avocado tree for climbing, and it was under it that we camped one night until a water beetle scuttled across my lips and sent me screaming for safety inside the Spanish house. From the lemon tree my mom hung our birthday piñatas and we whacked away at them before eating cake decorated with red and blue frosting balloons that stained our smiles.
When I was eight, the landlord of our Spanish house told my mom we had to move. She wanted to tear it down and build a new house one for her family. We boxed up the dishes and board games. I stuffed my dress up clothes and dolls into a suitcase and we moved just across the street to a boxy beige house. It had plastic doorknobs, and the walls were covered in flower-print paper. The back yard wasn’t large enough for a tree, and my mom’s high heels snagged on the avocado green carpet. One weekend morning, the sound of bulldozers woke me. From a window in the living room I watched the Spanish house disappear.
The ground shook anew.
Gone were the piñata tree and our campsite, the laugh lines int he walls and the diamond doorknob. The Calla lilies that stood guard over our childhood had been ripped out, and the baby birds had flown away