If I was to film a movie about my childhood, the opening shots would be a study in slow, wide-angle panning shots set two feet high beginning at the exterior of the yellow front door and then a tour of the interior empty rooms of the house I grew up in.
The camera would especially linger around the entry foyer and living room, and then slowly tilt and dip down, zooming in to the cobalt blue carpet, and fill the screen. It would keep going in until you could discern the individual synthetic strands and then dissolve to the snowstorm of an untuned cathode ray analog television before fading to black and silence. The background sound throughout these establishment shots would be the roar of the untuned television.
When I think of the house I grew up in, that front door and entryway is almost always my first thought.
The rectangular floor in the entryway was set with large, black, irregularly rounded slate flagstones set in dark gray mortar. They contrasted sharply with the living room, a sea of blue wall-to-wall carpet. A dark blue vinyl sat against the far wall and was flanked by brass side tables with white marble tops, and was fronted by a dark blue painted pedestal coffee table topped with a three-quarter-inch thick manufactured light gray marble slab with rounded corners that I must have whacked my head on close to a hundred times.
Round yellow bamboo and wicker chairs and matching glass-topped coffee table filled the window area near the door and a bamboo shelf with various artifacts ranging from a brass mortar and pestle to a miniature statue of Michelangelo’s David sat opposite. A floral patterned comfy chair that smelled of must was next to an overly-varathaned and shiny chest my grandfather had given my mother upon her marriage, its contents never-used silver tableware was against the inside wall and a spittoon containing a staked philodendron completed the archipelago of furniture. The fireplace hearth was set with the same stone as the entryway, except these were more rectangular, more artificial.
To the side of the front door in the entry was a dark wooden frame about two feet wide, six inches deep, and it ran from floor to ceiling. Set within was brown patterned pressboard with an interlocking diamond lattice pattern that acted as a sort of screen. Opposite was a wooden divider half-wall fronted by a floor to ceiling finished board that matched the frame by the door. Set upon the half-wall was a 10 gallon fish tank with a chrome frame that bubbled and burbled as the neon tetras darted amongst the plastic plants and coral skeletons that were slowly dissolving in the soft Pacific Northwest water to kill them.
The pressboard screen was broken horizontally in the middle into two pieces. One moment I was playing by myself in the living room before bedtime and the next my mother was at the door in her nightgown, opening it for my much older brother who was so intoxicated he could barely stand. As they shouted at each other, he lost his balance and fell into the screen, cleanly popping it out of the frame and neatly snapping it in half as he tumbled over the wicker chair to the floor. After that, it always rattled when the front door was shut and unsuspecting guests would pop the top part out if they accidentally bumped against it on the way in.
The front door was also where my father went out and never came back, unless it was to pick my brother and I up for infrequent visits to Walla Walla to visit relatives or drop us off after a weekend, or pick me up for a visit now and again when I was older and my brother was long gone to Texas or Colorado or North Carolina or wherever the Army had sent him.
It didn’t matter when or whether I was coming or going, but my dad in the doorway was always an argument. Arguments about how he wasn’t paying his child support but could buy my brother and I new tennis shoes. Arguments about how rude it was to show up with the girlfriend du jour in tow. Arguments about health care bills unpaid. Arguments about nothing that were thin proxies for whose fault the whole fucked-up situation with the kids and the divorce was.
That yellow door brought the fat, sweaty, beady-eyed behind little round glasses optometrist my mom knew from high school who was there for a date or two and then blissfully disappeared for years until I was so broke I traded pirated software for an exam and new glasses and felt more dirty trying to avoid his probing questions about my mom than breaking the law.
It brought the tall guy with gray toupee who drove a black Corvette Stingray and ran his own franchise selling medical supply kits and who stuck around for a while and seemed nice enough until he moved in and displaced me from my brother’s larger room, which I had claimed after his departure, for a bunk bed for his kids that stayed with us the odd weekend and then shouted at me one day for mowing the lawn the wrong way.
The Corvette was fun to look at and I only got to ride in it once to the grocery store with my mom. She accidentally set off the alarm in the parking lot and didn’t know how to turn it off and a crowd of men gathered with their infinite suggestions and condescending looks until she figured out how to silence it.
Once he and the bunk bed moved out, I reclaimed the room. Somehow, improbably, Mr. Toupee and my father had earlier crossed paths at my house, and one day as my dad and I were driving somewhere we spotted him in the Vette on the freeway.
My dad remarked that he had a new tomato in the seat next to him. My dad used to make me laugh and I thought of Groucho Marx then for some reason, but laughing felt uncomfortable when you see your mom so easily replaced.
My mom sold that house before moving to Mexico for a midlife crisis in 1989. I hope the new owners replaced the front door and that the memories that passed through it are in a landfill or painted over somewhere else.