by Rob Vitaro, 1997
Why am I here? Why was I put on this on this earth? They are questions I cannot seem to answer, at least not right now; it feels as if someone does not want me to know. Where do the nightmares end and reality begin? Someone, anyone, please show me…
I awake to the sound of screaming. It is my younger sister, and she stares at me terrified.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“Who are you?!” she screams.
“Alisha, it’s me, Rob!”
“WHO ARE YOU?!” she screams again, only now runs away. It is too dark to see where she goes.
I am slumped in a tall, red-leather chair. I don’t remember falling asleep in it, though I also don’t recognize the room. It is a study of some sort, large and dark; only a lamp on a desk in the corner illuminates the area. I walk over to the desk and trip over something-a heavy book; the title is Doubt. I set it down on a coffee table and give it a scolding look, yet feel as if I am scolding myself. On the desk lies a large envelope, and on it is written To be opened on the Day of Insight. I start to open it.
“What are you doing?!” a voice calls from behind me. “That’s mine! Leave it alone!”
“Grandpa?” I ask as I see him tear the envelope from my hands. I’ve only seen him in pictures before, never moving. “But you’re-”
“Now look what you’ve done! I didn’t want to open this again! This is terrible!”
“What is it?” I ask, bewildered.
“My Purpose! Don’t you know? Where’s your envelope?”
My gaping mouth can only respond with, “I don’t know.”
A hand touches my shoulder. I gasp at the sudden gesture, and turn around to see my father. He is worried, but about what is unknown to me. He guides me into the next room as I turn back to look at my grandfather, who shakes his head in disapproval of me.
We walk into the kitchen of my old house, where on the table rests a letter, a gleaming black machinegun, and a set of three keys. I realize now that my father is dressed in his old Marine uniform, and he is putting on his jacket and military helmet when I ask, “Dad, where are you going?” He hands me the letter.
“I’m going back to Vietnam-they need me there. Don’t lose that letter, you might need it someday.”
I try to read it but the tears in my eyes prevent me from discerning a single word. “Dad, you can’t go, I need you here! What if something happens to you there?”
“Don’t worry about me anymore! And you don’t need me, either! Just take those keys and you’ll be fine. You’re a smart boy, I’ve taught you everything I could, but I have to go now.” He grabs the machinegun and leaves through the back door. I want to run and grab hold of him, never letting go, but I can’t move. I hear the sound of men yelling, helicopters, and automatic fire as the door quietly swings to a close.
I am sobbing now. The tears fall on the letter my father just handed me, and they cover the paper with red spots, as if I were crying blood. I realize what I have done and frantically look for something to wipe the stain away. A man wearing a dark blue suit walks into the room; his red tie has what appears to be thick white stripes, but as I look closer, I see that the stripes are the same word over and over: “SOCIETY”. He smiles devilishly and snatches the letter from me, dashing off. He laughs all the way down the now mile-long hallway. Though I know I have never seen him before, I get the feeling that he has done something like this before to me, and others. I take the keys off the table and travel down the corridor.
The ceiling is stories high, glass, and arched; I can see thousands of stars in the night sky. “Where am I?” I ask. “This house is-.” I stop suddenly when I reach a three-way fork: one hallway each to my left and right, and one directly in front. “Did I really just walk that whole way?” I ask myself, turning back and forth from where I am and where I was. At my feet is the letter that was taken from me; the red spots remain, and I still cannot read what it says. “Thank God he was careless.”
There are signs with arrows and names on the walls, showing what each hall’s name is. The one in front reads, “Vitaro;” to the right, “Malak;” and to the left, “Cieslinski”-all the last names of my family. I am drawn to the longest hallway on the left, the Cieslinski hallway, and find myself headed that way.
The Cieslinski’s are a very old family from Poland. They came here in the early 1900’s, and are a very Catholic people-Great Grandpa Cieslinski almost became a priest! I always look to their example of faith, especially at the hardest times such as death. Of the five oldest people in the Cieslinski family that have been alive since my birth, only one remains today, Aunt Helen, and even she is very close to her time.
Paintings cover the walls of the narrow passage on both sides of me. At first, most of the people in the paintings I recognize: Aunt Lillian, Uncle Shorty, Aunt Helen, Grandpa Cieslinski; as I walk farther down, I don’t recognize anyone, nor can I read the engraved plates, for they are in Polish. At the end of the hallway is an old door; I try to open it, but it is locked. Then I remember the set of keys, and of the three, I choose the oldest looking one; it works, and the door groans open.
“Hey there, kiddo.”
I look at the corner of the room and see my mother’s uncle. He is sitting in an antique wooden chair at a matching desk. The wooden room has stain-glass windows of various saints, all of which I don’t know. A giant crucifix hangs over a warm fireplace, the only light in the room. “Uncle Eugene!” I say, and run over to him. “I just saw great-grandpa Cieslinski!”
He leafs through a Bible. “Dad? Oh yeah, he’s always around somewhere.”
I’m taken back a second. “But, he died years ago, before I was even born!”
He takes off his reading glasses and looks at me. “Well, technically yes. But everybody lives on in this house.” He smiles.
I frown, confused. “What’s so special about this house?”
“Oh!” He gets up, sets the Bible down, and walks over to an ancient dresser. I look at the Bible and see that he was reading the book of John, chapter three; verse sixteen is underlined. He looks over his shoulder. “Best verse in the whole book, you know,” he says, but I can’t read the small words. He comes over to me with an envelope.
He hands me the envelope, and I realize how similar it is to the one I almost opened earlier, my grandfather’s, except that the one I hold seems to have a more modern design than his did; the envelope reads To be opened on the Day of Insight. “Don’t open that until you’re supposed to, now; it’s your Purpose you know.”
“Okay, I won’t.” I become more confused by the second.
“One last thing.” He picks up the Bible and hands it to me. The cover is worn black leather, the pages are wrinkled, and the edges are a fade red. “Take this-you’ll always need it.”
“Are you sure? It’s so old!”
“Ah, the Cieslinski’s have tons of Bibles. Just take it.”
“Okay,” I say, and I find myself walking down the Malak hall, looking at the envelope, wanting to open it now, but somehow knowing I can’t. Suddenly, I realize I left so abruptly. “I never said thank you!” I yell.
“What do you mean?” I hear. “Get over here and give us a hand.”
It’s my grandfather, my mother’s father. There is no door into the room, just an opening. He and my mom are drawing something on a kitchen table. “Grandpa Malak! What are you doing here?”
“What kind of a question is that? I live here! Just like everyone else! Would you get over here already?” I realize now that he is drunk.
I know very little about the Malak family; as far as I can remember, my grandfather is the only one I know the most. My grandmother and he divorced a few years before I was born; his alcoholism played a major role in that. He finally stopped quite awhile ago, but the damage he did is irreplaceable: my mother is a codependent, my aunt has subconsciously blocked all memories of her childhood, and my uncle, who to my knowledge has never expressed his feelings, has ulcers. It is so sad, too, because Grandpa is such a talented man. He is a jack of all trades, and master of one: carpentry. The houses he has built, as well as furniture, additions and decks, are sometimes breathtaking. His artistic talents were passed along to my mother, though for her, it was the fine arts of drawing and painting. My mother is one of the most loving people I know. She is always nice to everyone, even if they are rude, because she knows that it eventually rubs off on them. She also always seems to find something good in everyone, and tries to get others to see it.
“We’re trying to make this here addition on the house,” my grandpa says, “but I can’t figure out how you want it. Now what I done is draw the rough stuff-you got to add the details.”
“What addition to the house-this house?”
He smiles at me and pats my head. “You know what were talking about! She’s gonna make a beautiful addition! We just gotta finish up the drawing.” He hands me a pencil.
Though I don’t understand why I’m drawing this addition to the house, I seem to know exactly how I want it to look. When I finish, it looks as if Grandpa did it, during the years before he became an alcoholic.
“Well I’ll be darn! Look at that! Just like me and your mom!” I look at my mom, who smiles at me with praise, and continues her drawing of a heart. “Now,” says Grandpa, “you just have to find the right wood, but don’t rush that-that takes time.” He now looks at me very seriously, holding both of my shoulders. “But when you find that wood, when you know it’s right, you hold onto that wood and you don’t let go, you understand?” I shake my head yes. “You only find the right wood for this kind of addition once, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. Don’t mess it up like your Grandpa did.” A tear slides down his wrinkled cheek.
“Honey,” calls my mom, “can you go in the cupboard over there and get me the red pencil?”
I try to open it. “It’s locked.”
“Oh? How can we get in there then?”
“Oh wait, Dad gave me some keys.” Sure enough the second key opens the door, and inside is the red pencil and an old paintbrush. I hold the brush, its worn oak handle soft in my hands, and I feel the firm red sable bristles. I know that the brush is important, but not why. I turn around, and I see the two of them smiling at me.
“That was my father’s brush, and he gave it to me,” says my mom. “Now I’m giving it to you.”
“Wow, thanks. I-.” I am cut off by the sound of an explosion and screams that comes from the Vitaro hallway. I run with all my strength past the people who are also running to see what happened. At the end of the hallway is a door, and when I go through, I find myself at a wake, complete with people dressed in black, crying over a casket. I see nothing of remains of an explosion.
I suddenly see my father’s brother standing by the door. “What’s happened Uncle Donald?”
“Your dad was killed in Vietnam.” he says.
I seem to have no reaction to the magnitude of his response. I simply ask, “Is that why everyone is crying?”
“No. They know he’ll be back living in the house tomorrow. They’re crying because he had the deed to the house, and now no one knows where it is.”
“Dad owned this house?”
“No, but he was the Holder of the deed until he was supposed to give it away to the One. But now the auctioneer is here and we’re going to lose the house. It’s so sad-everyone in here makes this house what it is, each person an important part. All of us together make this house.”
I suddenly feel warmth in my pocket. I reach in, and pull out the letter my father gave me before he left; it is dripping with warm blood. I wipe off the blood and see that I can now read what the letter says. “Use what I’ve taught you, son.”
I find myself walking over to the casket. “It’s no use,” someone says. “It’s locked.” I reach in my other pocket and pull out the set of keys, and using the third key, I open the casket. Inside is not my father, but a gold plaque that says Your Inheritance.
People around me begin to whisper to each other. “He’s so smart!” “He’s just like his father.” “How could he have known?” “He found the deed!”
The auctioneer comes over to me. “You found the deed, young man. I guess that means you’re the house?”
“What?” I ask.
“YOU’RE THE HOUSE?”
I feel a tug on my sleeve. I look down and it’s my younger cousin Anthony. “It’s the Day of Insight, Robby! Aren’t you going to open your envelope?” I look around the room and see everyone reading the contents of their envelopes. They smile in reassurance, as if everything is clear to them now.
I set down the items I collected throughout the house: the Bible from the Cieslinski Hallway, the paintbrush from the Malak Hallway, and the keys from my father. I take in a deep breath, and open my envelope; I read the contents, a single word: