Grey Matter When people ask me where I grew up, I answer with a lie—Seattle. In reality, I spent my childhood in the lesser-known outskirt of Issaquah, Washington, a title that holds no fame except for the milestones of my own life. Drive for 20 minutes going east on I-90 and you’ll find my exit: past the park’n’ride, past the tattoo parlor, past the teriyaki shop, and finally, past the decaying wooden sign that marked our turn, leading deep into the forest where my family’s house awaited. The seemingly long drive home may have proven inconvenient and mundane to some, but to me, the winding road and the creeping shadows of the woods created a playground for my imagination to run rampant. I wouldn’t see trees growing from the earthy soil; I’d feel the presence of soldiers standing confident and tall, ready for battle. And I wouldn’t hear a raging, dangerous river; I’d swim among sprites in a murky underwater oasis, dodging Lili pads and stones as the current guided me into the exciting unknown. There, at the end of a long, paved driveway lovingly embraced by overgrowth and perfumed with the sweet scent of pine, rested my castle. The dark green shingled walls and double framed red front doors didn’t welcome you in with a friendly smile and trite greeting. Instead, the darkness beckoned you to enter…if you dared. And those brave enough found a pleasant surprise of comfort and repose, with spacious living rooms, tall ceilings, and unexpectedly colorful walls—mustard yellows, pear greens, carmine reds. The chill of tile on your feet, the creaking of hardwood floors, and the constant overcast of Washington seeped in through the numerous windows, leaving a sort of comforting emptiness. I filled it with my own kind of sunshine.
This structure held many of my “firsts,” displaying them like trophies along walls of the endless hallway and in the indescribable, robust smell of a beloved home. I first rode a bike in the lush grassy field called our backyard, on a rare sunny day, with the cheering of my parents nearby and a brother I feared I might trample. I first lost a tooth sitting at our wooden kitchen table, biting into a gooey, flaky strawberry cream cheese Toaster Strudel. I first hosted a birthday party, with pirate-themed paper bag puppets, eyepatches, and a treasure chest piñata. This home held so many beginnings, so much promise. Happy childhood memories trickled from every corner, and the house became a part of me—it created me. My sea-themed bathroom with a mural of dolphins and whales and turtles established in me a mystified wonder of the ocean. The suspicious hole in the wall of my closet provided promise of a secret world, like my own personal Narnia, engendering a wild imagination and the ability to turn the simplest things into something magical. The stained glass floral light on the ceiling of my bedroom, which I stared at every night as I fell asleep, instilled an acute attention to detail and an appreciation for life’s little surprises. In 2007, my parents told my two older brothers and me that we would move to Boise, Idaho, the following summer. A place of sunshine. A place of more beginnings. I never gave any trouble about the move or complained about leaving friends behind. I only felt excitement for a new adventure and a new house to transform into a home. We kept our Issaquah fortress for many years after the move—a reason to appreciate the economic crash of ’08. Every time we returned to Washington to visit family or friends, which we happily did often, we would nestle into our place on 33322 SE 114th Street like no time had passed. The house never lost its magic.
Much of our furniture remained, and my bedroom felt eerily clean with only a bed, wooden table, and pink scalloped mirror, absent of all my toys and personality. But the walls still whispered a subtle pink. The floral stained-glass light still filled my room with a warm glow. The ocean bathroom still bubbled with sea-life. When returning to Issaquah and taking those first steps through the red gates of our front doors, I time traveled. At last! A machine to transport us across the waves of space and the unknowns of time. Upon arrival at the house one particular visit, I discovered a green beanie resting beneath the wooden table in my room. It had fallen there and collected dust for who knows how long. My favorite hat, I had searched for it in our Boise house for weeks and presumed its lost fate. But of course it would be waiting in Issaquah. It was as if the castle called her little princess back, into the safety of sturdy walls and the protection from the evils that accompanied aging. As I held that beanie, for just one moment, home wasn’t 489 miles away in Boise; home belonged back in our dark woodsy house in Issaquah. After a few years, my parents decided to start renting the house to a family of three—a father, mother, and teenage daughter who rode horses at the arena just down the street. I didn’t like returning to Washington and having to stay in an incommodious hotel room when our perfectly cozy house lived just down the way. I felt silently betrayed that someone else dared call our fortress their own, filling it with foreign junk and meaningless objects. Yet, there still lingered a small comfort knowing the house legally belonged to us, even if strangers had invaded it from a distant land. But alas. Our great kingdom eventually met a time for its demise. My brother and I visited our personally-renowned Issaquah last summer to say our final goodbyes—our childhood home had finally sold. A worthy and fair price, my dad told me plainly, but no amount of the
finest jewels or the greenest paper could equal the emotions that echoed off the hardwood, the memories that reverberated across the rain-stained windows. The renters, due to make a graceful exit the following week, allowed me to tour the fortress one last time. I walked slowly, gently through every room. Opened every drawer. Touched every texture. Silent tears dripped longingly down my cheeks, and my heart felt heavy from carrying the weight of so many memories. Each smell, sound, and sight was emotionally charged and bursting with reminiscence, as if one wrong tip-toe would explode a world of sentimental grenades. I passed through my bedroom, now turned into an office and defiled with black paint—knowledge of which I had learned previously and an anger that had since healed into a scab. I boiled over in relief to witness the everlasting ocean-scape of my bathroom. My brother and I wandered the evergreen exterior of the house in quiet contemplation. We checked to see if the apple core we had planted years ago ever sprouted into the tree we so desperately desired—it hadn’t. I wondered what had become of the bear and her cubs, the bobcats, the howling wolves that called this forest home just the same as me. I questioned just how many soccer balls we lost in the steep graveyard of thorny blackberry bush overgrowth. I inhaled the twang of wet bark, the mustiness of constant moisture, the color green. I thought of what remnants remained of the many fortresses my brothers and I spent hours building in the beguiling forest. When the dreaded time to depart finally arrived, the renter called to me, saying she had a gift. Unforeseen, I waited as she returned with a large dish in her hands—the stained glass, rose covered light from my bedroom. A broken piece of my time machine. I don’t think that woman could ever understand what that gesture meant to me. It urged more bittersweet tears, but more
importantly, it meant a piece of my beloved home could live on with me forever, not just in memory. It meant I could carry with me a symbol. For I so loved that Issaquah house that it came to symbolize something to me. It epitomized my magnificent childhood. It represented a time before the grief of lost loved ones, before the pain of heartache. Before stress, worry, anger, fear, rejection. My castle stood for a time of wonder and hope, where no turret or dream stood too tall. Now when I visit Washington, I feel a dull ache knowing that era of my life is over. Childhood, and all its innocence and carefree adventure, exists only in the libraries of my mind. Sometimes the numbness of pain feels overwhelming, but while Issaquah exudes a subtle aura of sadness, nothing can strip me of the happiness I cultivated there. Every grey, overcast dayâ€”no matter where I amâ€”transports me right back and fills me with inexpressible joy. Though sometimes hard to admit, and even harder to accept amidst the struggle of hardship, it is because the loss of childhood that I am able to love so deeply, think so profoundly, explore so passionately, and feel so intensely. Without this sacrifice, I would not be able to so enjoy the new wonders and possibility of adulthood. I cannot say where the future will lead, but like the river flowing as an arrow towards my Issaquah home, I can guide myself in the direction of an exciting unknown, holding my stained glass light in one hand to brighten the way.