Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2021 finalist Jordan Groocock! Jordan finished 7th grade this past school year. He shared with us a personal narrative story called “The Move.” Enjoy!
By Jordan Groocock
In our household, we had a morning tradition: Dad and I ate breakfast every morning before driving to school. This tradition, or ritual, added consistency to our lives, gave us something to look forward to, and created vivid memories which have stuck with me for years.
It all started with Dad waking me up at 6:30 A.M. I slumped out of bed, strolled to the kitchen in pajamas, slid into the chair. Immediately, I slurped down a glass of milk. I loved, and continue to love, milk.
“Good morning. How’d you sleep?”
“Good. How ‘bout you?” I responded half awake.
I sat at the island in our rickety, old chair. Its strands of straw stick out and lightly poke my skin. After a while, I did not mind it. Outside, the sun woke up and a swirl of yellow color illuminated the sky. Dad was in pajamas and slippers as he placed the Cheerios on the table, dropped two eggs in boiling water, and threw bread in the toaster. The morning is quiet, peaceful, tranquil. Two minutes later, I dipped my spoon into the egg, and the runny yolk immediately oozed down the shattered shell. Then Dad removed the toast from the toaster, buttered it well, and spread jam. He washed the apple, strawberries, and blueberries in the sink, and then chopped them up into our cereal bowls. The milk made a splash. The ensuing clinging of spoons in bowls rang throughout the house.
Dad looked at his watch. “Go get ready. We have to leave in thirty minutes.”
I got dressed in record time, brushed my teeth (sometimes not for the whole two minutes), and packed my bag. We ran out the kitchen door and into the car, hightailing it to school.
We had been doing this tradition since Kindergarten; it was a key part of my school experience. It nourished me with protein and organic food, setting me up for success in the day. It strengthened my connection with Dad, as I could discuss any worries or concerns I had before school. We started and ended our day there; out through the kitchen in the morning, back in at night. It was the axis of our house; the center of 700 Miramar.
* * *
In the middle of fifth grade, however, it felt this tradition might change. My parents started meeting with architects, explaining we were remodeling our kitchen. Over the months, papers stacked up around the house with floor plans, indicating the precise measurements of rooms, doors, and sinks. My parents discussed the remodel plans at cafes and during dinner, in addition to vigorously visiting shops and appliance warehouses. They searched for wood, sinks, marble, countertops, floors, and lights. I grudgingly accompanied them on these jaunts.
“Hmm, I like this one,” Dad would say.
“I like it too, but,” and so on and so forth. I became familiarized with their pitter-patter.
In fact, my parents hired a Ukrainian man named Andrew for their renderings of remodeling designs. A long communication was had, with pictures sent and goals described. Andre, our architect here, was a curmudgeon; grumpy, unfriendly, and hard to talk to. Despite him offering me cookies when we visited his office (which I liked), I did not have warm feelings. From my view, he was an unpleasant, not too fatherly old man coming into our life “to check out our house,” with the intent of immediately destroying it. Hmmm, not great. Sometimes my parents did research online, even once when we were on vacation. I grew frustrated. Why waste our vacation looking at kitchen designs? I thought.
At first, I was neutral to the remodel, but as I learned the extent of the project — the whole kitchen was going to be demolished and replaced — I became increasingly distraught. I wondered, would I forget the precious memories of our soon-to-be-destroyed kitchen? Could we continue our tradition in the new kitchen? Even then, would these new memories drown out the old ones? Would they slowly escape my mind, like a boat drifting into the distance, until falling off the edge of Earth? The unknown was unbearably difficult.
“We’re getting rid of the kitchen?” I sank my head into the pillow. “But I love the kitchen. I love how we have breakfast every morning.”
Mom responded, “But it has cracks in the walls. And the floor is —”
“Yeah, but I might not like the new kitchen. It’ll be different.”
I was not convinced. At the time, I was moving to a different school. This major change loomed over me, and one more change felt overwhelming. I knew this change needed to be done. Still, I worried I would not be able to adapt. Looking back, I realize change is nuanced and complex.
* * *
Soon, the plans started to become finalized. My parents had picked out all the new accessories for our kitchen. Our contractor told us to move out, so we started searching for places. We wanted somewhere close by (so we could check on the house regularly), somewhere reasonably priced, but also, somewhere nice. We were told four months, but this was not certain. This seemed like an unbearable amount of time. Over time, dread filled my body like a disease. I envisioned the kitchen during the remodel as an earthquake zone. Each moment there felt precious, like sweet honey, something to savor and remember: the pricks of our old chairs; the sound of the refrigerator; the old, beige carpet, and the noisy washing machine in the next room. Our kitchen was like a passing person. It had lived its time but was going to move on, whether I liked it or not.
Finally, moving day came. Waterfalls poured down my cheeks. We had been packing for a couple of days, so cardboard boxes lined the floors. We transported our belongings into the car (what could fit, that is), and the moving truck transported the rest. It took multiple trips to bring everything. On the last trip, I stepped in the kitchen one last time. Took in its smell and sights as if all my childhood memories were running before my eyes, right here, right now. I was probably over-reacting, but it felt real in the moment. Looked inside one last time. Said goodbye, one last time. Closed the door one last time.
“Here’s where we’ll be staying,” Dad said, pulling up to our new house. It was red and skinny with a circular window on the upper floor. There was a busy roundabout with plants. We walked to the door, and Dad pulled out his key. The door swung open to the slight smell of stale bread; it felt like this door was leading to a new life. I was hesitant to walk in.
“Here, let’s turn on the light. Where is it?” I was not in the mood to “explore,” as Dad said, but I did anyway. First, I wandered into the kitchen. There were a couple of old-fashioned white cupboards with green handles. A stove in the center. Brown shelves underneath. Behind was the dining room, which was small compared to our old one. It had a large wooden table, where we unpacked the chairs and placed them down. It was not unlike our table at home. The living room was bare. As I climbed the stairs, I could not help but notice the spiders along the stairwell. This added to my disgust. Then, my room upstairs.
I felt sick to my stomach. I imagined Lewis and Clark entering new territory. An uncomfortable sense of unknown must have sunk in, though both were ready for adventure. Was I ready for this adventure? A bird flew by, a car drove up. Everything was silent. I sunk into it. I never knew silence could be so haunting.
* * *
“I will not come in,” I said stubbornly. “I will not.” Over the next months, we visited our Miramar house to check on construction and the progress. The first time, I stayed in the car. The second time, though, I took a deep, brave breath and entered. I went in with a large grimace as if visiting the scene of a car accident.
“Okay, I’m opening the door. Are you ready?” asked Dad.
I thought no but said yes. The door swung open. Immediately, I was flabbergasted. Blown away. Speechless. I could not mutter a word. The house smelled of dust and cement. The kitchen was unrecognizable. There was no floor. No walls. No ceiling. No windows. It was as bare as a skeleton, and through the floor, one could peer into the basement, where stacks of wood and cement lay. So Mom said, “Watch your step.” I almost fell in.
I imagined Dad serving me breakfast in the morning at our island, like it used to be. Three feet in front he stood, boiling the eggs, buttering the jam, chopping the fruit. Not anymore. Definitely not. Now, he stood next to me in jeans and a flannel, with a grimace too. At least my memories had not faded, yet. I brushed my hand against the white tarp along the hallway, where I used to trudge to the kitchen, half-asleep. My beloved map was on the floor. I had devoted much time into setting it up, but now, it was half-chewed.
“Must have been mice,” Dad said, melancholically. Vicious little ants scurried below me. It felt like our house was being eaten alive, chewed down to the studs, crumbled in the process. Like our house was rotting away, a dead body in a graveyard. As I left, I saw little mouse faces on our builders, but am still courteous.
* * *
Our capacity to build new memories is astounding. Like how we associate certain songs with a time in our lives, we associate memories with places. And so it was with Parkmerced. Each day, we made our apartment more like home. One time we watched an Agatha Christie movie. We turned on the TV in the living room, where we watched Friday night movies as we used to. We did not have a couch; instead of being forced to sit on the ground, we set up comfortable chairs and sipped hot cocoa. I was glad to have family by my side. This Friday night felt wholesome. Complete. Satisfying. It was as if this house was our old house on the inside; although the outside was different, the heart of it, the inside, was the same. I still trudged down the stairs in pajamas, half asleep, and had eggs in the morning. Important events happened during our time there, too.
“Wow, this is so loud,” said my Dad in bed one night.
Parts of our time there was odd, as we’d come to find out. That night, there was a party going on next door with music blasting. The police were called. Another time, we heard a fight break out outside. We also learned Parkmerced was a mixing pot of many different people: college students, families like us, elderly people. We shared a communal laundry, rather than having a washing machine in our own house, available whenever. Parkmerced was vastly different than our residential, quiet, middle-upper class neighborhood just five minutes away. This showed me that memories can be formed in all places, no matter how different they might seem.
Progress continued to be made on our Miramar house. Over the months, kitchen appliances started to be installed. The sink spat water again. Doors opened. With each visit, my old kitchen continued to fade away slowly, slowly, as something new replaced it. It was like watching a plant grow. Each time, the plant was slightly more developed, but it took time to fully grow. Soon, we got an estimate for when the remodel would be complete. Then, a rough date. Then a final date.
“Wow, our Parkmerced time flew by,” I remarked one day.
When the moving day came, I was in good spirits. As the moving truck pulled up outside, I couldn’t help remark this was a full circle; we had moved before, and now we were moving back. Like we had done months ago, we loaded all our belongings: chairs, mattresses, our dining table. I looked one more time at the bugs on the staircases (I had gotten used to them), my room (which I now had somewhat warm feelings towards), the kitchen (small, but wholesome), and the dining room (where many vegetables had been forced upon me, in an effort to diversify my pallette).
“Adios, Parkmerced,” I joked as we left. The first morning in Miramar was emotional. Dad fed me breakfast in the kitchen and I had eggs, toast, and cereal. I must admit, I did like the new kitchen well enough. The light fixtures were nicer than before. The new nook was a great place to work. Best of all, there was more space so no one was bumping into the other. Once again, the kitchen became the center of our household. My parents liked our new kitchen, too.
Mom said one day, “The time and energy put into this paid off.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” remarked Dad.
* * *
Two years later and I am in seventh grade. I still trudge from my room to the kitchen in the mornings. Still eating Cheerios, eggs, toast. But no more cracks or rickety chairs. Does it make our house more whole, this way? Cleaner? Nicer? More inviting? Perhaps. My old kitchen has mostly faded from my memory, but I can barely, vaguely remember the shape of it. My parents showed me a picture recently. It instantly comes back and I feel a tinge of nostalgia, suddenly missing it. Acknowledging those emotions is important. But, I remind myself of all the positive memories I have had in the new kitchen. The memories I will continue to create as I progress through middle school, high school, and beyond. With age comes wisdom and acceptance. Even if I have mixed feelings about this remodel, I have come to accept it. I have learned that a relationship to a place is made of the traditions, memories, bonds, and shared experiences built there. It is the people, not the environment, which matter most.
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