“Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.”—Simon & Garfunkel
About year ago,* I got a text from my brother, a professional musician who was on tour somewhere:
Brother: “Set your DVR to record House Hunters at 1 am. Our house is on it.”
Me: “You mean our old house in Grosse Pointe?!”
Me: “How do you know?”
Brother: “Lawrence was watching it. He took a picture of the screen, sent it to me and asked ‘is this your house?!’ Yep, it’s our house.”
Me: “How?…What?…For real?…I’m freaking out right now.”
The rest of the evening I was excited, perhaps a little nervous, in anticipation of watching anything that featured my old house. I posted something on Facebook that I still remember: “My brother just informed me that our childhood house will be featured on House Hunters tonight. Mind blown. DVR set.”
A house I hadn’t set foot in nearly 15 years. I had no idea what to expect. Would it look the same? Would it look completely different and I would recognize it? If I didn’t recognize it, how would I feel? Would I feel nostalgic, maybe a little sad and melancholy, especially since our mom had died in 2012? Would I relish and revel in childhood memories, especially since our mom had died in 2012?
My house was on national tv! What are the odds? I had never watched House Hunters before. The basic premise (that I discovered while watching, not bothering to look it up beforehand): Each episode features a person, couple, or family touring a few different houses with the desire to buy.
It came on at 10 PM PST so I stayed up to watch it. Our house was the first one featured. They were touring houses in the middle of winter, a party sunny day with snow everywhere. Having lived in Seattle for 10 years, and in big cities for most of my adulthood, and away from any winter Midwestern weather, it seemed a world away. Big stately homes, well-manicured lawns, close proximity to Detroit but not Detroit. Definitely not Detroit.
When my parents first moved to this tony suburb of Detroit, they were able to buy a house. If they had tried a mere year earlier, they would not have been able to because they were Asian. Because of racial covenants in housing. Where would we have lived if my parents had gotten married a year earlier and tried to look for a house? Where would we have lived? Not Grosse Pointe. Definitely not Grosse Pointe.
I wanted to like the young single white man touring homes—my house—because I didn’t want anyone shitty walking through my childhood. His name is Andrew. Andrew and his female friend–the wife of a colleague or something—touring my house on national tv. Perhaps he is genuinely a nice young man, but Andrew officially causes a physical reaction in me, a negative physical reaction that makes me uneasy, uncomfortable, and on edge. Ok, maybe it’s not Andrew and his friend, but what they represent and symbolize…that there are new generations taking over my house. White people colonizing my home. Also, they can’t stop talking about single Andrew and the new wife he will eventually procure to build a new life.
And then it happened: Andrew, ladyfriend, and the realtor walked through the front door and I didn’t recognize anything…at first.
My parents sold our house 15 years ago so and since then it has changed owners a few times, and the majority of the rooms have been updated. Inevitable, I get it. But it’s absolutely surreal to tour your old house on tv. To recognize most of the floorplan but not all the rooms. To recognize the floorplan of your old bedroom—which has now become “the big guest room on the 2nd floor– but it looks completely different because your old canopy bed, Duran Duran posters, and pink carpet are no longer there. All you see is an empty room with new flooring, imagining what sorts of new furniture would fit in there. To see your parents’ bedroom and bathroom completely unrecognizable. Where’s the king size brass-type bed, the old lamps with the peacocks on them, the tv and knock-off La-z-boy, and the yellow quilted chaise in the other corner? What you see is a new walk-in closets (for the new wife) and a completely new master bath with a heated floor. Where’s the mustard yellow tile? Where’s my mother’s old vanity with the splash of lightbulbs, where I would spend hours trying on her jewelry and makeup? And sneaking into her closets to try on her high heels, which are impossible to walk in when you’re 10 years old and your whole house is carpeted.
And they went down to the basement.
“I don’t know about this, we’re not off to a great start.”
“There’s a lot of space down here, but the whole basement will need to be re-done.”
“The basement is absolutely awful. But it has potential.”
That glorious, tacky basement was 100% in tact. The foundation of our house was preserved.
With it’s fake wood paneled walls, hard floors, the light we had over our old burgundy pool table. Those were still there! It was completely empty of course, but my mind filled with images and memories and sounds as they were critiquing it. With artwork from my brother and I from when we were kids. With the dark wooden pillars, the broken pinball machine, the pool table, the air hockey table, an early version of step machine, the old play room, the pantry with the two extra refrigerators, the bar with the big mirror, with old alcohol bottles that we’d swipe drinks from and thought we were so cool. That basement that was big enough for me to strap on my rollerskates and skate around laps.
A prominent, resonant memory of that basement is the music. The basement where my brother and his series of bands—from 6th to 12th grade—rehearsed every week. His duo with Lawrence (yes the same Lawrence who texted my brother about House Hunters), playing covers of the Cult. The Plague—middle school cover band, playing such classics as “White Room” and “Paradise City.” One Way—a punk band he drummed for; they played a few gigs at 404 Willis, this tiny DIY punk venue in Detroit that’s not there anymore. Mr. Furley and Crushed Velvet—high school cover band where my brother and his bandmates raided the Salvation Army and wore—you guessed it—crushed velvet on stage. Third Stone—Jimi Hendrix tribute band. Loyal Lawrence and my brother played in all these bands together. They were loud, mostly talented, and determined.
I turned it off after the second house was featured. I have no idea why. Why didn’t I have a desire to find out what happens? Would Andrew pick our house? Maybe I didn’t want to know. Maybe I was too exhausted—physically and emotionally. It was way past my bedtime.
The next morning, my friend—who had watched the episode with her mother—posted on my wall—“he bought the house!”
Me: “How?…What?…For real?…I’m freaking out right now. Fuck!”
After work, I rushed home and watched the rest of the episode. Andrew bought our house. Andrew lives in our house right now. The end of the episode showed Andrew in the family room setting up his speakers and toasting his new house with some friends in his new kitchen.
Since that first viewing, I’ve watched it a few more times, each time noticing new details and personality quirks of the guests. I also notice my emotions when I view it again, and know that I experience hesitation, and only watch it if I have to—when family’s in town, when I need to remember a detail. I watched it with my brother and we both freaked out together. When we watched them go down to the basement, my brother and I raised our fists in celebration. Yes! A room that we recognize! A room that hasn’t been touched!
Deal with the beautiful tackiness, motherfuckers!
The last time I watched it struck an emotional chord with me because I was already hesitant. What struck more this time was the privileges of these people. My house was on the market for $725,000. A bit out the price range for Andrew, but nonetheless it was enough in his price range to warrant a walk through, decision, and finally a purchase. This white guy living in this house, maybe with a new wife, maybe with a child in my old bedroom. In the house that my parents worked hard to save up for, where my brown, immigrant family lived for 20 years.
I wonder if he has already gutted the basement, torn down the fake wood paneled walls and put up framed pictures of Ansel Adams and vintage posters of Detroit. I wonder if the floors are now carpeted where his new wife and new baby could putter around comfortably. I wonder what new memories and traditions he’s making. I wonder if he ever thinks about who used to live there.
I wonder if there’s a support group for people who watch their childhood memories being toured, appreciated, critiqued, and bought on national television.
*(I wrote this piece in 2014. According to Zillow, our house has been sold again since then).