Unkept + undone
A PHOTO ESSAY
What if I told you that the man who owns this place makes six figures a year being a UPS truck driver? What if I also told you that the same man refuses to buy himself a bed, a dryer, a dishwasher, a patch to fence in the yard, or a TV? This man is my father. His oddly eccentric and simplistic ways of living have left a considerable mark on my childhood.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re probably looking at the photographs and saying to yourself, “…what the hell? This is a house?”. Well — yes. In fact, I’ve lived here since I was born. This is my home. My beginning.
I know this place like the back of my hand. At 5:34pm during the Spring months, a ray of light busts through the crevasses of my kitchen window making every thing shine like gold. My room smells of cement if I leave the door closed for too long during my travels. The main bathtub can n.e.v.e.r get rid of its rust. And no matter how clean we keep the kitchen, there’s always string of 34 coffee mugs waiting to be scrubbed. Dirty, raw, dusty, and cluttered.
It didn’t always use to be like this, however. It’s a damn shock to look at previous photos from the era before my parents’ divorce. We actually had a REAL living room with couches, a coffee table, and a television with working cable! Woah! The patio wasn’t a god damn junk fest with thousands of dollars of fallen tools meshed in the concrete. It was clean, well-kept home (mama’s doing!). Which was a bit ironic since this was several years ago when my BOTH parents TOGETHER made only a third what my father makes now. Dad would always blame mom’s nagging wisdom for his stress induced anxiety, but I beg to differ.
I remember one time back in the 4th grade, I had invited some friends over to work on a school project. We joyfully walked to my place after class and my mom was kind enough to bake us chocolate chips cookies and break open a bag of classic Lays potato chips. [[ Mind you, I went to a small private school and much of the kids came from high-class privileged familial backgrounds. Dad refused to let me join nearby elementary schools, so he worked over 15 hours a day to afford a good education. ]] Immediately after we turned in my neighborhood and walked up the driveway, my fellow classmates felt a bit reluctant to join me. “Isn’t this a bad part of town?”, one asked. I was confused. “No, I don’t think so?”.
We spent the next few hours gluing popsicle sticks together and foraging leaves from my grapefruit trees. I can’t remember exactly what is was that we had to do together, but something probably crazy fun (my school always has such rad assignments). One gal commented on how cool my bed covers were and I was SO happy — this girl was “cool” back then. On the other hand, a boy set down his popsicle sticks and remarked “Your house is pretty gross and you’re kind of poor. I don’t think my mom would’ve allowed me to come over if there is where I knew you lived”.
My heart sank. My cheeks grew red and hot. “Maybe you guys should just go home then, we can finish up tomorrow during lunch”. I took the shared plate of chocolate chips cookies with me in the bathroom and cried. I didn’t want to be loud enough for them to hear me so I drew the faucet and firmly placed my hand over my mouth. It took a rough 7 minutes before I opened up the door to face them.
Fast forward 10 years and I don’t even want to know what that boy would say if he’d seen my house now. Or what he’d do if he saw the filthy foam pad my dad chooses to sleep on every night or what our living room has turned into. He probably didn’t think twice about the screaming match he had inevitably caused later that evening between me and my father:
“Why does our house look like such shit? Mom should get a real fucking job so we wouldn’t be so poor!” These words still echo in my head. I was 10 years old and I had the nerve to say this to my parents. I hurt them. A lot.
“You just don’t understand”, my father hesitated.
This is now my 22nd year on Earth, my birthday will be July 5th and I’ll be in Zambia photographing wildlife for a local NGO. I’ve traveled the world, earned two bachelors degrees, earned a 200 HR yoga teaching certification, taught workshops and retreats abroad, and began making my own income under my own rules. I’ve accomplished everything in my life while being alive inside this house. This shitty, dirty, messy house.
These “accomplishments” didn’t come without a price, however. I went through a mean dose of depression during my Sophomore year in college. I did awful things to myself and said a number of embarrassing shit to the people I love the most. I remember those disturbing three hours spent laying in my bathtub at 2am feeling so sorry for myself; the same bathtub I bathed in when I was 3 years old and the same one that I bathed my boyfriend in when he had food poisoning. Every crevasse of this place holds a story.
I get so fucking pissed off when I see pictures of a perfectly kept living room on the cover of Kinfolk— or any other interior inspiration on Pinterest for that matter. It’s bullshit. People don’t live on white bed covers without getting dirt on them and people certainly don’t live among worry-free bathrooms or bedrooms or closets. I mean, give me a a break, has anyone ever actually color coordinated their closet or never leaves a dirty plate in the sink? No. Or maybe they do and I’m just too jealous to accept it? Perhaps it’s the latter.
My father makes over six figures a year, yet he refuses to fix his bathroom shower or buy himself a pair of jeans. I will never, ever understand it. The man could have retired over 3 years ago, yet he’s clinging on to earn a bigger pension. He willingly continues to work 12-15 hours a day delivering brown packages to people’s doorsteps. He puts in the hours and kicks ass. The money he makes doesn’t go to new household items or new clothes — they’re spent on old cars and vintage tools; just a bunch random collectibles that spark his passion. He’s currently saving most of his earning towards building the garage of his dreams to store all of his shit that’s now cluttering the house. He’s also stashing cash for motorcycle gas later for when he sets sails on Mongolian, Russian, or African roads. I think my travel bug is wearing off on him, yes?
“Natalie. It’s not about what you make… it’s about what you save”, he always tells me. “Only work for what you love, ain’t no use to doing it for anything else.”
“It’s about what you save”, his words murmur to me once more. Him saying that left me wondering. I looked around my kitchen counter cops decorated with high stacks of vintage car parts and a mush of other “things”. Saving, of course, means more than just money to my father. His entire livelihood is based upon his years worth of travel antiques and other means of valuable whatnots. They mean a lot to him. What most people consider useless junk is treasure in his bright eyes; his loving passion for such eclectic savors warm my heart more than anything. You should really see the spark in his eye when he talks about it, it’ll make even the grumpiest man perk a smirk.
So, regardless of what this place looks like it will always remain as my home. If the windows sills continue to collect dust or the backdoor’s insulation will never be fixed; this place is mine. No matter if I have children of my own in Boulder, CO or pursue a PhD in Seattle, WA… this will be my home. It’s as though the casita took me under its wing and suppled me dry.
I’m not entirely too sure when I’ll move. Some of the few “after-college-plans” lead me in a different direction than anticipated; leaving my heart thirsty for more. I lie awake at night on my $45 futon absolutely consumed by the hopes of my dreams coming true. I actively save 80% of all my earnings to store in my account for later life plans, just like dad. I see bigger travels, bigger degrees, more developed plans, a ton of hard work, and perhaps night spent at my own home that I get to build myself. Everything I do is a giant stepping stone to a further plan. Investment.
Everything that I do, I do because of him. Folks say my dad’s a quirky son-of-a-bitch who’s hard to figure out even on a good day, and I kinda like that. My father has always been “something else”. A dirty, uncensored, mindful human being capable of accomplishing the wildest details.
I guess the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.
Thank you, dad. For teaching me the subtle art of not giving a fuck and for showing what’s it like to live your passion, invest in what’s right, and the important of watering the tomato plants early in the morning before anything else.
This one’s for you.