The seat-belt pinched some of my skin off when I clicked it in. I sat in the passenger seat of my mom’s grey Honda Civic. I loved to count the amount of trees we passed before seeing the space needle. The car ride with my mom and younger brother, Cody lacked the energy I usually felt visiting Seattle. I could tell because sweat beads multiplied on my mom’s forehead the closer we got to him. My mom looked to her right, “you better be careful” she murmured. Because I was soon to be in the hands of my other loving parent, I looked down at the new reddish-orange Morgan Middle School sweatshirt I received for being Mr. McCloskey’s teacher’s assistant several times in the car. I couldn’t wait to show my dad my what I earned. The car seemed to be spiraling down towards the equator as we took a series of off ramps. My dad’s new neighborhood looked different. A sign read Welcome to Delridge as my brother pointed out with his finger pressed against the window. The car’s tires were already familiar with the steep, rough roads of Seattle, so traveling through uncharted territory seemed easy. I could begin to see the layers of poverty and diversity. At the first building we saw after the welcome sign, we saw a flurry of businessmen exit a building that had trimmed grass and clean windows. We drove two more blocks and I noticed how much dirtier the buildings look. My mom nervously waited to see how deep the car reached before we reached my dad’s apartment complex.
The spoiled milk hit my throat twice before I realized it was expired. The taste felt familiar. Drinking old milk or helping pay for pizza became routine when I visited dad. I put the milk down and looked out the kitchen window. North Delridge, Seattle was a rough neighborhood. My brother, two years younger than me, examined the people walking by out of one of the room’s windows. Parts of West Seattle looked like something out of Boyz in The Hood. My dad lived in a rough neighborhood in Yakima before he moved to Seattle. He had his bike stolen weekly at his old apartment. Even with a gate around his new apartment building, he still locked up his bike. The new apartment complex had a gated fence around the perimeter of the property that blocked off outsiders. The residents did not want to risk unwanted contact with the outside, or maybe the outsiders fenced in the residents.
Inside the gated fence looked like a swap meet; televisions, fish tanks, and sofas stored themselves on the small squares of brown grass provided for apartment residents. North Delridge was the only place where someone could buy bootlegged versions of Spider-Man in front of a 7/11 and walk 100 feet down the street to eat some of the freshest Saudi Arabian food West Seattle offers.
Car keys scratched the outside of the door. Cody and I heard the scratching from the inside. We bolt over from the room we settled in to greet our dad. I had almost forgot what my dad looked like, but I could tell he was loving his new beard that I have never before seen. Once he changed from his work overalls, he walked out of his room with a bag. He stuck his hand in the bag and lifted out a pair of basketball shoes. “Hope you’re a size 12” he smiled. “Someone left these in an apartment I cleaned.” he explained. Apparently being an apartment manager came with a few perks: the items left by fleeing tenants were be collected by my dad. After talking for a while, my dad received a call from work and needed to return. The front door slowly squeaked shut and before it closed, I heard a faint last request: “If you go anywhere, bring your brother. And Jesse, that orange on your sweatshirt might be a problem around this neighborhood.” The afternoon rolled around and we grew hungry. In a panic for food, I settled with the nutritious meal of Top Ramen. My brother still has not eaten. I rummaged through cabinets in a kitchen, not much bigger than me, and looked for more food. I opened a cabinet and found poorly hidden, empty alcohol bottles. How old are these bottles? I thought my dad stopped drinking? There was no way an investigation conducted by a middle schooler would answer these questions. I closed the cabinets before my brother saw the empty bottles and gave him half of my Top Ramen. Cody blinked heavily. “Ready for bed?” I asked. Cody answered with a nod. We washed our dish and walked to our room.
A yellow mist filled up the room. The smell of spam traveled from the kitchen to mine and Cody’s room and drug us out of the bed. I shook my brother, who was brave enough to sleep on the top bunk. We both wobbled to the kitchen. My dad stood over the stove top in a greasy mist, but he seemed stressed. The bags under his eyes and persistent grey hairs were the focal point of his face. My stomach growled. The monstrous sound prompted my dad to cook faster. He threw the spam on paper plates and handed them to us. We high kneed to the dinner table. A smile surfaced on my face as my stomach grumbled one last time. My dad was good at cycling through question he asked us if the room stayed silent for too long. “Want to see something?” Me and my brother stuck out two standing up thumbs. My dad promptly brought in four separate doors detached from their hinges. Like a magician, he flipped one door over. My dad painted doors a variation of colors and abstract shapes as a new hobby. He was selling the doors too. We were proud he found an activity he enjoyed. My brother and I noticed the excitement in his eyes: something we rarely saw.
He brought in four more doors. My right leg tightened up as a pain shot through my calf. My leg fell asleep from sitting so long. After a few more displays, Cody stood up and threw his arms over past his head. While holding back a yawn, Cody suggested we get out of the apartment for a bit. Despite hundreds of activities ten miles in downtown Seattle, we settled for eating pizza. The pizza place was located in the middle of a neighborhood called White Center, a few minutes from North Delridge. Ironically there was nothing white about White Center. This trip was the first time I have felt like a minority. “The total comes out to $10.80.” My dad looked at me as he is rummaged through his pockets. “Do you have 3 dollars?” My dad asked. “Maybe” I reluctantly said. I pulled out five of the nine dollars I brought for the arcade. I gave it to my dad. While he handed the money to the cashier, I noticed my brother staring out the window. I walked over and saw what caught his attention. There was a Caucasian homeless male getting jumped by two Hispanics. My mouth dropped. My eyes never left the beating. I looked back at my dad in disbelief. “Stuff like that happens, something like that can happen anywhere.” He said calmly. What if that was my dad out there getting assaulted? I quickly squashed any negative thoughts. It was time to go back.
The next day, sunlight stabbed through the window and attacked my eyes. My hands gripped the bunk bed bars as I swung myself up. The first season of Scrubs cycled through its episodes twice before we noticed the television glaring. We walked out of the room and saw that my dad left the television on before he left for work. We remembered him saying that we could leave and get something from the 7/11 down the street on Delridge Way, a convenient store home to at least one armed robbery. The two blocks we walked felt like 100 miles. Each person we passed gave us a look that reminded us that these were not our streets.
The last haggard face we passed looked at us for ten seconds. My leg quickly extended four feet in front of me. Step length increased, so we could pass the man sooner. I placed my hand on my brother’s back and gave him a nudge. “Spare some change?” The large brown man wearing a Steelers jersey interjected before we passed him. He asked for money almost the same way my dad asked for money the day before. “We don’t have any” I said as I looked down. We continued to head to 7/11. As me and Cody approached the cashier’s checkout stand holding skittles, we noticed the same man we passed earlier walking in the store. The rugged man walked toward us. I pulled out a dollar threw it on the checkout stand’s flat surface. “Keep the change” I said shaken. The man suspected that we had money after all. Before we saw how the potential encounter would transpire, we bolted out of the store to the safeness of the gated fence.
The gated fence kept us safe for the night. Good thing because we made it to the last night in Seattle with our dad. What a reason to celebrate. My dad kept a jar full of quarters that he kept in his room. He snagged it before we left for out final dinner together. Italian was the dinner of choice and I could not be more excited. I was curious to how the money will be presented to the waiter after we ate. While sitting in the sub shop, we all shared laughs about the trip surprises. Life seemed good and it looked like I had my dad back. I never saw him this happy with my mom. I took the another bite of my sub sandwich as I stared at my dad’s blank expression. He had been sitting there with a half-eaten sandwich on his plate. I read wrinkles and silver hairs now familiar to his face. During my deep gaze, he looked at me and said “Do not stare at me like that, people get beat up for doing that”. I made eye contact with my sandwich during the rest of the meal and realized my mom was right all along.