BETWEEN THE BRIDGES | The brick was last of the son he knew
Wednesday, April 06, 2011 4:25 AM
Joe and Maxine (their names have been changed) were longtime Madison Park renters before moving to a suburb in the late ‘90s. They longed to own their own home, and, as painful as the decision was to leave the city, they decided the pros outweighed the cons.
They did involve their son, Jacob, in the decision-making process, and at 12, he was vehemently opposed to leaving lifelong friends and his school. There were many heated discussions over the dinner table, but in the end, the parents’ decision held. So off they went to Puyallup.
A great last day in the city
Joe owned a moving company and was a popular local businessman since so much of his work was between the bridges. On the day before the family’s move, he took a gig at the former Denny-Blaine home of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. The carriage house at this property, since torn down, had been where Cobain killed himself.
The job was to move the large commercial refrigerator to a coffee house. Joe had no idea of the history of the house when he took the job, but Jacob, a huge Nirvana fan, was coincidentally along for the ride.
They were greeted by an executor who was handling the escrow, as the home had just sold. He was young and hip and quickly volunteered to show Jacob the home’s storied past.
Astounded and thrilled, Jacob was taken around back by this man to a pile of bricks. This was all that remained of the carriage house.
After chatting with Jacob about music and Cobain, the man sweetly presented Jacob with a single brick.
Jacob was beside himself.
The father and son did the job, went home, had their final dinner in Seattle and moved into the tract home 30 miles away the next day.
A change in scenery
For the first few days, Jacob was in a little better spirits over the move — the brick was part of it. He made a shrine to Cobain and decorated his room with all sorts of eclectic, neo-hippie and ‘60s/’70s décor he found at thrift stores. This was a kid who prized a fluorescent orange rotary phone, dressed in retro stylings in junior high and valued arts and music as entertainment.
But as the weeks and months went by, Jacob slipped into a depression. The neighborhood and school were affecting him.
In Seattle, his alternative self was more common, considered cool even, but in Puyallup, he felt very much an outsider. Most of the kids came from semi-rural upbringings, from families with different political and social outlooks than his family’s.
This did not escape Joe and Maxine. Jacob was their only child, and the three of them were close and communicated. The parents wondered early on if they had made a mistake in moving.
There were quiet talks at night about whether they’d traded away too much of who they were. There were other things, too — the commuting, for instance. But mostly they began to really worry about Jacob.
That worry was magnified greatly when they arrived home from work one evening to find Jacob and his room completely transformed. All of the vibrant fabrics and retro pieces were gone (to Salvation Army, Jacob said.) Even the brick and its shrine were gone (garbage, Jacob said). And he himself had gotten a conservative haircut. This was shortly after his 13th birthday.
He’d decided to become a preppie. And that’s the way he stayed.
A different life
Ironically, it seemed to help his depression a bit, at least on the surface, and he started to make friends.
The rest of the year went OK. Joe and Maxine decided to hang on for a year to see how it all progressed.
Jacob became immersed in his new self and in a group of friends very different from his Seattle crowd. He even drifted from lifelong pals in Madison Park and gradually stopped even taking the train up for visits.
But something was wrong. It was as if he’d had a lobotomy, Joe said. He was only part of the kid they knew. He’d sacrificed so much to peer pressure, to the desire to fit in, that he’d become a stranger, even to himself.
They stayed, though, for the next two years.
By the time Jacob was 15, it seemed going back to Seattle would backfire, making Jacob change schools again mid-high school. Indeed, when it was mentioned even casually, Jacob would look at them with daggers in his eyes.
So the status quo continued until one night, deep into their third year in Puyallup, Jacob didn’t go home. He never went home again.
For several weeks, Jacob put his parents through an inconceivable nightmare of worry and heartache — every nearby pebble was unearthed by law enforcement, every momentary acquaintance was drilled. Nobody had seen or heard anything.
Then the letter came. It was postmarked in Utah. He was fine but not coming back. He would check in with them every so often, but please don’t look for him, he wrote. He was almost 16, he said, and could take care of himself.
That was eight years ago.
Filled with grief, the parents sold the home and moved back to Seattle, warmly supported by their friends and family.
While sadly packing up Jacob’s room, they came across a wrapped item tucked deep in the rear of the closet. The fabric was one of Jacob’s favorite, and double-wrapped inside was the brick.
It now adorns the mantel in a shrine of sorts, waiting for Jacob to return.
PETER CHARLES HANSEN is a newly returned Seattle resident who now lives in Madison Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.