Though it was only composed of brick, stone, and wood, 8 Lester Street was once alive. For nearly 30 years, three bedrooms and one bathroom accommodated a family that grew to 9. While it wasn’t the intended target (my dad had lived at 14 Lester Street as a child in the 50-60’s, but when that house wasn’t available, he went for 8), it opened its door to us, and we took up residence in its heart; then it took up residence in ours. It shifted and changed with us as the years passed, growing upwards and out, settling into each new formation with a contented sigh. We didn’t always appreciate, and in fact, sometimes abused it. But 8 Lester Street knew more love than most houses, and it was our home.
Throughout his years spent there, my dad collected many things. He had a heart and appreciation for toys, wanting (I believe) to capture the quintessential glow of youth that had often evaded him growing up. One of the hard truths of life is that we can never regain the moments and the joys of our childhood that are stolen from us by the cruelty of others. All we can do is move forward, continue to build our lives to the best of our abilities, and try to make up for those losses as we age. For my dad, one thing he wanted to build was a toy business.
Nearly every weekend of warm weather season he spent hours on Mapquest planning routes, and he went out at the buttcrack of dawn to scour garage sales and flea markets for the next great find. With the rise of eBay and the burdens of a full-time job, he was never quite able to make a thriving business happen, though he tried. I often helped photograph items he wanted to list online, and I would go with him on trips to the post office to weigh packages so he could charge for shipping at cost. By the end of his life, he had (quite literally) filled 8 Lester Street with his potential. It was a sight to behold.
There’s an energy in the way people leave their things. It’s especially noticeable when they have left them for the last time. I remember there was a small glass cup with a paper towel folded under it sitting on a small orange plastic plate that my dad had left on the kitchen table before he died. It was the most normal thing in the world, but it screamed “dad.” You could practically see him when you looked at it. We didn’t touch it for weeks, and when we finally did move it, we left it exactly as is and just put it in a cupboard.
Now take that concept, and apply it large scale. After he died, 8 Lester Street became a haven, humming with his energy. I could see and feel him everywhere, from the way he perfectly organized every item he ever owned, to the way he puzzled an impossible number of objects into a clown car amount of space. He was missing, but he had left behind so much to admire.
With all of his hopes and dreams tucked neatly away in that house, it was like a part of him was still alive. I could open a drawer and pick up an old journal, imagine my hands were his, cherish the memories inside the way he might have done. I could survey the sea of valuable boxes and understand the years of effort that went into his big plan. His fingerprints were all around, and all I had to do was reach out and touch them. Simply knowing it was all there was a huge source of comfort while adjusting to life without him.
Everyone had moved out of 8 Lester by the time 2018 rolled around, but we had all left many of our personal things there. I had plans to move back in and take over, make it a place that all Monthies could always come back to. That opportunity was suddenly ripped out from under me, and the house sat dormant for 2 more years. There was talk of selling. We wanted to keep the house in the family, take the time to go through our dad’s collection and give it the attention it truly deserved. The vote was 7-1, but only the 1 was on the deed.
And so began the death of 8 Lester Street.
First, the hedges that made the house unique on the street went. Then the trees. Then the custom wooden swingset that our dad had helped build was torn right out of the ground.
We only found out there was an estate sale happening because a friend sent me the link. She said “isn’t this your address?” and I looked at the pictures and I cried. A few of my siblings and I went over to check it out. We saw our own belongings being sold alongside his. I wrote about what that felt like because I could never describe it any other way. Somehow this thing I had feared and fought for so long was really happening.
After the final day of the sale, we were “graciously” given the opportunity to go take what we wanted out of what was leftover. By that point, the house was mostly cleared out. I went down to the basement where my dad had kept the majority of his collection, and I spent hours sifting through family history that had been dumped and scattered carelessly all over the floor in search of handwriting, names, anything that would have been personal. I found letters from my great grandmother Margaret Decker (who I was named after), photographs, a painting my dad had done, a bin of his clothes, and old impressive D&D drawings, among other things.
What else was there that I never knew about, and now never will? I don’t know what was sold or thrown away; there was so much packed in that it had always been impossible to see everything, so I have no idea what I missed out on. My dad’s empire was torn down, pieced apart, and sold off to strangers or discarded, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
Finally, I stood in an empty house. I took a mental inventory of the memories etched in the walls: The CD label stickers Billy had collected and stuck on the wall next to his bed throughout the years; the hole in the wall that Chris kicked when I annoyed him as a child; the window that was never the same after I jumped out of it to to be with a boy at 17; the ghost of Ned’s baseball wall decoration, now just an outline of dust; the ceiling fan that Laura and I duct-taped after baby spiders started flooding out of it; drawings on the ceiling done by Michael as he lay on the top bunk bed; the tree Mark spray painted a smiley face and the word “poop” on; 7 handprints embedded in the cement floor of the side shed. All things that would have no meaning to anyone but us and 8 Lester Street.
On the way out we gave it one more “everybody say ‘bye house'” for old times sake. We used to recite that quote from Toy Story every time we left to go on a family road trip. I like to think the house always wished us a safe trip and knew we would be back. At the end perhaps it was sad to know this time we wouldn’t.
No one swooped in at the last second to produce a document that gave us any right to anything, there was no justice and no happy ending. 8 Lester Street was sold on February 20th, 2020. The 1 made $105,000 plus the profits of the collection (estimated ~$50,000) to fund Disneyland vacations, and the 7, whose dad worked through chemotherapy to provide for them, got nothing.
Now, on the 4th anniversary of his death, it feels like he is really gone. I find myself hoping he can’t see what has become of what he tried to build because his heart would be more broken than ours.
Everything I have been holding onto for the past few years is lost, now I have nothing else to lose. It’s a devastating blow, bringing forth fresh grief in new forms, but it is also oddly liberating. I’ve experienced the worst things I imagined, my own personal nightmares, and yet I am alive. I’m here, and I’m breathing, and I’m continuing. The iron umbrella of power and control that was a constant shadow over all of us has finally been shattered. I’m free.
Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final.
-Rainer Maria Rilke