The house was empty when you got there. But not just of your dad – the house was bare. No furniture, no kitchenware, nothing on the walls. Your hand rested on the doorknob, understanding coming to you like the breeze from outside.
How long ago had your dad moved out? He never told you, but maybe it’s because you never asked. You stood on the front porch, staring at the overgrown brush lining the street. You watched as a stray cat tiptoed its way towards a trashcan, sniffed around, and then turned its yellow eyes to you. It seemed to pity you, or maybe it was just judging you. Then it was gone into the shadows, leaving you alone on the porch.
You wouldn’t allow yourself to wallow, so instead you started walking. You walked past the tennis courts, covered now by at least a few layers of leaves and trash. The playground you used to meet your friends at was gone. As you rounded the corner to the center of town you saw the small bandstand was missing an entire railing on the backside. At least the street lamps were lit. You didn’t remember home being so dirty, dark, deteriorating. You didn’t remember it was so small.
You sat on the steps of the post office and watched the town settle in the night. Had the town always been this way, or had the comfort of knowing it was home blinded you to the reality of it? And then you thought, did it matter? It seemed too late to call your dad now. The thought of talking to him made your throat tighten. You hoped he was still in town, at least. With everything gone from the house…
An idea came to you then, and you traced your path back home. Inside, behind the bathroom door, you pried loose a board next to the sink. Your little leather journal was right were you’d left it when you were fifteen. You’d started a new one when you began seriously writing songs, but this one – the first one – had always been special to you. It was the journal your dad had given you, the first one, and before you left for L.A., you’d hidden it, out of nostalgia or an assurance of some part of you left behind, you weren’t sure.
You cracked the journal open to the first page – yellowed and wrinkled from dampness. Your small, crooked handwriting slanted from top to bottom, and it made you smile. Page after page of your young mind’s dreams. As you got older, your dreams turned to musings, turned to complaints, turned to simple transcriptions of your daily life. It was these latter entries that you valued most now. Your old words wrapped you in a warm blanket of nostalgia. Though tinged with dark days, you remember how easy most everything was. How the town itself was your neighbor, always available to offer a helping hand or keep you safe.
You wrote most of Album Two that night. It passed in a blur, furious words forcing themselves from your hands. Lyrics that praised roots, and beginnings, and rose-colored glasses. The sun warmed you before you knew it was up. You set both journals aside, their bindings touching. You thought that was poetic, here, now.
You called your dad, finally. He answered this time.
“Noah,” he said in place of hello. His voice was the same.
“Hey, Dad,” you said, your voice not the same at all. “Where are you?”
There was a shuffling on the other side of the phone. A clearing of the throat. “What do you mean? I’m back home.”
“That’s funny,” you said, “because so am I.”
A pause. “Home home?”
“Yeah, Dad. Last I heard this was the only home we had.”
You felt a little guilty using “we.”
“I was going to call you,” he said. “I moved to a smaller place last month. Should’ve done it ages ago, but couldn’t find the energy.” He stopped short.
“Well, where are you now?”
You made your way to the old record shop on the outskirts of town. Your dad had been let go from the recording studio, but the small store you used to buy your music from was still smitten by your father’s connection to your fame, even if he played it down. They told everyone who stopped in that their store was where it all started for you. But they were proud in a way you appreciated.
He was standing in the back, flipping through the old rock section. Like your town, he, too, looked smaller than you remembered. When he looked up at you, you felt like the same boy that drank whiskey to stay warm that one winter night before the heat was turned back on. And then he smiled.
“Noah, son,” he said, coming towards you. “Oh, don’t cry, don’t cry…”