Originally from Southern California, Melissa Mesku is a writer and editor in New York.
Melissa's essay "Bright Houses" will appear in the Summer 2018 issue of Carve. Preorder or subscribe by Sunday, July 1, for special savings and discounts.
“Bright Houses” presents wonderful images of culture and home through the colors that surround them. How did you first come to writing this story, and what was the process of writing it like?
The cultural markers from the Mexican side of my heritage don’t feature in my day-to-day life much anymore. But I know where they are; they’re bound up in memories of my grandmother’s house. I first considered trying to inhabit it, in writing, from the perspective of the child I was then, but the cultural markers felt forced. The only way I could approach it with any validity was from the perspective I have now: distant, detached, but still able to marvel. It was important to me that the bold colors come through, though. Colors are a language even children understand. For me, those colors are some of the few things that were never whitewashed or painted over.
In the essay, you focus on a plastic bolder that your father placed in the front yard. As children, our parents, and adults in general do things that we do not always understand at the time. Do you think about this, and does the decision to place the bolder in the yard look different to you today?
The plastic boulder—I think it’s hilarious. Such a rock solid metaphor, I can’t get over it. The kind of people my parents are, this probably was not missed on them. But they went with it anyway. They are practical people, so practical they were able to forget how frivolous a plastic boulder really is. The fact that it cracked—even as a kid, I knew this meant something. I’ve been waiting to do something with that image for a long time.
While your story is about home and the way we identify with it, you deal with it for a period while you are removed from it. Did you need that space to adequately vocalize your thoughts about it, and do you have other authors or artists who have helped you find different ways of thinking about home and place?
I’ve always had a contentious relationship with home, in part, ironically, because I had such a good upbringing. So good that I was ready to try my luck all over the world. The suburban teenager part of me couldn’t wait to escape. But there was a complication. I had learned, through years of reading ecology philosophers, and through stories about my grandparents, that one’s home isn’t so much their house, but the dirt earth they come from, their biome, their landbase. Human groups have always had a sacred bond with their landbase. I was dying to forge that connection, and I still think it’s one of our biggest problems, one we don’t even consider because we’re so far from it.
I’ve suffered by not having a direct relationship to the land, the actual earthen dirt, that I came from. I left thinking that relationship was impossible because my home, suburbia, was wall to wall strip mall. But I also knew that my grandmother’s yard, with its fruit orchard and trees, held that promise. I think it will keep haunting me until I finally move back there with a jackhammer and rebuild that relationship.