Rise, the memoirs of writer Cara Brookings, tells the story of the house she built with her children. Not ‘the house they oversaw being built’ but the house they built. With their own 8 hands. Yes, they had professional help with stuff like wiring that can’t (or at least shouldn’t) be done by someone who isn’t licenced, but a lot of it, the foundation, laying the bricks, nailing boards, was done by her and her children.
Brookings had emerged from two highly volatile relationships, her first marriage to an diagnosed (and when diagnosed, untreated) schizophrenic a heartbreaking illustration of a man’s decent into madness, a madness that threatened his wife and children physically and psychologically. Her second marriage contained its own terrors, but her memories of Adam, interspersed between stories of the house being built, offers a touching juxtaposition of a life broken and a life being rebuilt. On the run from her second husband, she decides to build a house in the woods almost on a whim, an idea that gains more and more traction with her children until she’s talked her way into a construction loan.
A traumatized, inexperienced woman and her equally traumatized, inexperienced children building a house from the foundation up goes about as smoothly as you can imagine… but also with the growth and unity within this down-but-not-out family unit you would expect from such a story. Some moments are funny, some tender, some empathy-inducing in the frustration and and sense of being overwhelmed Brookings often felt. There is often a sense of, having gone down this path, they have to push forward if only because they can’t go back. Brookings’s recollections of building the house, interspersed with her life with Adam and the disease and eventually let him to take his own life, conveyed the desperation of a woman who knows exactly what the road ‘back’ leads to, and makes you understand why going ‘back’ is no option.
In the epilogue, where Brookings reflects on how much they took from the experience, the peace she found with the events and individuals that had tormented her, this passage jumped out at me:
Jada and Drew were raiding the pantry together and I was in the library, listening. Jada was having trouble with middle-school mean girls, and Drew was half listening and half-heartedly giving out mediocre advice.
Then Jada said something that caught her brother’s attention. She said, “I can’t”.
“What do you mean, you can’t?” Drew asked, angrier than I’d heard him in months. “Jada, you built your own damn house. You can do anything.”
The book finishes on that note. You built your own damn house. You can do anything. Whatever it is that you built, those are good words to life by.