Thursday, November 6, 2014

Bookshelf with notebooks and small clay elephant.

She made homes out of old boxes and bleached out pillowcases. She made homes out of too-heavy earrings that dragged down her ears. She made homes out of imperfect things. She made them out of whatever was convenient.

Even now, I wouldn’t even know what to do with a perfect apartment. In my last place, there was a point when I knew it was time to go: the moment when I woke up in the middle of the night to find yet another cockroach had made its way from my bedframe to my shoulder, I knew. I turned on a lamp and stared at the sheets till I could justify the incident as a blessing in disguise – the mom I was working with at the time texted me to tell me that she had just gone into labor. But when I returned the next day, I had no more excuses.

Though I’d been living in the city for four years of college, it felt like a brand new universe when I was on the lookout for places. I had to think about train line access and whether I’d get enough light. I had to make peace knowing that more than half my paychecks would be going towards having a place to sleep at night. And I had to contend with the fact that I will be a gentrifier in most of the neighborhoods I can afford.

Here and everywhere, she was a fixer of things. In a house with painted locks and cracked headboards, she polished the silverware until it gleamed.

“The safest space I have right now is… my home,” says my interview buddy on the As[I]Am podcast. They go on to describe the hard work they have done to make that happen, to spin their own cocoon. That resonates with me. I think about all the homes I’ve been blessed to set foot in this year. In a city where free event space is scarce, people use their apartments creatively. I’ve seen people host salons in their living rooms and workshops on their kitchen floors. Some of the most inspiring art is shared in the tiniest of venues.

When her brothers brought the war into their dining room, she knit her fingers behind her head and hummed a tune. Homeland, homeland...

I continue to think that the measure of a New York transplant is in her apartment stories. The ones I’ve been up close and personal with are the “escape from roommate hell” and the “pest-pocalypse,” with their ever-popular variations. But I've also seen people breathe life into inhospitable places. In a marriage of desperation and ingenuity, we learn to make the city love us. It's not always romantic, but at least it isn't lonely.

While they screamed and kicked each other under the table, she wiped down the tabletops and shut off the lights. In the dark, they fell silent, seething. They felt the walls to get around. She stomped her feet against the floor, just to know she could. It was a comfort, really, to know that it would hold, no matter how heavy.

(experimenting with blending fiction and non-fiction today in my piece about home and homemaking)