Everything I have ever loved has had a previous owner. I carry the treasures of others securely in the crook of my arm and pretend they’re mine. A jacket my father stained with sweat around the collar and cuffs. A pendant given to my sister made of onyx and gold. Field guides from thrift stores with inscriptions and bookmarks and cramped annotations. These are my pickings. Stolen nostalgia is piling up around me. It’s warming me through the winter, but I want to find my own way out. When will I begin creating my own trail of artifacts? Who will want to exhume my spirit?
The living room was always dark and warm and safe; mom kept the lights in the living room turned off. Thirty minutes before I woke up, she’d turn on the heating unit to “get the chill out” for me. She let me eat my breakfast on the couch with a tv tray. She didn’t let my siblings do that as children. My love for my mother knew no bounds. I remember crying, begging, pleading to stay home with her. Each morning, tears filled my eyes as the lump in my throat grew larger and larger until my cries turned into hoarse hiccups. Sometimes she’d hug me and laugh at my “big crocodile tears”. Sometimes, with a fist clenched around a whisk or a ladle, she’d threaten me to keep crying. Sometimes she’d humor me, roll her eyes, and let me stay. I know she thought I was faking, but the pain was excruciatingly real. Like clockwork, my stomach would twist into a mass of tangled knots every morning. I was expressing my emotional pain the only way I knew how. Physically.
I was always troubled, wound up tight, and confused. I thought it was normal to have achey muscles from the constant tension of dealing with not only life, but also the barrage of self doubt. I thought it was normal to think about what this place would be like without me. Is that what would finally show them that what I’m feeling is real? I don’t want to die. I never have. “It’ll get better” is stuck deep in my ribs and I want to see what better is like. But there’s a point when you’ve been so overlooked and so beaten down that you wonder, “When will someone notice on their own?”
The hum of the ventilation fan kicks my muscle memory into overdrive. Turning the knob until my wrist faces directly up, I watch the water spill out and contemplate all the lackluster showers I’ve taken in the last year and a half. I step in and immediately jump out, dodging water that seems hotter than Hades. Scalded and confused, I bathe and exit with flushed skin that I no longer seem to enjoy.
Usually, I find solace in bed after a long day. Cotton sheets, which I no longer use, now seem more like a restraint. My back sinks into the pillow top and aches for a firmer surface. As I lay awake in the only home I’ve ever known, my mind wanders to a sad thought. When does home stop being home?
I grew up in this single story, middle class masterpiece. Before this, I was in the womb. I had never been on my own or even dreamt that I might flourish somewhere else. The funny thing is, I didn’t realize how well I was doing until I came back. I didn’t realize how much I had changed. I like cold showers, firm beds, and honest friends now. People don’t walk all over me anymore, and I’m beginning to learn to walk on my own. If I feel strong, loved, and there’s a Whole Foods down the street, I’m at home.