Reflections on the Notion of Home

It’s a grey day in Providence. Lightly snowing, cold but not excessively so. I’ve been staying in the apartment I lived in before moving to Pittsburgh. Empty but for a futon sofa, a small folding table, a microwave cart, and an a.c. that I had left behind when I moved. There is still an internet connection.

This morning I walked to Thayer Street and had an egg-and-cheese on a bagel from Bagel Olé and am now sitting at Blue State Coffee. I plan on meeting a friend from high school for lunch at around noon and until then, I’ll probably simply sit here, sip coffee and try to write about why I’m so sad.

~~~

Almost exactly two years ago, I was living with my parents after returning from my wanderjahr to New Mexico which was an attempt to detox from my years living in New York City. I had just gotten a temp job in East Providence that was good for 4-6 months and almost immediately started looking for apartments. The one I found, 122 Doyle, was walking distance from Brown University (I was applying there for graduate school), as well as from Whole Foods, a YMCA (which I never joined—despite good intentions), and even downtown Providence. It was also near a number of bus lines and, because the apartment was on the 4th floor, I was guaranteed to get at least some exercise each day. It was a decent 1.5 bedroom apartment, inexpensive, and had a lot going for it. I moved in on December 15th of 2008.

~~~

Home is a contentious issue for me. I never really felt profoundly connected to any of the places I’ve lived. I crave it, yet I find it immensely difficult to create a sense of home around me. Caveats here: I love my parents and enjoy spending time with them. Their home just doesn’t feel like my home at this point in my life. Also, while I looked to Joya as home for the years we lived together, New York City hugely disrupted my ability to feel at home. That said, in my adult life, I think the strongest sense of home I have, until recently, managed to create was my time at University of Maryland. Not because of apartments I lived in (though my last place there is still my favorite apartment I’ve ever lived in), but because of the sense of community and friendship that surrounded me. A sense of home, for me, is very much tied to having a strong and caring network of people that I can trust and allow myself to feel vulnerable with.

~~~

When that temp job in East Providence ended in August of 2009, I went through a really difficult financial period. Despite my office experience, competence in MS Office and with computers in general, nobody but nobody was hiring temps in the fall of ’09. But for my generous parents and grandparents, I don’t know what I would have done. I was never, ever at risk of losing my apartment because of my family’s support, or even going hungry. Still, it was a very hard period and frustrating and I decided that it would be very helpful if I could find someone to help pay the rent. The .5 room of 122 Doyle is very small, and while the apartment is spacious for one person, it’s not all that big. I responded to a foreign grad student’s housing wanted ad on Craigslist but never heard back from him. I also really, really wasn’t looking forward to living with a stranger.

~~~

New York was, in part, difficult because it created a kind of feedback loop. I didn’t want to be in the city and knew I wanted to leave as soon as I could, so I didn’t want to get too attached to people because I’d just had to leave a home in Maryland and was still, in a sense, mourning that loss. I didn’t go out of my way to avoid friendships, and between Joya’s theatre work and my year at CUNY’s the Graduate Center, I did meet and become friendly with a number of good people. It wasn’t like I was spurning all efforts at friendship. Still, I didn’t go out of my way to forge stronger connections or create a community in any real way because I wanted to leave the city. Thus, I felt isolated and lonely and yet feared the loss of another home more than that isolation and loneliness. This did not a good three years make. It also put strains on my relationship that, to this day, I regret. Joya deserved better than I could offer in that time, in that place.

~~~

The solution that presented itself was in the form of Joya’s younger sister, Erin, who was then living with their mother in MA and looking to move out. Erin and I had always gotten along and are similar in some very key ways. Not only do we share a love of zombie movies, all things Joss Whedon, Battlestar Galactica, and Milla Jojovich, but we also have similar sensibilities regarding privacy and social interactions. I’d been thinking about asking her to move in for a while after she’d visited a couple of times, but I’d held back because she came with a cat (Piper) and a beagle (Cassie). Piper was not an issue because I love cats and still missed living with Lila, but I was definitely concerned that going from living by myself to living with 2 animals and 1 person would be a bit too much. In the end, however, I decided that we could make it work and asked her if she wanted to move in. She said yes, and moved most of her stuff in at the beginning of December. Just over one year ago.

~~~

Moving back to Providence in December of 2008, I sort of expected to find a home ready made. I still had friends at Perishable Theatre and figured that those associations would blossom into a community that I could call my own. Yet, after Brown rejected my application in January of 2009, I knew that I would be applying to other graduate programs for fall of 2010 and thus would, most likely, be moving one again. I think I returned to a similar emotional holding pattern that I had inculcated in NYC because I did not want to leave/lose another sense of home. I would say that for almost all of 2009 Jen M. was easily 80% of my social life, with Vanessa making up the other 15% as both friend and colleague on some theatre projects. The last 5% would have been everyone else that I met (Ryan H. in particular) or reconnected with (Anne P. and Chris N.) Again, I wanted deeper connections, I wanted a richer social life, and I wanted a home, but I held myself back and kept myself emotionally reserved in some important ways precisely because I was going to lose it all when I (most likely) moved in the summer of 2010. So while there were some good times and fun moments that year, I was emotionally unsatisfied, disconnected, and adrift. Yes, I was quite, quite liminal.

Then Erin, Cassie, and Piper moved in.

I don’t think either Erin or I expected much more than a practical arrangement for us both with someone we knew that we could stand to live with. But something else happened and suddenly I found myself with a home, in all senses of the word.

It’s difficult to write about Erin because she is Joya’s younger sister and because, while Erin and I are platonic, there is something more complex than simple friendship between us. For the six months that we lived together, we were a family of sorts in that Joss Whedon, created-family sort of way, or an Armistead Maupin, 28 Barbary Lane sort of way. I adored both Piper and Cassie and was able to be silly and vulnerable with Erin in ways that I am with very few people. I felt utterly safe.

~~~

The sun is burning through the clouds. The snow has stopped. Grateful Dead is playing. I’ve moved from on of the big easy chairs to a table so I can plug in my computer. As much as I love my Macbook Pro and plan on using it through at least most of 2011, I’ll be glad to get back to battery life that lasts more than 90-120 minutes.

~~~

Erin moved out of 122 Doyle this past weekend, into a 2 bdrm apartment in Riverside that she is sharing with her Dad as his East Coast place—which means that she’ll have it to herself most of the time. Of course, this is the holiday season and she and her Dad have just moved in and Joya is coming into Providence and will be staying with them and I know all of this is all good and it’s just what happens at the holidays and I of course don’t begrudge them all that family time together and I’m staying in a nearly empty apartment because it’s closer to Erin and to several other friends in Providence and allows me to walk to coffee shops, etc., while my folks’ house is too far from anything without a car and thus I’m dependent on their schedule when staying with them (which I will be for the weekend). So there are a number of reasons for me to stay for a few days at 122 Doyle before Erin turns the keys in. But lying on that particular futon, looking up at and out through those particular and rather dirty skylights, it is hard not to feel like I’ve lost something, that I don’t a home anymore, again. At least not in the same way that I’ve had for the past year. Even though I’ve been living in Pittsburgh since August 1, the place at 122 Doyle, Erin, Piper, and Cassie were still my home. And it’s been very, very hard to lose that, I feel adrift. Alone. Liminal.

Sad.

Of course I also feel bad for feeling sad during the holidays and while I’m visiting family and a few friends and while I will be spending at least some time with Erin, Joya, Piper and Cassie. Which makes me frustrated with myself and probably further adds to the sadness. The last couple of days have been particularly hard, but I do think they have helped clarify just how gut-punchingly hard losing a sense of home is for me. And, perhaps more importantly, just how easy it is for me to hold myself in reserve and to hide from people; to forgo the difficulties of establishing deep and true friendships because I’m afraid of losing it all once more; to live a life of quiet, disconnected, desperation.

I probably shouldn’t do that.

So yeah. This holiday season is going to be hard for me. I’m sad and while I will have some good times with family and friends, pretending that sadness is not there would be hiding myself again.

~~~

I keep trying to find a good conclusion for my thoughts, and the only conclusion I seem to find is that I don’t really have one. Instead, since I’m going to be meeting Chris for lunch and in honor of our shared love of King Crimson, I’ll simply let this song be a reminder, mostly to myself, of something I need to do considerable work toward achieving.

“Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With”

[Update: Also, writing this and sharing some of my thoughts and feelings has made me feel at least somewhat better.]

On this day..