Nothing is really what it seems, when you’re a child. My little blue house on Rogers Ave in Brooklyn was a castle. Surrounded by mammoth brick buildings, our distinctive residence stood out like a familiar face, in a crowd of strangers. My mother and father made me feel like a queen. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches piled with my favorite strawberry jam, cartoons with my feet kicked up, and antique sofas with carved wooden moldings as intricate as crowns; I was royalty.
We were renting the upstairs portion of the house, in a neighborhood that crumbled around us. Flatbush in the 80’s wasn’t the greatest place to raise a child. The environment fell into despair, buildings abandoned and a drug epidemic underway. Our block was rampant with young adults with nowhere to go, but everywhere to make trouble. We were often awoken, from our slumber, due to loud parties and pointless commotions.
On one of those nights, an innocent outdoor festivity turned into a bullet in the abdomen, of a slain neighbor. After hearing the shot, in our very backyard, my mother, adorned in disheveled hair rollers and fear, grabbed me and laid me on the floor, until the shots were cleared. We then ran the five blocks to my grandmother’s house, a haven to the family in times of distress.
I didn’t know the gravity of this story, until I was twelve. We were living in the suburbs then, in a house reflective of my parent’s progression and will to raise a child that scarcely knew trepidation. However, I remember that night. My five-year-old mind deemed it a midnight game. A game where my mother wasn’t her normal well kept self and we dashed down the sidewalks in search of our family. Hide and go seek; we found grandma at the door, with open arms.
My mother’s knack for interior design, a connoisseur of thrifting, before it was a thing, the warmth she put into everything she touched, her gentleness and genuine smile, made our dwelling a home. We bounced from rental to rental: an upstairs apartment on Avenue H, with an old woman that banged the broom to the ceiling, if I so much as yawned. We stayed in a huge house, on Beverly Road, a three-floor multiplex that we shared with immediate family. The two men that rented the basement were a shady duo; they slipped different women in and out and even once set their car on fire, almost kindling our home in the process.
You’d think I’d have noticed these things. However, it wasn’t until listening to reminiscent conversations, years later, that I had any clue of what was happening. I was swaddled in love. With all the culture, conversation, and answered inquiry, I had no time to dabble in grown-up things. I’d never heard the arguments between my father and the two men who he asked to grow the hell up. I’d never witnessed my mother tell our cranky broom-banging landlady that she needed to relax. I was told in the heat of gunfire that we were playing a game, “We’re just going to lay on the floor, for fun, just for a little bit.”
Home, for me, was never incessant, violent, or scary. Home was pleasantries; it was reflective of my mother’s great taste in African-American art, my father’s piles of books in his study, the multitude of stuffed animals collapsed on my bed, and two parents who adored me unconditionally. When I’m listening to the reflected moments, times when we didn’t feel safe in the place we called our abode, I am hit with a mind-altering notion.
There is no physicality to home. It’s reflected within us. They way we feel about our lives and ourselves is projected onto the space we reside in.
The collegiate dweller slings posters and torn sofas into his domain, because it’s transitory. The nomad hangs home over his shoulders, in the form of a bag, and plasters it anywhere he exists in. Folks, who aren’t too happy about their lives, take less care in their surroundings, when they aren’t content with the space inside of them.
My parents were just married and blessed with a child the second year of their union. My father just landed a job, that kept him traveling, but paid the bills on time. Their home was always reflective of their evolution. The red walls of their first bedroom screamed of their strength. The yellow walls of my own echoed the light in their life. The tediousness of our living space was reflective of two nesting individuals, who were stupidly in love teens, just a half a decade before. They flung their aspirations and dreams all over their space, in the form of magnetic refrigerator letters, bookshelves filled with magnificent prose, and pictures of those they treasured.
I didn’t feel like I was home, a year ago.
My boyfriend and I moved into our first apartment, together, and everything started to fall apart. We moved in haste, eager to get into the city. Our apartment was box, a place we prayed would be temporary and we’d soon forget. We wanted to get excited about our new place, but we couldn’t muster it. We lived like we were passing through, neglecting to hang things we’d purchased for our future walls, avoiding inviting folks over, and keeping boxes unpacked.
When things started to look up, I started cooking elaborate meals again, brought a little beauty to our kitchen, and even our bedroom. I bought new sheets and my mother found a great piece for above the headboard. I didn’t want to change the way we lived; I didn’t feel like our living area was worthy of our effort. I was wrong. We walked in one day, and out of the blue, our little box began to look a little bit brighter.
I was slowly discovering that inner peace would show outwardly, no matter how hard you tried to stifle it.
Recently, we got an impromptu phone call from a relative, asking us if we were interested in an apartment. We went to check out the place, a burgundy walled and hardwood floored fixer-upper, and decided that with a little TLC we could love it. When we discovered that we’d have to move in, in two weeks, I was frightened. How could we move in two weeks? It wasn’t enough time or notice. We were slowly progressing, but we weren’t ready for a huge move. I was afraid that our haste would land us in a new space, but the same sentiment would reside.
My boyfriend grabbed my shoulders, and washed the anxiety from me, with his words, “Sometimes you’ve just got to take a chance babe. It’s not the greatest place, but it’s bigger and you will make it a home. We’re doing better and we can do more now. I think we should give it a chance.”
He was right.
We ran into a few speed bumps there: Issues with our landlord and the deposit, because of lack of notice, and the hassle getting some of our things out of storage. However, every bit of it was worth it. We walked into a repainted space, dabbed with a bright yellow and white trim. The walls were reflective of how I felt, when we said goodbye to our old area.
I’m in the process of projecting the home I feel on the inside, to our new residence: A mismatched collage of our happiest moments adorn the hallways, both of our past apartment’s adornments unify in harmony here, and I’m sure the echo of our laughter can be heard, even when we’re not here. I’ve learned, from my parents, that there is nothing we can do about the economic, financial, and societal war outside. However, we control our sanctuary. As long as your inner-being is aligned, your refuge will burst from your chest and plaster itself everywhere. It’ll push your arms to grasp items at home stores, with quotes that resonate with your current situations, it’ll push you to pick up hammers and nail them to their chosen place.
We are painted with mediums of adaptation, our strengths pushed into aesthetic perfection, we are not pictures waiting for a frame, and we should never wait to be hung in exactly the right place. We are home already, wherever we are. Our surroundings amend for what's inside of us.
Pluck your attributes, from your soul, and build a nest. Marvel at its pieced together wonder. Stay a while.