I have a lot of past addresses. I’ve accumulated four in the last twelve months alone, in two different counties and four zip codes. Going back five years that number doubles and adds different states to the list of variables. Ten years? I’m an English teacher, I can’t count that high and don’t know how to manage more than two variables.
I left my Mom’s house in Western Massachusetts around age 18 and have since been hopping from dorms to childhood bedrooms to apartments to bedrooms shared with significant others. I haven’t had a bedroom that was truly, indefinitely mine since I was a child, and lord knows children take things like the roof over their head for granted.
As soon as a person is displaced – whether voluntarily or by force – a sense of unrest starts to build. This is Maslovian; the human mind needs a stomping ground, for furious private dancing and, often, literal stomping. When a mind doesn’t have that starting point to go back to, that safe space to call its own no matter where in the world it physically finds itself, it grows increasingly uneasy – like a frantic spider trapped in a child’s jar, darting ever faster from one hard, round edge to the other in a futile, insane dance.
This inability to settle can be exciting, though. When I first trekked across Massachusetts toward my first dorm room, I carried a sense of terrified wonder along with me. Knowing that my dorm room would only be mine until a few hours after finals each semester somehow enabled me to express and explore in ways I’d never done before college. I was untethered, so I flew free. Wildly, heart-poundingly free. Like, go-streaking-on-the-quad-and-almost-get-arrested-multiple-times free. And because of that freedom, I was able to grow.
However, I was never happy in college. I was emotionally unstable and discovering for the first time who my true friends were. I was finding my limits, often by sprinting miles passed them. But running past boundaries gave me time to reflect on why they’re there while gingerly placing one bloody, bare foot in front of the other on the metaphorical walk back to meet – and vow to never pass again – that limit.
After college, it was apartments in Massachusetts. One here for a few months, which I could barely afford, and another there for another few months, which I could likewise barely afford. Financial instability begets discomfort almost as drastically as displacement (I think – I’d have to check with my bro Maslow to be sure) and so in those homes, where the fridge was usually empty and so was my bank account, the glaring, unsustainable truth of my situation left my heart fluttering and my eyes bloodshot and open most nights.
Then came California. A month back at Mom’s, crammed in my childhood bedroom, and then another sixteen months of moving from apartment to apartment, with cruel roommates or horrible landlords or rent I couldn’t afford or a neighborhood I didn’t feel safe in.
Golden State? Because everything either smells like golden piss or requires a Lannister-sized reserve of actual gold to viably afford.
By the time I was 24 I no longer had any idea that I was even wanting for a home. I’d so long ago forgotten that having a place to sleep was not the same as having a place to sleep soundly, and so I moved in with a boyfriend. It was accidental, really; I was between apartments, about to return to school, and his roommate offered that I stay with them “for a while” while I “figured things out.”
“For a while” turned into nearly two years because “figuring things out” isn’t something any of us can do when given time to specifically do it. So I spent 20 months sleeping in a small bedroom with a man who I came to know less and less each day and who came to resent me more and more.
But I was living in a house, I had a dog, I had a yard and neighbors and a bed and… a year or so into that living situation, this line of thinking had convinced me that my sense of unrest was because of me, not because of my circumstances. Fortunately, I’m good at telling myself when I’m wrong. And I told myself bluntly and abruptly that this was an unhealthy way to approach life a little over a year ago.
Three more addresses (and two more cities) later, I am sitting in my own kitchen. Behind me is my own bedroom. In front, my own pantry and my own bathroom. To my left, my own (and the cats’, since that’s where their own kitchen and bathroom happen to live) laundry room and my own living room. Off the living room is my own small back yard; off the laundry room is my own small garage. All of this is mine, I can afford all of this, and I can reside within this without losing my sense of purpose.
Perhaps I could have found this same sense of comfort – of peace – in any of the past places I’ve resided, but that’s not to say that I was the problem. The “problem” was the sense of urgency to find something that wasn’t there when all along what I was missing was myself; my own companionship, my own compassion, my own support.
I expected each of the innumerable past addresses to be a home when I walked in the door and when each inevitably wasn’t, I blamed my circumstances: It was because I wasn’t good enough that I felt purposeless and alone. The purpose is to be alone, though, and to patiently stand alongside my heart and mind as they search, settle, and seek comfort.