Friday, November 4, 2011

Roommates and A Place Called Home

November 3, 2011 – Roomies and A Place Called Home

I once was roommates with a crazy cat lady named Shirley. I rented out the little master bedroom and bath in her modular home. I made my nest with no problems and settled in. I’d just moved from a house filled with seven other people--my siblings and the parental units--and had no fears about it being hard to live with just one other person. Shirley, however, had lived alone for too long and couldn’t quite handle having someone else around.
One night right after I’d gotten home from Judo practice and let myself in to the house, she took me aside. “I need to talk to you,” she said.

“Okay,” I replied. I put down my workout bag. I got that awful gut feeling that came when the thought Now what did I do? blazed in neon colors through my head. The last thing she’d chastised me for was washing my Judo Gi in the washing machine. It did make for a big load.

“Did you move the trashcan?”
I breathed again. I hadn’t, but I felt guilty like I had. Like I’d done something wrong. The same way I felt when she asked me if I’d moved the silverware. Or the time she’d practically accused me of siding with her cat Angel against the nasty fat cat Maggie who had mysteriously acquired a sudden scratch on her lip.

“Did you see Angel hurt Maggie?”
I wanted to say, “No way, I bet Maggie scratched herself, the demon. Angel is an angel (though not the frightening ‘Be Not Afraid’ kind),” but I curbed my own lip. Angel was a cool cat. Maggie, on the other hand, always looked at me out of the corners of her eyes and seemed to hiss, “I’m telling my mom on you if you even think about touching anything in this house.”

Shirley was a tad paranoid so I tried to live like a ghost. A solitary, keep-to-myself kind of ghost. Maybe that was why it didn’t work out for the two of us though, I was too haunting. After three months she told me, “I think you’d be more comfortable living with people more your own age.” Which was totally ironic since I was always in bed by 10:00, never played loud music, never had anyone over, didn’t throw wild parties, and was pretty much quiet as a mouse at all times.
I was 23 going on being your mother. My own mom told me that I’d always been mentally thirty-something and when I eventually turned thirty she said I’d finally grown into my age. 

I left Shirley with her paranoia and got my own apartment. I lived there more or less happily for two years. The less happy was a result of the Tejano or rap music played at volumes that broke Mach 1 and shook the walls and floors of my place, the occasionally heard gun shots, or drug addicts knocking on my door asking to use my phone or for “food” money. The more happy was having a place all of my own, buying my first set of couches, having a mailbox to myself, and knowing exactly where everything was at all times.
Then my lease was up. Some friends, out of the abundance of their hearts, offered to let me live with them so I could get a handle on my finances and put my energies into going for my Judo dreams.

I moved into their unfinished basement. Chad installed a toilet and a shower which I made private with a creatively hung curtain. Like a mean brother he always threatened to turn off the hot water if I misbehaved or was late on my rent. But those were good times, he and I would watch CSI Las Vegas together on Monday nights while his wife, also named Amanda, was at her dance class. She and I would chat over cups of tea and share books. Oreo, the toy poodle, had me for her confidant. Every day she’d meet me at the front door and give me the whole story of everything that had happened in her doggy life. The young neighbor boy thought it a great and secret thing that there were two girls with the same name living in the same house. If he was outside when I drove up into the driveway he’d always come over, wink at me and say, “Hi, Amanda.” One time he asked if I were Chad’s mom.  I guess from the outside it might have seemed like a strange arrangement to a kid. But no, for the record, Chad was older than me, I was not his mother, and I just lived comfortably in his and Amanda’s garden level apartment (or my dungeon, as I liked to call it).

Then it came time to really grow up. I blew a kiss to Peter Pan and signed a mortgage on a town home.  There was magic in parking in my own garage, coming into the house to see my own artwork decorating the walls, seeing those couches I’d bought years ago in my very own living room, having a spare room for guests, being the sole ruler of my domicile and having a haven. It was a home. A real home.

A couple years into this solitary existence, my brother came and lived with me. After a little initial trauma we got along great. He watched movies and I wrote. He smoked outside and I only bugged him about quitting every other day or so. Before I got crazy and changed my whole diet and lifestyle he’d make me spaghetti or nachos or pizza or taco salad. I’d get him films from the library and only worry sometimes about him walking home in the snow late at night after work. We’d leave each other notes since he slept through the days and I slept through the nights. Sometimes they were things like, “I’ll do the dishes when I get up.” or “Could you please take these movies back to the library?” or “Have a great freaking day!” or “Watch out for snow snakes,” followed by an innumerable list of “hahahahahahahahahahahs.” After one Colorado snowstorm, he left 101 snowmen in the driveway ala Calvin and Hobbes. I was nearly late to work trying to move them so I wouldn’t run them over as he knew I would.
My brother and I both practiced silence. On those rare occasions when he wanted to talk, I was there to listen. On those occasional moments when I got home and became a real girl and couldn’t stop talking, he knew to say, “Uh huh” in the right spots.

The night he came downstairs ready to go to work and found me in costume he didn’t even blink an eye. He didn’t ask me what I was doing, he just took some pictures for me and left. Whenever he repainted his left pinky fingernail black for good luck it didn’t seem odd that he used nail polish on a more regular basis than I did. We understood each other. After all we came from the same genetic pool of crazy.  
I have a feeling he was extra respectful living there with me, considerate and quiet. And I appreciated it. It wasn’t all fun and games. There were hard times. But it felt symbiotic between him and I. Familial. Comfortable.

I knew then that I had my own idiosyncrasies. And I tried to keep them to myself. I turned all my spice jar labels a certain way but let his cabinet stay as disorganized as he wanted. I obsessively washed my own dishes but left his in the sink when he’d promised to do them. I alphabetized my albums but didn’t bother to do the same thing to our video collection. The items in the fridge were placed just so. On my shelf nothing touched anything else. I knew I was weird, but I kind of liked that about myself.
When he moved out I contracted a mild case of empty nest syndrome then I quickly remembered what a wonder it was to live alone. Completely alone. Except for the loud neighbors et al.

The time passed on. And somewhere in there, between those walls, I let my home become like a prison. So, in the throes of an early-30s crisis I rented out my house. When I cleaned out my rooms and locked the door behind me for the last time, I felt this odd sense of unbelonging. I felt like a girl with no home, soon to be a girl with no country. It was frightening and freeing at the same time.
In transition, I lived for two weeks with my best friend and her partner since my renter had moved into my town home and I still had to finish out the time at my job. All the things that had survived the 2011 Relentless Purging of Things were crammed and stacked in the guest bedroom with me. This included my bin of composting worms.  J & J are good enough friends that when they found out about the worms (through a social networking status update) they didn’t kick me to the curb although J was just a little bit worried.

“They can’t get out can they?” she asked me just to make sure.
“No, they’re contained,” I assured her. And you have no idea how much I love them, I thought, keeping my worm obsession from spilling out into gushing words.

Over that two week period, J and I watched at least forty episodes of the Prison Break TV series on Netflix. We scheduled viewing time each day in order to try and finish all four seasons before I left town. It was not an achievable goal. But it was fun times. The night before I left J made me promise I’d wake her before I drove off. Neither of said much in the morning. We both were feeling emotional. “See you later,” came out a lot easier than “goodbye.”
I may have blinked away the tears when J and I hugged, but when I was alone behind the wheel I did cry. Leaving a decade of home behind me, leaving the Colorado mountains was harder than I had imagined. I already missed the things that I was leaving behind. Así es la vida (such is life). There’s always something to miss. Onward and southward.

In Dallas, I portioned out the remainder of my things to friends and family and stayed with my parents for three weeks. My parents are a lot cooler than me. It’s easy to live with them. They’re fun, they’re family, they’re free spirited. They didn’t tease me too much about trying to arrange my own little shelf space in their cupboard. I mean, after all, it’s probably their fault that I am the way I am, right? They let me leave some things in their attic and laughed goodheartedly at me as I tried to jettison more of my possessions each and every day. We watched the full two seasons of the TV show Life together over glasses of red wine and snacks of deluxe mixed nuts and chocolate covered almonds. My mom and I sat out on the patio together drinking coffee and talking, reading and thinking while looking at her garden paradise. My dad reassumed the care of my beloved worms (he’d given them to me and we’d had a father daughter bonding moment when I made my worms’ bin habitable). And then the day finally came when they got their house back to themselves and I moved to Peru.
“Boy, that’s some strange creature that landed up on my beach,” Walter said when he walked past me lying out in the sun by the pool one day. I hadn’t known how it would be living in the same place with someone I’d never met. It went okay for the most part. Somehow Walter and I worked around each other, sharing the kitchen and the front patio and then retreating to our caves when we needed to. For three months I lived at Casa Del Gringo with Walter, Geraldine, Jose, and the four dogs with this mixed up sense of I belong and I don’t belong. There was always this idea that I’d be packing up and leaving some time soon. Or moving out of my room for the weekend because Jose forgot I lived there. Walter made his comments. Geraldine left. Jose stayed behind and tended the Cieneguilla sun. The dogs roamed and waited for those dog days of summer to come.

In my constant fluxing state, I sold my soul to the city devil, signed a ten month lease on an apartment and moved into Lima.
For one glorious month I had the apartment to myself. I knew it was temporary. I relished in it though. I arranged the condiment shelf to please my not-so-latent obsessive compulsive traits. I kept my dishes in the drying rack since I used them every day. Why bother to put them away? I showered with the bathroom door open. I stayed up until all hours of the night writing and sipping cheap red wine. I soaked up the seclusion. I reveled in the loneliness. I delighted in my isolation. All the while it felt like I was just housesitting. I was just playing at somebody else’s life.

What was it that I needed? What is it that I need? Space to hear the silence. Latitude to wait for the words to form into sentences. Room to meet the characters who show up at my imagination’s door. I did get that.
Now that my new roomie has returned from the States I’m learning to live in this place all over again. Learning the dance of human interaction and sharing. It’s not hard, but it’s not easy for me either. I’m a recluse at heart. I need the ability to shut the world out. Perhaps I am only time away from becoming a crazy cat lady myself, albeit sans cats. I think I’d prefer lizards, worms or snails. These days, I avoid the condiment shelf. I’m not obsessive enough to stress the bottle positions, though I keep my own cabinet arranged to my own precise and strange liking. I shower with the bathroom door closed. I retreat to my room when my soul begs for asylum. I dry and put the dishes away more often than usual.

Katrina and I get along. After one month she hasn’t told me that I might be more comfortable living with people my own age or been shocked to find me standing staring off into space at nothing. I’m learning more about myself even while she and I are learning about each other and how we live.
“I’m still trying to learn what your silences mean,” she tells me one day when we’re weaving around each other in the kitchen.

I fall even more silent and think that my quietness means nothing and everything. I wonder if I’m easy to live with. What would Shirley, Chad and Mandy, my brother , J & J, or my parents say of me as a roomie? Did they feel that they had a home with me there with them? For Shirley the answer would be no. For the others, the time together I hope was comfortable, easy, a place of community and selfness. Here, now, I look for my own within the confines of these walls. I haven’t quite found it.  There’s some reluctant tug in my soul that doesn’t want me to claim this place as home. Maybe I let myself be caged up too long. Now I need the insecurity of flight, of freedom. The idea that if I need to, I can just pack up and leave.

I’m wistful, I’m displaced, I’m unsettled. This isn’t bad, just reflective. I pulled out the roots of my life a while ago and I’m still shaking the dirt from the ends and contemplating replanting them. I think maybe I am a little bit homesick. But I’m not sure what that means. I’m not sure what I’m homesick for. But you know what? In this moment it’s okay to be a little bit homesick for wherever my home might be.

1 comment:

  1. I love how you describe your relationship with your brother. That's awesome. I especially love the snowmen on the driveway! That's classic sibling love right there.