On the wall next to the pool table in the basement, there was a plate cover that always hung loose. It had been missing the bottom screw for as long as I had memory and, when slid back, would pivot up to reveal an empty black hole behind it, an opening for a non-existent outlet. In the eyes of a child, it wasn’t just a gap in the drywall, it was a secret cave, a limitless expanse; a hiding place.
I used to fold up a dollar bill, even a fiver on the rare occasion I accumulated such a bountiful harvest, and tuck it into the crevice between the wall and a pair of loose wires. My hope was that I would forget about the stash and then some day, a few months later, maybe years, I’d come across it again, and it would be like finding buried treasure. The only problem was, the moment I slid the cash behind that plate, I thought of nothing else. The bill never remained back there long.
As I grew older, the game – and I suppose that’s what it was, a game I played with myself that I lost every time – took on a different objective. Now, instead of hiding the money so that I could stumble upon it at some unknown date, I hoped for enough willpower to resist removing the money at all so that, in some unknown future after my family had left, a different kid from a different family, would find the treasure.
I can’t say when I was first struck by the realization that I would not always live in that house, that my family would not own it forever, but it must have been fairly young. Our home was perpetually in a state of flux. I never had visions of growing up to raise my own family there.
I wish I could say that the last time I stuck money behind the face plate, I left it, but I’m ninety-nine percent sure I did not. I was consistently cash strapped and there was a new Spider-man comic to buy every week. Still, it’s fun to imagine some curious six-year-old playing around in that basement one afternoon and somehow managing to uncover my secret stash. It would be the greatest discovery of her young life.
Following the diaspora of my siblings and my parents’ divorce, my mother and I moved into a two-bedroom, loft apartment in the middle of Lawrence for my senior year of high school. Many different homes would follow. Over the ten years of my project, I lived in thirteen different apartments, some by myself, most with roommates, all of varying degrees of comfort and disorder.
These homes have been, at times, shabby and, at others, luxurious. I’ve had isolated apartments, and I’ve lived in the heart of the city. I’ve gone from having two floors all to myself to sharing one bathroom with six people. Whatever the amenities, wherever I’ve ended up, like a hermit crab making use of a found shell, I’ve made it home in my own way.
After three years in Brooklyn, I’ve yet to fully settle; I still exist in the vapor. No art on my walls, cardboard boxes serving simultaneously as storage and tables. I live like someone with one foot out the door because that’s all I know. In just over a month, I’ll move again.
I tried. When I settled into my first Brooklyn apartment, I purchased a desk and a chair, and a bookshelf. I picked up some cheap pictures from a street vendor and even bought a wall clock for some inexplicable reason. I made an effort to spread out, to accumulate, to slip into the nooks and crannies and feel attached. It didn’t take.
The clock’s batteries have been dead for two months.
Home is a bed
I have this kind of strange habit when I’m traveling, I’ve had it for as long as I can remember. As a child at camp and even now on a trip, I’ll refer to whatever temporary facility I’m staying in as “home.” If we’re out and I’ve forgotten something at the hotel, I’ll say, “I’ll just head home real quick and grab it.” It’s a quirk that occasionally earns an eyebrow raise, but I’ve done it all my life and I don’t think it’s so strange. Home is where I lay my head down to sleep.
I love having my own space, I crave it, but I’m not too picky about what the space should look like. I just need to be able to find my peace.
Living with other people can complicate that, not everybody was meant to be a roommate; or, at least, not my roommate. Sometimes I’ve made a home in an apartment despite living with people with whom I had nothing in common. Other times, it’s the people that have made an apartment home.
Home is a base, a starting point, a fixture to which I latch a tether, however temporarily. Like a climber reaching for the next anchor point, I’m always searching for somewhere new to fasten a hold.
Yet, home also remains, stubbornly, Lawrence, Kansas, and a blue, three-story, behemoth of a house ever sliding incrementally down a steep hill, now the residence of a family I’ve never met.
Lawrence: home to the University of Kansas and its rabid basketball fan base; home to the best hillside views in the entire state (maybe the only hillside views); home to artists, writers, and musicians; home to liberal reactionaries and a church on every other block; home (for a time) to William S. Burroughs, Erin Brockovich, and Langston Hughes; and the home of a family of seven, sort of okay.
The weekend before my next leap into the unknown, I’ll fly to Kansas to spend a few days with some of my family that now includes three nephews and a niece.
It used to be, when I’d return home for a short trip, I couldn’t walk downtown without running into a half dozen people I knew, just by chance. Now, when I go back, unless specific plans are made – and even then – I can go the whole visit without seeing anyone I know outside of my family. I’ll walk into an old haunt and anticipate hearing my name called only to be met by the disinterested stares of a whole new generation.
With each passing year, Lawrence, the small town in which I spent 22 years, transforms into something increasingly unfamiliar, even though in structure and physical layout, it remains persistently recognizable.
There was a time when my family name carried some cachet among (the less reputable) establishments in the town (in no part due to me), but those days have mostly passed. I suspect name dropping one of my siblings would only be met with confusion nowadays. As a college town, Lawrence is a constant churn of population turnover. You don’t have to leave a place for it to leave you.
Time will change our relationships with everyone and everywhere. I haven’t lived in Kansas in a very long time, and each visit reminds me of that fact. Yet, I haven’t broken the habit of saying, “I’m heading home” when I talk about returning to Kansas. I will never live there again (and I shake my head in dismay at almost every bit of state politics that makes national news), but it remains for always, my home.
My first home.
I’ve done this silly thing over the years, before leaving some of my apartments: I’ll take one of my original 10 Cities/10 Years stickers and press it directly above the door frame on the inside of my closet. It’s unlikely anyone will ever find them, but who knows. Maybe some curious 26-year-old will be messing around in their room one afternoon and somehow manage to uncover my surreptitious memento.
It will be the stupidest discovery of her young life.