When my mom died last May, I remember walking through her house a week later with my hulking Italian stepdad commanding the tight walls littered with kitschy signs and cows. He pointed to stuff asking matter-of-factly, “You want it? You want that? Because I don’t want it.” His large frame in our tiny house always intimidated me, but that day really blew my mind because it was like he was suddenly on my level. He couldn’t scare me because we were both mere puddles of sorrow. We lost the one person neither of us believed we could ever live without. I spent most of that day blinking and just muttering “Yeah. Uhuh. Yup, yeah.” As he rattled off thoughts and Blackhawks trivia as he toured me around my dead mom’s home, my childhood home, and made an effort to get rid of the things that I watched her pick out at Marshall’s fifteen years ago. None of it made sense.
That summer and on, I found myself pricked by the throwaway words of my friends. Things that were just a statement of fact became a personal attack. “Sorry, can’t I’ll be out of town. My mom and I are going on vacation.” “Eh, I’m moving and I have a lot of crap but it’s fine, I’ll just leave it at my mom’s house.” “What do I get my mom for Christmas…?”
In the months following her death, I realized that I didn’t have a home anymore. I didn’t have a home base to just leave my stuff. I didn’t have a front doorway where I had haphazardly kicked my shoes off since I was five only to have my mom gripe at me about it later. “Hannah Aaron, if I have to ask you one more time…” I didn’t have a backyard that constantly flooded but held memories of my favorite birthday parties. Cowboy themed, under the sea themed. My mom always making extravagant cakes to the dismay of the chubby, unattractive, and less skilled neighborhood moms. Nope, home was wherever I was now. My dad lives with his girlfriend in her chic North Center apartment. They’ve lived together for a while, but the meticulous cleanliness and organization is a constant reminder that it is indeed, her place that my dad happens to live in. No Nicorette gum left on the coffee table. No dishes piled in the sink. No incriminating peanut butter finger prints on the computer keys. The slightest mess left by him in a hasty exit fatal; a red blinking light beckoning a disastrous argument that night after their long respective work days.
So, yeah. My home was wherever I was now. Wherever I was with my hand-me-downs and my cat and the crap I took from my mom’s house praying it would fill the hole (it didn’t).
When my lease was on its way out in April, I had expected to stay in my 3-bedroom Roscoe Village apartment another year.
“Moving is just like, expensive.” I complained, shoveling panang curry in my face, Real Housewives playing in the background.
“You don’t know what I go through every night!” A painted Erika Jayne in a kimono with a wild yet carefully crafted updo yelling at Eileen on a yacht in Hong Kong.
"And like, I like this place enough. I don’t wanna leave.”
“Totally.” My friend Bekka agreed, equally invested in her panang.
A few days later, I found out my roommate was moving to Logan Square to live alone. It was then that I admitted I loved this apartment, but two years later, I had to leave. I had seen some shit in this apartment. Breakups, deaths, wonderful New Years Eves spent alone, hangovers, tense roommate discussions, drunken Ramen noodles, their hardened crumbles lodged in the crevice between the dishwasher and the kitchen floor. I needed to live alone. I needed to get rid of my college hand-me-downs and work hard and purchase what I wanted and make my own space and begin again.
I would move into this studio and do yoga everyday.
I would bake for the boys I’d have over, who nobody would even know about unless I told them. No roommates to hear me masturbate loudly when I thought I was alone.
No one to drink my beers.
No one to ask me for laundry quarters.
This corner of the world would be all mine. Anything in my space would have had to be carefully chosen by me and only me.
I would learn to cook.
If I went out to eat, I’d be the sophisticated friend who ordered wine and a salad while everyone destroyed burgers and onion rings.
I’d wear chunky knit sweaters from j. crew in the winter time, with wool socks and no pants.
I’d listen to jazz in the morning while my Intelligentsia coffee brewed.
“Uh excuse me?”
“Yeah?” The Intelligentsia guy turned away from the steaming Espresso machine, his curly hair jutting out rebelliously in different directions, most of his face covered by ‘70s wire-framed glasses with translucent yellow lenses.
“I just, uh yeah, I need um help.”
“So I just bought the… MAH-TAHL-PUH?” I over annunciated clumsily.
“Oh right on, that’s really good.”
“And just like, I have a SMALL coffee maker, like SMALL.” I kept repeating “small” while I pantomimed the size of my coffee maker in my hands.
“So right so like, how much coffee do I put in? How many um. Scoops?”
“A tablespoon per cup.” A voice interjected, annoyed.
I glanced over at another Intelligentsia employee. A chubby twenty-something man, filling out a clean light blue button-up shirt protected by his bib apron, eyeing me judgmentally through his delicate glasses as he handled a steaming cup of coffee while a waifish girl in a striped shirt and beanie cap watched ravenously.
“A tablespoon per cup. Got it.”
“There ya go!” ‘70s porn star said with a kind smile.
I had laid awake at night for the two months leading up to my move, daydreaming about the layout. Each furniture purchase felt like a step towards rebirth. A velvet blue couch, a picture frame, a candle, an ikea shelf. It all represented the new and improved me. The first night in my studio, I had friends over, and my ever maternal supportive older sister. One friend, a gay master of interior design named Jesse, another, Bekka, my artistic (also maternal) friend who somehow managed to figure everything out without ever worrying, and Joe, the only friend I have who is on my level of bitchiness and realism. It was the perfect coven to christen my new place. They all joked with me as I attacked boxes one by one, refusing to sit down and enjoy wine with them. Every now and then, Jesse would interject his wisdom.
“You can’t put that there. It’ll close off the space.”
“Your walls are concrete. Wait to do your gallery wall until you have command strips. I’ll help you. It’ll be so much easier.”
“This coffee table is what, 20 inches? Too big for the space. Try this!”
One after another, he offered brilliant and easy solutions to making my 10 by 15 foot corner of the world into a chic bachelorette pad. By the end of the night, my den of boxes began to look like a home. MY home. So of course, I got emotionally overwhelmed and panicked.
“I just wanna be done!” I cried. “There’s just so much stuff! There’s just so much fucking stuff! Stuff from my mom’s house! This picture of me as a child! In this ugly fucking frame! I don’t want it! And who’s this guy?!” I asked, holding up a black and white old photo. “I don’t even know who this man IS!”
My friends were laughing as they assuaged my worries. “Hannah, please babe. Sit down, have a glass of wine. We got so so far! It looks amazing in here!” Nodding and general sounds of agreement from everybody.
I turn toward them bathed in the fluorescent light of my kitchen.
“It’s just like, this is my home. Like, my home is wherever I am. And I just want to try things my way. Like, I love you all and appreciate the advice, but like FUCK OFF. Like I want to try it MY way like I just want TRY IT!” My bun flopped to the side of my head in defeat as I cried into my hands.
“Hannah. We can do whatever you want. We can try it all your way! It’s okay.”
“Yeah, and like, this is all tough. Probably has to do something with your mom, too.”
“Yeah…” I whimpered.
I couldn’t believe that despite my meltdown and F-bomb, after hours of helping me assemble a shoe rack and some shelves, sitting amongst my boxes of shit, that these people still had it in them to quiet down and just love me. To sit there and laugh with me and never at me and insist that it was all so totally okay. That was the kind of energy in my home. Calm, kind, new, fresh energy. The smell of the housewarming candle Bekka got me that she knew I wanted when I held it in my hands for a solid seven minutes at Anthropologie the week prior before talking myself out of it. A box of red wine flowing. Real Housewives of New York blaring in the background.
“Well hello, handsome!” Ramona sits cross-legged in silky black lingerie on a gaudy gauche gold couch in her Manhattan apartment to welcome home her disinterested silver fox of a husband Mario. He would divorce her next season.
And now I’m here two days later.
I can’t sleep because everyday I wake up excited like something grand is about to happen.
My first morning I took a shower and closed the door out of habit. The knob fell off and I was locked inside while my cat meowed and my phone charged in the living room. I opened the bathroom window in my shower and shouted into the void, “HELLO!”
Heat emanating from my curling iron.
“HELLO?! I’m STUCK in my BATHROOM! Unit 701! I need help!” 2 minutes of repeating my desperate plea.
“701!” I yell. I can only imagine this is what Chuck Noland felt like in Castway. Why aren’t I that thin or tan.
As a kid, you never think about what it’ll be like to make your own home. In fact, you pray you’ll never have to. It sounds like a death sentence. As a kid, you imagine staying in your safe cocoon of a bedroom forever and staring at the glow in the dark stars on the ceiling. You want to wake up everyday to the sound of your mom tinkering around in the kitchen, catching up with grandma on the phone while some morning TV show squawks listlessly in the background. The dog barking at the mailman. The neighborhood kids growing every year, bike riding giving way to driving the family car, and you’re one of them, and you’re growing too. And you’re making your own thoughts and then changing them and then changing them again and then feeling confused about all these changes and if they’re right. You hate most of the changes. You hate the way your boobs get in the way during mini golf. You hate that you don’t know how to french kiss, and the only way to learn is a series of uncomfortable lizard kisses with your freshman year boyfriend who skateboards. You write his initials on the bottom of your black converse. You go through your first breakup. You sit on the kitchen counter while your mom struggles to make you feel better and eventually does.
Then real shit happens.
College is over.
You get a cat.
You make a home.
And there it is. That moment you never thought would happen. And as sad and overwhelming as it is, as you cry into the boxes while your friends convince you to sit down, you realize that in all that uncertainty is such power. Like, insane, ‘oh shit how do I have this and what do I do with it?’ power. Power to drink the coffee you like. Power to have a fridge stocked with your favorite wine. Power to waste a day in bed alone or with somebody else. Power to fumble on the phone the first time you order delivery, as you excitedly utter your new address. And that new address is yours and full of possibility, and you’re crying and you’re also smiling and you’re observing that these are happening at the same time and you’re a little drunk and recognize how cheesy it is but you love it and as you fall asleep with your cat, you realize you're finally home.