By Ashley Nicole Doonan
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines home as “the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.” What if I disagreed with the Oxford University Press? What if I told you that home is something that you carry with you. Maybe you’ll roll your eyes and tell me to stop speaking in abstracts. Or maybe you, too, understand what it’s like to possess this internal shelter, built gradually as a result of the overabundance of physical homes.
I could you tell you about what I called at age three “the big blue house”—the only home that I knew for the first six years of my life. I could tell you about the Easter-lilac painted walls of my bedroom and my Barbie-themed wallpaper. I could tell you about the canopy bed that I received at age four, informally known as my fortress. I could tell you about the picture window in the living room where the sunlight flooded in at dusk upon the grey sofa. I’d curl up on that sofa for long naps and suck on the middle and index finger of my left hand—an infantile habit that I couldn’t seem to break. I could tell you how my almond-colored eyes lit up each afternoon when my father returned home from work. I would shriek “Daddy!” and eagerly leap into his broad arms, wrinkling the carefully ironed creases of his suit.
I could tell you what it’s like to lose everything when you’re too young to comprehend that loss. I could tell you what it was like to smell the lemon-scented disinfectant and listen to the vacuum do its final sweep of the living room, as the realtor impatiently waited in her ebony pencil skirt and overpriced stilettos for us to clear out the last of our things. I could tell you that at six years old, I kissed the speckled-black carpet before I exited the house for the final time. I could tell you how I stubbornly threw myself across that carpet and begged my mother to let us stay; the warm tears flowed generously down my face. I could tell you about the perfume that my mother wore that day, Estee Launder, and how that smell was the only familiar thing to me after we left the house.
I could tell you about the silent heartbreak in my mother’s expression as she carried me down the steps of the sapphire-blue porch on that humid July afternoon. This was same porch that was long enough for me to learn to ride my first bicycle on. But it was somehow shorter that day. Too short. I could tell you about the heaviness of the July air in that moment. Air too heavy to breathe in comfortably—I could have sworn we were ten times closer to the equator than I’d ever been. I could tell you that Matchbox Twenty’s “Long Day” blared through the speakers of our tawny minivan as it stalled down the paved driveway for the last time.
I could tell you about the apartment complex in Gloucester that we resided in for less than a year thereafter. I could tell you about the sea breeze that seemed like a permanent fixture of the residence. The air was not heavy, but salty. My mother would often bring my brother and me on walks down to the nearby pier because there was more to see there than there was within the cold, white walls of our apartment. I could tell you about the strangers that I’d occasionally see in the corridors of the building. I could tell you about the key card that we used to enter our room—equip with one and a half bathrooms and a kitchenette with black-and-white checkered floors. I could tell you that this residence was never technically my “permanent address.” My mother shuttled me thirty minutes to attend school and dance practices at “home.” I could tell you how at the tender age of seven, I knew to keep this place a secret; I understood that “living under the radar” meant that we might not lose everything all at once. I could tell you about the chlorine filled pool adjacent to our building and the metallic silver elevator that led us to our room. I could tell you what it’s like to spend a year in what was more a like a hotel than a home. Continue Reading…