As much as I love my father, moving back into my parent’s house during adulthood was tricky. I basically felt like a glorified squatter. Not because he intentionally made me feel this way, but because pride. And because I was, in fact, encroaching in someone else’s living space. Dad didn’t ask for a dime for rent since I was in the process of negotiating a single-income again, but I am pretty sure he wasn’t expecting to have a haint for a daughter either. He spent most of his time working from his home office and always wanted to know what time I was coming and going, which, given my erratic schedule, was impossible to predict and made even more frustrated that I had to “report” in like I was back in high-school. I probably could have had friends over, but didn’t really want them to see me like this, so—leashed.
And worst of all, while navigating this divorce, I didn’t have any kind of familial companionship to offer him in return. My emotions were depleted. I was working out issues of anger and fear and depression and sadness with my therapist, and while I appreciated a roof over my head, part of me resented the fact that after just moving out of my husband’s house, I needed to depend on a man, even my own father, to make my teaching-artist lifestyle work. I tried to stay out of Dad’s way, tried to keep my temper in check particularly in the mornings (I’m not a morning person) and especially when we inevitably bumped into one another in his tiny kitchen at 2 AM since both of us are light sleepers and night owls.
I tried to make myself small, taking up no more room than the tiny guest room and bathroom, my cupboard of teas and dry goods, my shelf in the fridge, and my lone cup, plate, and bowl. I spent a lot of time lingering too long in my studio downtown or at Angel’s house, sometimes to eat take-out or change clothes or doze on her couch so I wouldn’t have to drive all the way back out to the suburbs. And most of all, I desperately tried to recall a time when I had my own place back in my 20’s. They felt like someone else’s memories.
So, when my usual monsoon of extra gigs showed up in the spring along with some heftier paychecks, I knew I’d be able to move out and I set April as my personal deadline. I found a cute apartment building in the exact neighborhood I wanted posited between the suburbs and downtown—the one thing I didn’t miss about downtown were the sirens—less than a mile away from the Kroger and a little over a mile away from school. I could even walk to Angel’s or my studio if I had to in about forty-five minutes. The landlady was installing new insulation, agreed to paint the walls the shade of grey I liked, and I realized too, as I was signing the lease, I was also moving in next door to one of my oldest and dearest friends on the planet. The stars had indeed seemed to align on my behalf.
I was so busy last spring, I didn’t even have time to buy groceries most weeks, so I ordered just about everything for the new place online, beginning with a new memory-foam mattress (which arrived vacuum sealed—wizardry, basically), a shower curtain, towels, and pots and pans. I’d given my ex-husband the majority of all the things I’d bought or inherited. The dishes, the sofas, the bed, the dressers, the shelves, even the cats. Everything but the artwork and my books. I had kept in our shared storage unit some other key pieces like a bed frame and dresser I thankfully could never bring myself to get rid of along with some of our wedding gifts we’d kept packed for seven years, deciding to open them only when we had our house of dreams. But since that wasn’t going to happen anymore and a sister needed flatware and a good crockpot, those went to the new place too.
Otherwise, I was basically starting from scratch. That’s when I found myself ruminating on what kind of sofa I wanted. I’d always lusted after a white sofa but thought for so long, given the fact that at the time, I had a husband (and husbands can be messy), two cats (cats can be passive aggressive and have claws), and maybe a lil’ crumb-snatcher running around one day, that a white couch was a dream I’d have to wait on until retirement. Now I had no man, no cats, and no kids any time soon if ever. And as if cosmically ordained, an extra check showed up in the mail from a gig I’d forgotten all about, and before I knew it, I had ordered a vanilla-colored wrap-around sectional, a matching chaise, and swivel chair. They’re also made of "faux leather" (read: vinyl), so easy to wipe down if someone spills red wine on it (you know who you are). But that white sofa is the crown jewel of my little hobbit hole. Everyone says it looks like it belongs in a mobster’s house or a 1970’s flick or on a space ship. I like to tell people I got it from an original Star Trek set.
I immediately began calling my little one-bedroom apartment, “Fraggle Rock.” I saged it up and down real good before I moved in even a single stitch of clothing. I hung a rotating prism rainbow-maker in the living room (I call 4 PM Rainbow O’Clock because on a sunny day, the living room fills with about a hundred slowly spinning rainbows). I immediately set out amethysts and geodes and succulents in the windowsills. I unpacked the books first. Clothes last. A coupla of the cubs came over when they got off work late those first few weeks and drank wine and ate pizza and put together my new bookshelf, hung curtain rods, and attached my mirror to the dresser. New poems, newly forged memories were already sifting up from the floorboards. From that first night on, the place was already being filled with laughter, music, light.
The first night.
After my new memory-foam mattress had expanded (seriously, that thing was invented by wizards), after all that resentment about living with someone else, I was dreading my first night alone. The cubs had gone. I paced around on the porch, exhausted and taking a break from unpacking, but restless, putting off going in to get ready for bed. I asked a new acquaintance of mine, Jared, a sculptor and abstract painter in South Carolina I’d met at a conference last October, who’d I’d been texting sporadically with for a couple of weeks because I wanted to commission a painting from him for the new place, if he was up (this was around 1 or 2 AM) and felt like talking. Jared paints primarily at night on into dawn, so he called and distracted me for a couple of hours with bedtime stories about his native New York until I couldn’t fight sleep anymore. It may not have meant much to him, but I am forever indebted to him for the fact that I didn't have to spend that first night entirely alone.
Little by little my place is still coming together. I’m playing around with lighting (fairy lights and a Himalayan pink salt lamp are my current favorite), where to put all the shmancy gems and rocks and taxidermy (thankfully, I was bequeathed a display case), and last week before the shoot, I stress-braided and hung 192 feet of fake English ivy and wisteria in two corners of my bedroom. And of course there are rainbows and butterflies and mermaids and unicorns everywhere. The giant Thai umbrella is a kind of funny and long story but it’s so ostentatious it works. So does the four-foot painting of a white long-haired cat.
I recently came to inherit a giant palm I named Frances. Adam, my handiest cub, built me a table out of three other tables for some of the living room plants so they could have more light in the living room. (Also, now I keep plants alive including the basil. Who knew??) I figured out how to hook up my TV and set up the wi-fi, usually jobs I left for my ex. My building neighbors are super nice and being blessedly patient with the new, strange girl next door who listens to “Get Free” by Major Lazer or “Gimme All Your Love” by Alabama Shakes on repeat most mornings. Once, I found lettuces in a ziplock bag and a stem of basil on my doorstep from the small garden next door. My dear friend and now next-door neighbor and I have spent more time together in recent weeks than we have in years. I couldn’t have even begun to predict how much we needed to know the other was just a front-yard away.
And because it is summer, I inevitably end up hosting “family night” at least once a week. Basically that means some combination of my menagerie of adopted sisters and cubs and kindred spirits show up to eat my “bastard” curry, drink my poor man’s sangria concoctions, watch music videos or 80’s movies, and fill the space with love and so, so, so much laughter. (There has been the odd prank pulled by Adam, one of which you may remember involved freezing my Captain Kirk figurine Han Solo style in a glass of water overnight). The squad knows they don’t even have to knock. They just walk in and I like that. A couple even have keys. They sit on the chaise in my kitchen and watch me whirl around the kitchen and fill plates and glasses. All the love that had for so many years felt like trying to fill up a sieve with this one person—I had forgotten that my heart was so big, could contain so much love. I had no idea how wide and deep love could be with all of these gorgeous souls I’ve let take up residence in my life over the last year.
My Dad visited on Father’s Day which also ended up being an impromptu “family night” and he had a great time eating chili with my friends and watching The Golden Child. Our relationship, you’ll be happy to know, feels much less strained now that we’re not living on top of one another. My ex-husband stopped by a coupla weeks ago to drop off a unicorn clock he found for me at the Goodwill and commented approvingly that the place was very me. I made him fix the Blu-ray player while I made dinner. It was familiar if a little odd, but not uncomfortable to have him there. Because it was my place. Not our place. I don’t expect him to be a regular per se, but I realized I do miss his friendship. We always laughed a lot together and have an innate understanding of one another without having to explain too much. And, it felt like the first true step to forging this new manifestation of our acquaintance-ship, without that capital “M” and all of its expectations and pressure looming over us.
It’s strange…there were such and dark and blurred moments from the past several months, sometimes I can’t even believe that that unhappy, dismal, stressed-out woman from even this past February was me. Someone once said to grow where you are planted. Now that in less than two months, I’ll be celebrating another solar return, I think that my emotional life over this, my 33rd year, moving into this next chapter, matched the seasons in a way. I went dormant over the winter, but things were still shifting and moving around in me as I began the arduous process of self-repair. By spring, I was obliged to learn case by case, to set pride and ego down, to erect boundaries where there’d been none, and also to let myself demonstrate vulnerability where I’d never shown it outwardly before.
There are days where I’m so alone I don’t know what to do with myself. All the sisters and cubs are busy and it’s just like, me and the Netflix. Sometimes, I think I want to adopt a cat even at the risk of my new white couch. Sometimes, I stress-hang art. Sometimes, I porch. (In Kentucky, I am reminded constantly that “porch” is a verb). It’s a strange thing to realize the little things that come with co-habitating with someone aren’t there anymore—like no one else is going to show up and make dinner or wash the dishes or throw a load in the wash or take out the recycling. There’s not another body in my wizard bed at night (there are, however, several pillows including a “husband” or reading pillow to take up the space. Also, I make everyone who comes over lay down on the wizard bed to appreciate its sheer wizardliness).
Sometimes, though, it’s in those most radio-silent moments where I find myself stretched out on my white couch during Rainbow O’Clock, with a book in my lap, the kettle on, and the bergamot incense going strong, where I can’t believe this is my life. I’m surrounded by physical beauty that I’ve day-dreamed into existence. Beyond my little sofa, there's nothing of real value in it to me except the people. Everything was pretty much given to me or bought on discount. Deep discount, lol. But I've manged to shape this place into the perfect setting for a new life. My new life. Some days, sure, it’s harder than others, but I’m learning slowly but surely that I am enough. Maybe, for him, I was way too much or not nearly enough. And vice versa. But for me, I am enough. The first root of newly acquired single-life is clutching the soil of this space. I wonder when and into what it will bloom.
And then, inevitably, radio silence is over with a call or text—someone in the squad is getting off work early. Wants to know if I’m going to be around later and will the kitchen be open and the fairy lights on. And of course, I am. It will be. They are.