The thing not looked for
They say you can't go home again, which never bothered me because, as far as I could see, I was never there in the first place. My family moved at least once every four years.I always figured we were on our waym home. We would arrive there in the future and live happily ever after.
As it turns out, I have arrived home. But if anyone had told me at age 8 that what I was heading for was peace and contentment in two rooms of a row house that slouches, I might have considered dropping out of the steeplechase right then, putting myself up for adoption with some less adventurous family or just skipping the next six school systems.
I don't want to give the impression that my nomadic family or the rather cavalier attitude of the corporation that sent my father to most of its divisions across the country are responsible for my flightiness. Once I went to college and was out on my own, free to make my own choices -- regional and otherwise -- I began to move faster than they ever dreamed possible.
My higher education comes from five colleges in California and PEnnsylvania and two years off in London and Paris. I lived in nine apartments to get my BA, and I have some of the best-traveled sweaters and dictionaries in the world. I am most of my friends' address books in pencil.
All the college apartments had a transient feeling about them. Partly because if, not actually forcing another move quite soon for health reasons, they weren't the kind of places you'd want to put down roots in.
And partly because they weren't meant to be apartments. They were in houses that had fallen on hard times and been divided up. I washed my hair in a former broom closet, slept in a converted hallway, and cooked in very strange places. It was camping, and I liked it. I spent one of my happiest summers living in a turn-of-the-century dining room, where I kept my clothes in the sideboard.
Out of school, I continued this life style. My present building is the kind of place it takes a lot of nerve, not to mention a sense of humor, to call "home." Drawn more to lookout points than cozy hideaways, I was enchanted by the pearly light washing through the high old windows into the vacant bedroom. What moved me to the point of moving in was an elderly gray armchair someone had left alone in front of these windows, looking out, I wanted to join it.
So I did. It didn't bother me that the house leaned out over the street as if trying to depart from the row, or that it was an uphill climb across the kitchen floor and the floor in the other room sagged so deeply in the middle that two doors side by side rose up sharply at the outside corners, like cat ears. Who was I to ask for level floors? I move all the time, so why shoudln't my building?
For a long time, I was the only person I knew with my taste in neighborhoods. The first day I walked down the street to my new job, workmen were throwing the toilets out the windows of the other houses in the row. Soon the windows were boarded up. "Scary little street," a cabdriver once remarked as he left me off. The few friends who dared scale the perilous front stairs (hoping a shutter wouldn't fall on them) were surprised when they reached my rooms to find running water, heat, and light.
Then, suddenly, there was a commotion in the darkened buildings next door. Bulldozers tore off the rotting back porches, and decks went up. More interiors came out the windows. Slick blond floors were laid. Bricks were exposed, the steps and bay windows were squared up, white paint sparkled on the trims, and cute little wrought-iron fences sprouted overnight. As a final touch, bright green sod was rolled out over the basic broken paving stones, broken glass, and dead leaves of the backyards. Condos! I was living in a desirable neighborhood.
Even more sinister, a realtor began to show my building. I was ensure i was about to be gentrified out. But all the realtor brought was a family of three, man, woman, and young hippie. Frankly, they didn't worry me.
For one thing, they weren't wearing suits or carrying clipboards. For another, they negotiated the rakish kitchen floor like past masters and made straight for the windows. They stood on the back porch and looked around happily. They didn't fool me. Not looking at closets, but at views, and testing the atmosphere instead of the woodwork, these were not owners. These were tenants.
They did fool me. They bought the place and moved in. THey rewired, reroofed, and painted. It doesn't lookm a lot different. Our renovation is the subtle, not to say dragged-out process you get when you don't have a lot of money and equipment, the plumber is a friend who is good at the sort of thing, but doesn't have a lot of spare time, and you kind of like the place the way it is.
Before they bought it, they had an architect check the angle of the lean. He pronounced it tilted, but sound. Which is just how it feels, and that's as good a definition of "home" as I can come up with. I don't deserve it, by my childhood system of reckoning. I didn't go out and search for it. In fact, I had stopped thinking f myself as heading for home around the time I moved from the sixth to the seventh apartment.
But I know I'm home. And I guess that's how it happens. You forget to look for it, and then your forget to move. Pretty soon home just creeps up and settles down around you, and there you are.