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There’s No Place Like Home

by Crystal Torres on October 11, 2017

My first bedroom didn’t have a door. There was just this hole in the wall where a large piece of fabric, with fiery colors was hung. I remember that I could leave that bedroom very quietly in the morning, and go straight to the fridge. The bedroom opened into the kitchen, not into a hallway. The refrigerator was old, with rounded edges and chrome on it like on an old car. I remember the refrigerator being hard to open, like I had to unlatch it, but I don’t know if that’s actually a thing. Did refrigerators ever latch? I was three and a half when we moved out of there, maybe I just had trouble opening the fridge on account of being so small. That’s not the point, anyway. Those are just the things I remember.

I don’t remember, but I know that my mother had to move back in with her mother when she was pregnant with me. I know that what I remember was the little house in my grandmother’s backyard. I felt like there was more or less room for me, but like my mom was being done some favor. It’s hard to explain. I just felt like there were things that other members of the household could just take, that my mother had to ask for. We lived there, but it wasn’t exactly our home.

It was exciting when we moved in with my dad, the man who was going to become my stepfather. I didn’t have my own room anymore, but the apartment had a very large bedroom that we divided with big library style bookcases. Even without walls and a door on my room, it felt more okay to take up space. My mom did her best to make a home for me. Still, it was just a one bedroom apartment and my father already had a lot of stuff when we moved in, and he acquired more over the years that we were there. It was where he kept his stuff, more than it was where he lived then. It was my home, but there wasn’t really room for me.

When my parents split up we moved in with my uncles who were renting my great-grandparents’ house. Well, at that point my great-grandfather had died, but the rent helped to pay for my great-grandma’s nursing home. I love that house. Before my parents broke up, I spent every weekend I could hanging out with my uncles, and their friends, mostly at that house. It’s just a tiny little two bedroom house though, not even a thousand square feet of floor plan. My uncles each had one of the bedrooms and my mom slept in the garage and I slept on the couch, where I’d spent so many weekends.



I loved it, but I hated it too. At first my mom was back to being like she’d been at my grandma’s house. Like they were doing her a favor (which they were) and like she owed somebody something just for existing. I hated seeing my mom like that. I mean, now as a grown up, I wish I’d handled it graciously. I wish I’d taken on more chores, expressed some gratitude. That’s not who I was then. I was angry and resentful. I refused to owe anybody anything. It was almost impossible to get me to do a chore in that house, and when I did no one was ever adequately grateful. I think I’d been more helpful as a part-time guest (within the limits of being a clumsy kid with more enthusiasm than skill) than I was after I’d been taken in full-time. It just sucks to feel beholden. It was my home, but there wasn’t really room for me.

I moved around a lot starting at sixteen. I moved in with family. I moved in with friends. I used to dream about houses a lot. I dreamt about moving in to places and finding their secrets and being home. The dreams continued even after I moved in with the man who will soon legally be my ex husband. He had his own apartment when I moved in. It was filled with his stuff, but that was okay, it was only temporary. We were going to get a house as soon as we could. There wasn’t really room for me in that apartment, but it was never really home anyway. It was just temporary. For seven years, it was temporary.

Then we bought our own house. I was so excited. I could finally exhale. In the apartment, every time I had wanted to paint something an interesting color, or do anything that suggested we might be staying for more than a minute, I was met with sound arguments about getting our deposit back. Once we owned a house all that changed. I was met with arguments about resale value, instead. For a decade, I was a housewife there, but it was never my home. There was never room for me.

When I started working outside the home, I dreaded leaving work. I would always find just one more thing to do rather than go back. Eventually, I’d have to leave work, or risk being too tired to drive, then I’d sit in the driveway forever, not quite able to will myself out of my vehicle and into that house. The worst years of my life were spent in that house. I became expert at reading his moods, recognizing antecedents, mapping escape routes. He was angry all the time, and my avoiding him made him angrier. I hated living there so much. It was my address, but it was not my home.

With the help of friends, I was able to get out of that situation. The kids and I stayed with a friend for a while and I am grateful, six months is a long time to have houseguests. Six months is also a long time to be houseguests. I was that grateful, indebted person I had hated seeing my mother be. It wasn’t actually as bad as it had seemed from the outside. Also, this time temporary was temporary.

I found a little house close to work. It had arches and decaying sandbag. Those things are so symbolic of the place where I work, the place where I was able to seek sanctuary from a toxic marriage. It had a deep yard, mature shade trees, the rent was reasonable, they’d let me have my dog and I could garden as much as I wanted to. I was so happy to have a clean, safe place to raise my kids.

When we moved here we had almost nothing. That quickly changed, thanks to the generosity of my friends and family. I will never be able to pay those people back, but I was able to pay it forward, in small ways, because I have a home. I’ve been able to offer food and shelter to friends passing through, because I have a home. I was able to temporarily house a friend’s cats while she sought out a permanent home near her newly permanent job, because I have a home. I was able to take in an evacuee (a friend’s cousin), and her dog during the Blue Cut Fire, because I have a home. I was able to take in my dad when he was evicted, because I have a home.

My daughter and I have marveled together at how good it feels at the end of the day, to come home. The life we live here has been simple, but it has been better than either my daughter or I would have dared to expect. It’s not just a place to keep our stuff, it’s a place to recharge ourselves, to lick our wounds, to make our plans. This is where I dance and she sings and we all laugh. Home has been our abundance, our sanctuary, our renewal. Here we have found peace. This is our home.

For the decade I tried to get out of my marriage, the ex told me that it would be our ruin. He told me I would destroy our children’s lives. The fear that there was even a small chance he could be right held me captive for so much longer than I should have been there. By the skin of my teeth, sometimes, I have managed to have it all. I go to work. I go to school. I come home. I take care of my kids. We are not just surviving. We, all of us, both kids and I are thriving here. This home has been nothing short of a miracle.

And now it’s threatening to fade into the mists like Brigadoon. My landlord is trying to sell my family’s home. I suppose the prudent thing would have been to move into some more expensive, less conveniently located, compromise when the threat was first raised. I mean, if I’d seen anything equally good, I would have gone for it, but there hasn’t been anything equally good. Every listing I see looks like misery in comparison. So I’ve decided to go all in. I’m not giving up on my home.

Somehow, we will buy this house and it will be even better then. When we own this house we can paint a mural on the garage door so I can easily tell whether or not I’ve closed it when it is backlit in the early morning. When we own this house I will put colorful Mexican tiles between the cabinets and the counter, all along the kitchen wall where the stove is. When we own this house, I will have a bedroom that is plastered in some serene color that is not the key lime nightmare it is now. When we own this house we will dig a walipini (undeground greenhouse) to house plants and ducks in a more stable temperature than the Mojave Desert willingly provides.



Right now, having the house shown almost every day to strangers and scrambling to find/scan/send supporting documents to mortgage brokers and loan officers, while keeping up with work, school, parenting, etcetera, is pretty much hell. Every day, I fight back tears, because this is really, really, really hard and I want to quit. It’s just that if I quit trying to buy this house, then I’d have to start saying goodbye to this house. Saying goodbye to this house would definitely be worse than even this hell. So I persist. I go all in. I stay all in. I move the mountains necessary. When we own this house, I will finally sleep. This is our home and we love it here.

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