I’ve asked myself what home is many times over the past two years. Is it a place, a person, a state of mind? My family’s obsessed with Lost, which may define home in the Season Four episode when Desmond starts involuntarily bouncing through time. Flashing from 1996 to 2004 and back again repeatedly during a single day, he risks insanity and death, unless he can find a “constant,” something or someone he knows in both his past and present.
He finds the love of his life in both eras, makes contact, tells her he loves her, and his time-flashes stop. She is his constant. Even lost on a tropical island, thousands of miles from her, he finds rest in a single conversation over a satellite phone with her.
The other day, I glanced at my laptop and burst into tears. The laptop hadn’t criticized my haircut or forgotten my birthday, but distracted by the day’s events, I had suddenly seen in my mind’s eye my large, red Valentine’s heart imprinted on its gray plastic cover.
I had put piece after piece of it there, month after month, while talking to Marcus on gChat and Skype, until at last the entire organ rested inside the Toshiba Satellite’s plastic casing. If Marcus was my home, my constant, there was no other place to put it, but in the only physical link I had with him. My computer.
I do this because I’m used to feeling no attachment to my actual quarters, and have left a piece of myself someplace constant, or looked for a place to do so, my entire life.
Growing up, I set seventy to seventy-three percent of my (sleeping) dreams at my grandparent’s house. A five-bedroom rambler that hosted nearly every birthday and holiday in my extended family until my cousins and I hit adulthood, the house and its decor has hardly changed since I was two. My mom and her sisters moved into it forty years ago and spoke of it like a dying family member when my grandparents thought a development deal was going to initiate their moving out of it.
My family, meanwhile, moved from rental to rental as we grew up. From northern California’s sudden showers and palm trees, to Seattle’s gray skies and smell of saltwater, to Anchorage’s nostril-freezing temperatures, climate and custom changed from year to year of our lives. But my relatives have kept the same addresses since I was born. Until my parents bought a house when I was sixteen, the houses of my relatives were more familiar and had more memories than the homes I lived in, however warm and cozy we made each one.
Eventually my family bought and lived in two houses in succession, allowing me to use my actual domicile as a constant, until I moved East and once again found myself adrift in time and space.
I looked for constants in lovers and friends, but found it, unexpectedly, at work. I spent my last six months on the East Coast “accidentally” referring to the office where I worked as “the apartment.” Even today, mentioning this to my mom, I had to stop myself several times from saying we’d “lived” instead of worked there.
We worked in three different offices in half a year, before my boss brought me along to choose between several spaces our staffing agency could settle in with a ten-year lease. He agreed on the smaller office that had windows, instead of the larger ones without, because I preferred it. He gave the landlord my design for the interior partitions. He let me lead the Ikea expedition to buy new desks and cupboards, recognizing that the trip I had taken recently for furniture of my own had given me battle-tested experience with that horrid abomination of a store. We debated together how to lay the carpet squares.
So far, that was the only time in my life I got to decorate a place with a guy.
Meanwhile, I’d agreed in one reckless morning to take an apartment in Brooklyn, to share with my brother. We both hated the place. I’d get home from work and find my brother lurking in his bedroom, the rest of the apartment dark and messy from the previous night’s debacle. He was miserable to be in NYC and I was miserable to not be at work.
My office was a bright, freshly decorated space full of people glad to be there. My apartment was a popcorn-textured, slanty-floored mess full of one drunk sibling and two affectionate but quiet black and white animals. Small wonder, then, which space I focused on when riding subways across Brooklyn every morning and night.
In England, I lived in a converted cider press called the Pound House. It was clean, white-walled, and full of the laughter of little kids. My belongings and work were there.
Marcus, on the other hand, lived in a house with holes in the doors, dust built up on the carpets, dirty dishes left in the drainer. The hot water tank was set to heat for only half an hour in the morning, nasty things climbed around the back bathroom, and no one was exactly sure what the rubbish was on the patio. He kept his room tidy, but the house itself had long ago sunk into the tenth level of hell. I would arrive with a large handbag carrying a change of clothes and mascara, spend a night or two, then get on the bus and go home. But home was never really where I lived, it was with Marcus in that shitty house he shared with several other intelligent gollums. It wasn’t a question of which was the better living space, then, it was a question of who I wanted to invest in emotionally.
I landed in the US, lived in three corners of the country, wandered through the dark spaces of parental separation and personal aimlessness, and went online every day to talk to Marcus. He was my constant, but in the absence of his body or bedroom, I had to put my heart somewhere.
In the laptop.
If near-constant relocation forces me to hand parts of myself for safekeeping to married employers, lovers in other countries, and grandparents I never see, is that a sign I should settle down?