My first bedroom was a converted bathroom on the second floor of an originally two bedroom house. The ceiling slanted dramatically, and it was tiny for a bedroom, even though my bed, a second hand "youth" bed was small enough to fit. Occasionally birds would get into the ventilation vent that had been there when it was the bathroom, and a very shocked looking bird would flit around the room, more often just fluttering inside the wall.
Cartoon trains on the wallpaper, stickers on the dresser door that formed the shape of eyes and mouth- skull like- that terrified me when I was small. Heating vent that showed light from my brothers' room next to mine, and funneled sound from all over the house, and hot sooty air from the coal furnace.
When a brother put me to bed, I would get swung around over the stairway, or around the tiny slanted room first, before being plunked into bed. It was often cold, and the window very high. I preferred it to be as dark as possible, since shadows in dim light turned into threatening shapes. Dense darkness didn't scare me. Cold in the winter, I would scrunch down to the bottom of the bed to bunch the blankets around me. My mother would pull me back up to the top of the bed, and would in later years complain that I fought her, scratched her a few times. I probably did, since I would wake cold and confused, and in my sleep resisted her 'correcting' my position. Hot in the summer, covered with mosquito bites slathered in calamine lotion that never seemed to help with the itch, but always in a nightgown and underpants nevertheless.
I would later move into my brothers vacated room, larger, L shaped, with a door that would not stay closed if someone walked on just the right spot in the hallway. I would eventually get a lock, but that is a bitter story, for another time and place. A refuge of a sort. I would sleep practically in the window sill in the summer, my bed pushed up against the wall. In my teens I would resist my mother's insistence on moving the bed to different positions summer to winter, and I would draw in the ice on the window as I went to sleep to the booming drone of ship horns on the river. Fogs and storms meant ship-horn lullaby. Dogs barking in the narrow back yards, the eternal hiss of the freeway two blocks away. Fans in the summer to get some kind of breeze to my back of the house, cloying wet heat and sleeplessness.
When I moved to Kalkaska, I found a cinderblock duplex, a few miles from town on land surrounded by a christmas tree farm let grow. The floors were concrete, covered by a thin striped carpet. For the first time, I had a place all my own, and I loved that furnished two bedroom. I only had to pay for heat, and so I froze. But with the electric blanket, I would curl up in bed and watch my miniature red portable tv. The quiet was unnerving for me, knowing only noisy nights punctuated by sirens. I would grow to slept well in the dense silence and intense darkness. Cooking for myself for the first time, I ate off my frisbee because I had no dishes. A field mouse kept me company some days, poking it's intelligent sharp face up, watching me as though I was in it's home. If I could have peopled it with friends, I would probably be living there still, but the loneliness, deep within myself, drove me from the eden.
A few miserable months in the outgrown bedroom in my parent's house, then another place. Two roommates. An old building near Wayne State, up on the third floor, wood floors. I slept on a foam chair that unfolded to a sort of bed. I cooked and decorated, my aunt gave me an old kitchen table. I survived and learned hard expensive lessons from user roommates, and one good one who taught me to be a better roommate myself. Another apartment on a third floor in an old house, second floor to live in, the third reached by a metal spiral stairway that would be the bane of my existence, Source of many bruises, and an open top floor with three beds. Not a happy experience for someone who always had her own room. But it would not be for long, as I started to share sleeping arrangements in a tiny attic apartment with the eventual ex. I moved with him into an apartment like the first, also on the third floor, three windows onto the street. Right next to a bar. I could hear when it was 2 am by people pissing off the apartment roof onto the roof of the bar, past my window.
Salt Lake, and a newer place than I had ever lived in, but much more cheaply built, a view of the mountains, good guy bikers as neighbors. Growing unease in my choices, but move on. There would be a rented small house that would be worse, and the end of a bad connection, another two years yet.
Barracks, eight man bays in basic. Hearing other people sleeping. I was chided for calling the barracks 'home', but they felt as much home to me as anywhere, then. Warm and dry, a place to sleep seemed enough. In San Antonio it was a 64 man bay, I had a top bunk this time. I lived in my skin by then, and did not feel the lack of privacy . I could change a tampon standing at my bunk and no-one could notice. The polished floors, the immaculate shower rooms, the tightly made beds in long rows, conversations all around, the shocking fire alarms nearly every night, waiting outside until it was cleared. Only once did someone try to mess with me while I slept. I jumped down pulling the mattress with me, glared at her -ready for her to make any threatening gesture. She merely mocked me for 'looking' at her, but she left me alone after that. My friend Voog would come in after her evening shift on the psych ward, and whisper stories of her training adventures, and starting a rumor about the Don't Worry, Be Happy guy committing suicide. It was more home for me than any place yet.
Another barracks in Ft. Riley Kansas, on the job training (OJT) at an Army hospital. I had a room to myself, because the other woman had a place in town. When the summer storms came through, the thunder would shake the building and rattle the windows. I would find myself shocked awake sitting up heart pounding in my ringing ears. Cinderblocks painted white, it was clean, spare. I was in self destructive turmoil over my 'official' home disintegrating, and I was going out to call a cab, to buy a gun. But there was this party going on in the hallway, Friday night drinking of the regular Army staff, I was welcomed, given a beer, urged to join them. I didn't go into town, I got drunk and laughed, surrounded by friendly people. Home. Huh. Well, well.
Back to civilian life, and a year endured,survived. Escape, and a friend's basement for two weeks, then a new apartment. My own space again. Recently redone, one bedroom, windows north and south, noisy floors, between upper and lower floors, beige carpets still shedding fuzz. Nothing to put anything on, I made piles along the walls. I did my washing by hand because I hadn't been shown where the laundry room was. I bought a cheap drafting table and studied by the window with the radio on. Given an old blue sofa/chair -where I slept some nights. I had a single futon, which I replaced with a full size one with a frame that smelled of fresh pine. I was just making the bed for the first time, with a new spread that I paid too much for out of school loan money, when the phone rang. I was being activated for my Guard Unit, Gulf War I. I laid down on my new bed feeling strange and stunned. A new friend would use the place while I was gone, I paid rent, she covered everything else and I would have my new home back when I came back. A fair price for peace of mind, and my own home.
Others called them "the projects" and it was apt. Eight floor apartment blocks built by the Saudi government to settle to Bedouins, who refused to live there, offered to American troops for the Gulf War. Marble floors, chandeliers, bidets, paper still wrapped around the railings, bird crap everywhere along with the eternal dust, the elevators worked sporadically and the plumbing was infinitely unreliable. Air conditioners were put in before the heat of spring, but we could have used heat. They were good for cooling off the local coke, when shoved in the vent for a few hours.
I started out with three roommates, who one by one adjusted living arrangements to suit the cliques. Until I was the only one with P**tte, a strange smelly woman with most likely a borderline personality disorder. The last month, she moved in with another friend of hers, and I had a fairly large room to myself, where D could visit with reasonable privacy, by Army standards. An embroidered tablecloth was strung across the room, rugs covered the bunk and floor, boxes for uniforms and odds and ends, Nutella jar under the bunk, and Pringles nearby, Gary Larson Calendar on the wall. I was learning to carry my home with me, and D was now my home.
Back to civilian reality again, and forever. Michelle would eventually move out of my living room. D would move in. Cluttered and small, the management company would neglect the place badly. We were bewitched by a new place, not built yet, where we would be the first to live there. Two bathrooms! A balcony, a pool, a walk in closet! It seemed huge and luxurious. And it was, we were in love, overlooking faults as quirks. We had guests in the back bedroom, friends gathered to watch MST3K. Yes, ok, so the dishwasher was installed so it could not open, but went 'thunk' against the edge of the counter. Carpet not well laid, balcony that slanted in toward the building, a bathtub rail that came out of the wall when D used it right after having broken his arm. A bright orange light outside our bedroom window that I blocked using layers of blankets tacked up. Towed from our parking for being in a snow pile area that was no longer needed and the sign gone. Friends who couldn't park nearby. The rent went up. And we looked at each other one day and said, enough, it's not a good apartment with all these amusing problems, it's a bad apartment and we need out. We had to wait for the lease to be up, those ridiculous penalties, but we moved. A house gone sour, but we had each other still.
D spotted the new place, saw it as a good home. No cats allowed here either, but the big beautiful windows let in so much light, and we loved the bells from the church across the street, trees outside, and birdsong in the spring. It was a nice place to put our home.
And now we are in provided housing. Walked into a lobby with a concierge, and big empty echoing corporate style housing unit, and were appalled. After a month, we got our belongings, and now a cat, and it is feeling like home. Binoculars at the ready, since we are on floor 20. Another unlikely environment, but we are adaptable creatures. For 14 years, anywhere D is, is home for me. We are guardians of our solitude, safe and warm. But I do wonder what the next place will be like..... and how many friends we will fit in. We have been looking, and in Boston, for a place we can afford, it is going to be small and inconvenient, but we will cope. We will find room.
Labels: Army, childhood, moving rant