“I’m moving again,” I said, sitting on a tall stool in my dad’s kitchen
“Again!? Jeez LOU-ise!” My eight-year-old brother Jack responded, wasting no opportunity to lay on the drama.
It was not an unreasonable reaction. Since I left my parents house in 2008, I’ve moved too many times to bother with counting. I’ve lived in a double wide trailer posing as a freshman dorm, a spare room in my friend’s mom’s house, a big crappy white house off Broadway with four 18-year-old-boys, a tent in the backyard of the Poison Lawn with my then boyfriend, an airstream camper at a NC farm, a drafty barn loft, a backyard shed, a random assortment of structures posing as homes and a handful more actual houses full of friends scattered across Knoxville like dry beans over the kitchen floor. Point being: I’m pretty familiar with this moving thing.
In the last year-and-a-half, I have moved six more times (an average of once every two months). I moved out of the little white house on E. 5th Avenue where I’d managed to stay for three whole years (the longest time I’ve lived anywhere as an adult) and across the country to Boise, Idaho where I landed in a backyard shed with my then partner. I should say: my abusive-alcoholic partner, although these are not things I was awake to at the time.
From there we upgraded to a boxcar with a wood stove dropped in the hill country some 30 miles outside Boise city limits. It was breathtaking beauty and the terror of isolation and the comfort of wildness distilled into one place, mixed up with snow despair and pine needles and gumption. When we first went there, I sat in the pine duff and between my feet I found that I was staring at a shard of a porcelain statue of the Virgin Mary. In the writing of the story of my life, a more romantic or barren location could not have been chosen in which to play out this chapter. In the middle of the winter I discovered I was pregnant, woke up to my situation, and left.
I drove back to Knoxville in time for February, the starving month. I spent that month at my mother’s house, allowing my body to begin the process of re-learning what it means to be safe before moving out to a grey rental just across the Tennessee River. It was a holding room, a place to wait on the outskirts of my real life while until I was ready to make a full re-entry.
In that first rental house we didn’t even have a couch for three months and on the day I brought Joseph home from the hospital, I found a handmade card on the dining room table that said my roommate wanted to leave. I reacted so powerfully to this new un-safeness that I couldn’t even talk about it for a number of days. Not to anyone, and when I finally did it was mixed up with a whole lot of tears on the couch I’d finally bought for $25 from Am Vets.
So, I scrambled frantically for a new place to live, and when Joseph was 8 weeks old I once again loaded the belongings that were no longer only mine, but ours, into the back of the car and moved us deeper into the county south of the river, setting up residence in the attic bedroom of a beautiful historic farmhouse in a place where the stars still come out at night. It was and is owned by the most genuine and giving woman a person could hope to know, and whose three-year-old daughter became Joseph’s first idol.
When I landed there I was welcomed so completely and so without justification that I actually suffered from imposter syndrome. Why do they treat me with such kindness? They must be mistaken. No one who really knows me would treat me this well. But we passed the winter together, stoking the wood stove, and over time I came to believe that at last I really was safe, I really was welcome, and it wasn’t a mistake.
But then I chose to move again.
Finally, after so much running away from, after so much frantic scrambling just to provide a stable and safe home in which to sleep, after so many floors dropped out from under me, I am moving from a safe loving home into another safe loving home.
This is an amazing position to be in, and I need to name that many people will never experience the place that I am right now. While I am trying to understand my own experiences of not being safe I have to remember that every day there are hundreds of tiny unsafenesses that I do not have to experience simply because I am white, because I am straight, because I am temporarily able bodied, because I am young, the list goes on. This is just to say: I see the privilege from which I speak.
The house I moved in to belongs to one of my very best friends, Rose. She bought it in a moment of incredible courage and belief in the possibility of intentional, loving, committed community and – joy of joys – asked if Joseph and I would join her in seeking it.
This is how we found ourselves, just this morning, talking to each other through an open doorway, both of us covered in splotches of primer and paintbrushes in hand. There is something to this act of painting a room: it is a certain kind of commitment, and a willingness to do the hard unpleasant messy work to make it into what you need.