I lost my sense of home at age 17. My parents decided, without much input from myself and my siblings. They moved to Albany and I stayed in the Bronx with my godmother. The decision was a double edge sword, and was more harmful than anything else. Although I was grateful to graduate with my classmates, I lost something really huge. I lost my home.
I spent senior year feeling incredibly depressed. I loved my godmother and yet did not feel at home. I’ve only known my mother’s house as home up until that point. I was so sad and confused, dealing with puberty and womanhood alone, knowing that I had also lost my mother completely due to her bi-polar diagnosis.
Whenever I did go up to Albany to visit, it would be incredibly painful. My mother was on heavy medication, so she was in bed and out of it all day. It hurt to see someone I saw as a go-getter become helpless. Something else that stabbed me deeply was my sibling’s ambivalence. My relationship with them was broken because of the move. They would taunt and laugh at me, saying, “you don’t even live here anymore.” They thought it was hilarious. I was angry. And it was true. I didn’t live there anymore. I understood why the house only had 3 rooms – one for my parents, one for my sister and one for my brother. It wasn’t practical for my family to have a spare room waiting for me. I got that. I was still saddened that there was no space for me at all. I could barely sleep with my sister without her messy room driving me crazy. All of this I carried with me.
New Paltz became my home during my college career. It was a consistent place that I could count on having somewhere all my own to sleep. I would dread the winter and summer breaks in Albany, and as my family continued to fall apart, I escaped to the homes of friends and men. I found solace in alcohol and weed. It was my way of coping with the incredible sense of displacement I felt. I no longer belonged to my family. The silence that permeated my whole life became deafening and heavy in my mother’s house. So not only did I not have my own space, the tension was unbearable. So I drank. So I smoked. So I left.
Towards the end of college, I knew that I was no longer the person my parents dropped off in freshman year. The summer and winter breaks gave me glimpses of what life would be like. I remember telling my mother a week before graduation that I was different. That it was going to be hard to live together. By this point, I had completely embraced my innate spirituality and my African roots. I had grown into myself.
It only took 3 months for the shit to hit the fan in her house. We had an argument about my tarot cards and interest in witchcraft, as well as the vibrator she “found”. She wanted me to change, to give up everything, to stop being anything less than Catholic and repressed. She didn’t understand who I became in college. She wanted me to be heterosexual and to throw away my beliefs. I packed up all my shit and moved.
Since then, I have moved more times than I care to recount. I’ve been running with all my stuff with me from house to house of friends and people who were loving enough to let me rest my head for a while. I had to figure out a lot of things quickly living in NYC. I have often beat myself up for not getting a regular 9 to 5 to ensure my stability in terms of home and food. I feel irresponsible most of the time, that I move around so much. I ask myself, what am I chasing? Why can’t I be normal? Why am I homeless? Why didn’t I give up my beliefs and just live with my parents? I would have died inside.
I am discovering in therapy that I’ve been recovering from losing my home 10 years ago. This week I finally admitted to myself that I am homeless. Although I have never slept on concrete because I have people in my life who would never let that happen, I have not had my own home in a long time. I have not known how to take care of my basic needs. I have blamed myself for not being practical and just getting a job like everyone else, for wanting to do something more with my life, like touch others deeply with my work.
Today, I am sad about this, as I sit in isolation in Oswego, NY. It is bitterly cold and all this snow makes me feel trapped in a way I can’t even describe. I have .44 cents to my name, a school that keeps calling me to pay a bill and half of my stuff is packed up, as per usual. Of all the blame and regret I am releasing, realizing I have been doing the best I could with a wounded 6 & 17 year old trying to get my attention from deep within. I feel like a failure a lot of the time. I feel ashamed because I feel undependable. Most people know to ask me where I am and what my number is, because those two things change so often. The instability is killing me. I am tired of blaming myself for this and feeling like I am doing something wrong. I feel like people look at me and pity me because of all the moving I have done. The sad part is that I pity myself. All this moving has made me feel very alone and ashamed, because moving this much means your community is scattered and never physically with you. This is some of the deep sadness I am finally facing and owning.
I want my own home.
call my possessions a shell
things that make me remember
i used to have a home
a long time ago
though friends will never let me sleep on concrete
i fear often that i am one trauma away from it
that maybe their homes are not big enough for it to be mine
i don’t have a home of my own
i despise those who have a rent to be stressed out about
i’ve prayed for food stamps like i never knew i would
just so i could eat and not pretend to fast
everything i own is in bags
everywhere i rest my head is temporary
give me a shopping cart so my things won’t weigh me down
some days it takes everything in me not to give up
the temptation to go back to the vodka bottle is strong
i force myself to continue
make myself write and share my story
as a warning
as hope for those about to find out what this is like
i find myself running away
trying to find somewhere safe
somewhere that is home