Sleep. Last night was the first night since leaving my dorm in New York City on the 12th of May that I have slept more than one consecutive night in the same bed. Beds have become more of a resting place than a place of rest. There is always something that keeps me awake. Schoolwork, stress, doubt, fear, excitement, joy, loneliness, hunger, regret, a feeling that I have either fucked my whole life up or that I am finally living it, sex, rehearsal, an essay, an all night drive, turbulence, the sun, the heat, the cold, the traffic on the street, a fight outside my window, a drunk person in my bathroom, sirens, tears, a late night conversation, laughter, music, my heart racing.
Last night it was fighting a mosquito that eventually chewed up half my arm. But mostly it was thinking about a girl I miss back home. Though she is no longer in the home that I am thinking of now. The New York City home. She’s somewhere else. Someplace I have never been and can’t quite picture. A place surrounded by miles of land and ocean and cows and the smell of cows and it’s too cold to be out walking on the sand outside and so she eats books for breakfast and takes a hundred baths a day.
I’m not sure where home is anymore. My apartment in Los Angeles was home. Or at least I think. I remember lying in bed the first night there with my two orange kittens nestled between my feet and my man at my side and feeling like the luckiest girl in the world. I drove that night from my mom’s house in Orange County with the cats in a duffel bag because I didn’t have a carrier for them. I cried the whole way thinking they would suffocate. I let them out while driving on the 405 freeway (stupid idea) because they were crying so much and I suddenly didn’t trust that my mom was correct in her theory that they would just “go to sleep”. I used one hand to unzip the bag in the passenger seat and they exploded from inside it and one disappeared into the trunk of my Ford Explorer and the other worked its way onto the dashboard and was screaming a scream of terror that was unnatural for the dinky size of the creature and I panicked, shrieking “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” while trying to figure out how to get them back in the bag without crashing. The whole scenario gave new meaning to the phrase “let the cat out of the bag.”
I drove all the way back to my mom’s and called her from the driveway to come help/console me. She came outside and scooped them back into the duffel with one hand and without blinking an eye, and told me in this dry, I want to go back to sleep now tone, that it was this or leaving them at her house. So I zipped them back up, leaving just a little hole unzipped so I could feel better about them being able to breath. Zeke kept sticking one paw out of the hole like a submarine periscope, his little mitt curling into a tiny cat fist, grasping at me to pull him out. But eventually they did fall asleep–though I was sure they were dead, and I cried with my heart thumping the entire hour long drive.
They were curled up in each other’s arms when I opened the bag. I was relieved when I finally got them inside and allowed them to explore. That night alone in that apartment with my man and my tiny cats curled around our feet and the breeze coming in through the window was one of the happiest. I felt like I had finally staked my claim on a space somewhere.
Now my home seems to be wherever I happen to be. It was my dorm room on Washington Square Park for the last 9 months. It’s my mother’s house at times. My father’s house some nights. Over the summer before transitioning to New York it was whichever friend’s couch I decided to sleep on that night. Whoever would have me. Sometimes it was the foldout in my brother’s room in his apartment in Lawndale, where once we unfolded the futon there wasn’t room for much else and I’d wake up feeling like we were kids again sharing a big hotel bed on vacation with our parents and it made me smile and my broken heart hurt a little less.
For the 10 days directly after school got out it was Nick’s car as we drove across the U.S. making our way to California, falling asleep in the back seat in one state and waking up in another, with nothing but miles of open road and time to reflect. Some nights our home was a friend’s house that one of us knew along the way. Never the same one twice.
We worked our way through Colorado and Utah and then out of the mountains and the world opened up and became salt on all sides. A car had slid down into the salt lake and three teenagers were struggling to push it back up onto the road. It was especially windy that night and the sun was disappearing and the sky had turned into a deep blue with purple and orange streaks through it and we winced each time a semi truck drove by and pulled our car toward it in the wind. We turned the music up and puffed on cigarettes and waited for that communal sigh of relief that happened each time another truck passed us safely. That night our home was the Big Chief Motel in Battle Mountain.
Some nights our home was a truck stop. Other nights a patch of land off the side of the road where we would stop for hours to get time lapse recordings of the stars and we would sit and fill the time talking in the car, laughing, telling each other all our secrets. Nowhere to go, nothing else to do, and we couldn’t have been more content than to just sit there in the middle of nowhere with each other. Those boys, my brothers, they were my home those nights.
Then it was the plane from California to Italy. Then a bus ride from Pisa to Florence because our plane couldn’t land in the wind (Or because Kim and Kanye were getting married–who knows) and we took an hour long bus ride from one airport to the other, and I fell asleep on the way and woke up disoriented, perplexed by a dream I couldn’t quite remember about the girl I was wishing was there with me.
Then it was a hotel stuck on the side of a hill with a lobby that smelled like yogurt and the room had twin beds pushed together with sheets that were starchy and smelled of old people covered in cologne. But there was Heineken in the vending machine downstairs and I drank it gladly when I got home from my stroll down the street where I was lucky to find a restaurant open. I sat alone, famished and jet-lagged but excited. I scarfed bread soaked in olive oil and covered in pureed zucchini and topped with olives and drank a generous glass of Italian red wine. I walked home pinching myself with no one around to share in my joy. The air was thick with jasmine and fireflies and possibility.
I bought a lukewarm beer from the vending machine using two euros, sat in the garden a while taking in the stars. I took a hot shower, turned off the lights and got into the starchy cologne covered sheets with my phone on the pillow next to me as I talked on FaceTime to the girl I wished was with me. I could see her face but she couldn’t see mine, which she instantly complained about but I felt tired and ugly and didn’t want anyone looking at my face. I just wanted to hear her voice and see hers. She looked a little sad, or maybe just the way she always looks, a little sad and a little hopeful, eager and wise and frightened and beautiful. And I wanted to say something to make the world feel a little less. But no words came to mind. I closed my eyes, listening to her voice and watching the ceiling and the pink satin curtains. We were quiet for a while. Just knowing she was there made the air feel thinner, like I could breath it. And it was enough. The night grew late and the morning grew early and I fell asleep as the sun was coming up and the birds were starting their morning song.
I woke around 9 feeling oddly refreshed. I loaded my things back into my suitcase, and sat in a green plastic chair in the garden while I read some Kerouac and ate a croissant covered in powered sugar and drank a cappuccino. And I wanted to sit there all day reading but it was time to get in the cab.
I shared a cab with another student and we checked in at Villa Natalia, our student residence, around 11:30. I spent the day unpacking, enjoying the view of the valley below and wandering the grounds. I went for a run at dusk unable to believe it was just getting dark at 9PM. It felt good to move my body after 11 days in cars and air planes and buses.
On Monday we had orientation and a beautiful welcome dinner at a long stone table on the grass overlooking the valley. I felt wordless all day. Nothing to say. I felt only this giant awe in my belly that I get to do something like this. And also this tremendous sadness that there’s no one to share it with. Empowering and lonely at once. Like most things that grow you I suppose. So here I am. Home again. At least for a while. This is home.