Thursday, April 3, 2014

In Search of Home

For the past decade, I have felt like a wander, a drifter of sorts. I have moved from one crummy apartment to another for so many years that I have never really felt at home in this city. You see, I grew up in a small town where everyone knows everyone and your personal life is always on public display. My parents were high school sweethearts, both born and raised in this same small town, and, for as long as I can remember, we have lived in the same house. It isn't a big house or a fancy house, but it is cozy and warm and filled with a lot of love. It is the kind of home that you want to grow up in (but don't realize that until you are pushed out into the cold, hard world and realize that not all things in life are as inviting as the warmth of your home). My childhood consisted of spending the entire weekend riding bikes with my best friends, exploring the woods, and traveling anywhere within the city limits (as long as we were home by dark). Crime and violence didn't exist in that world, and I never once felt unsafe.

Fast forward to the fall of 2002 when I packed up what few belongings I had accumulated over the past 17 years, and I high tailed it to the "city". To clarify, I don't live in a giant city, but it is exponentially larger than the small town that I grew up in. So you can imagine the instant culture shock that I faced upon arrival. Slowly but surely I began making friends from all different backgrounds and, before long, I was beginning to feel like I was able to stand on my own two feet.

It wasn't until I left the safe confines of dorm life and moved into my first off-campus living quarters that I realized I was in over my head. I had never entered into a lease before or paid an electric bill. I didn't know that you had to arrange for people to pick up your trash or that cable didn't automatically come with a house. I was clueless. I was also quite pissed that I had spent 13+ years sitting in classrooms and not once did anyone mention these real world issues. Why isn't there a class in high school to inform you of these things? Or were these just things that everyone had to learn the hard way? Or maybe people did tell me these things and I was just too busy living in my plastic bubble to realize that one day I would actually need to know this information? Regardless, here I was trying to figure out how to live without my safety net. And although I had to make the choice between food or rent on many occasions (might I add you really can live on cereal and Ramen noodles for weeks at a time), I learned to manage my finances enough to get by. I also learned a very valuable lesson in roommate selection. Although some people may be super fun to party with, said people are almost always not good choices for roommates. I learned this valuable lesson upon arriving home one night to find the crazy that slept a mere 50 feet from me spray painting the walls, furniture, and anything else she could get her hands on. Time to move out - got it.

The second rental that I lived in was shared with two of my best friends and a friend of a friend. The friend's friend showed her crazy real quick, and we gave her the boot before the seasons changed. Enter first male roommate - a friend of ours who just so happened to need a place to live and, oddly enough, the person who introduced me to my now-husband. Our duplex quickly became party central, and we eventually ended up with squatters on both couches. I'm still not really sure how or when this occurred, but I came home one day and realized that between actual tenants, boyfriends, and squatters, there were nearly 10 people living in our house and the majority of those people did not appreciate cleanliness or have consideration for other people. This got old fast. Thankfully our lease ran out before we all killed each other, and I was off to find another place to live.

By now, I was entering my Senior year of college and was somewhat tiring of the party scene. I knew I needed to buckle down and start taking my education more seriously, so I decided to move into a small, 2 bedroom apartment with an acquaintance who was 4 years younger than me (that makes sense, right?). This actually worked out really well because roommate spent the majority of her time at her boyfriend's place, so Jake (my then-boyfriend and now-husband) and I were able to have the apartment to ourselves. This living situation was ideal for the most part. I went to class, studied, and graduated in the Spring. When the time came to renew the lease, roommate had other plans, so Jake and I decided it was probably time to just move in to a place together. With only a few short weeks to find a decent place that we could afford on my tips from waitressing and Jake's salary, we moved into a 2 bedroom duplex in what we thought was a nice, safe neighborhood. It turns out, we were wrong. Within weeks of moving in, there was a shooting down the street, and a couple weeks after that we found the SWAT team surrounding our next door neighbor's house. We managed to ride out the remainder of our lease, but we were quickly on the hunt for a safer place to live.

Next up was another 2 bedroom duplex a couple miles east. We ended up living in this rental for two years until our landlord left his wife and decided that he wanted to move into our duplex like yesterday. So, the hunt began again. We were tired of living in apartments and duplexes and were ready to live in a house that didn't have strangers living on the other side of the wall. By this time, Jake was making decent money and I had full time employment, so we signed a lease to a house owned by a couple of guys we knew. This 3 bedroom house allowed us to have a lot of friends over (and often). We put a giant TV and a pool table in the basement and settled in nicely.

The first year passed and upon the growth of the cat infestation in our backyard (crazy neighbor to the right had umpteen cats that bred nonstop and those cats eventually set up shop in our backyard), we contemplated buying a house of our own. However, a quick review of our financials determined that that dream would have to wait a while. Fortunately, we are the type of people that don't stop until we get what we want, so we began saving every penny and scouring houses online in search of a house to call our own. A few months later, a friend of mine informed me that her mom was putting her house on the market. I was intrigued but figured this property was entirely out of our budget. One day, my curiosity got the best of me and I picked up the phone to get the details. Five months later, we closed on the house and packed up our belongings one last time. After constantly moving for 10 years, we were finally going to be able to stay in one place and make it ours.

Two years have since passed, and we have done nothing short of knocking the house down and rebuilding it in order to make this house our home. However, it wasn't until we brought Taylor through the front door that it really felt like home. I've come to realize that it isn't about the paint color or the furniture, but it's the love of the people in a home that makes it warm and inviting. And while my parent's house will always be my home, it is especially heartwarming to be able to create a place in this world to call Taylor's home. And although there is more crime and violence to worry about in this city (and in the world today, in general), I just hope that she feels as secure and loved in this house as I did growing up in my home. That security still remains with me to this day and is a constant reminder that whenever things get rough, there will always be a place for me to seek refuge from the storm. And that, my friends, is priceless.