Home, and its Assembly
Friday nights were for packing. My mom got weekends in the divorce, so she picked me up after elementary school and drove me to my dad and step-mom’s house, at which point I decided how to fit “home” inside of her Volkswagen. For a while, I think home was her Volkswagen. I sat in the passenger seat, sometimes sleeping in the plaid blanket she kept in the back for me, other times belting Petula Clark’s Downtown with a mouth full of alphabet cookies. Sometimes I would tell her funny stories, especially when her eyes were glassy, and I would laugh, loud and bright, until she smiled. Sometimes I would cry because my sister stopped coming with us out of an anger I couldn’t understand. Sunday nights were for leaving. They were the nights when my mom would watch The Godfather with her dog and I would fall asleep buried under stuffed animals, my breath shallow and warm.
I needed a blueprint, a map of home to spread on my walls and floor. With pages torn from museum brochures and photocopies of my sister and me in pine trees, I tried to manufacture familiarity as my parents moved between houses in a dance, an orbit: always at least ten miles apart. I hung up my sister’s artwork that I watched her make, pretending to do homework at her feet: the oil paintings that she propped up against her bed to dry for weeks. I tried to see myself in 99¢ classical records on the floor, the ones I piled in my arms, shuffling my best friend past the comedy albums to the cash register, her laughter lifting me: “99¢ is a steal!” I saw myself in red, over-size LL Bean pajamas, my mom’s pair that I changed into every Christmas morning as if I had been there all night. I needed a night sky, something unchanging and bright, something beautiful and familiar, and I thought the scraps of paper scattered across the room could be my stars.
When my dad and stepmom separated, he moved into a house near my high school with sunset-facing kitchen windows. He picked me up after school and drove me to a room with a grey mattress, at which point I sat and ignored the beauty of the light on the carpet. Friday nights were for fighting in restaurants. They were for expecting his eyes to explain something else, to be glassy and familiar. Sunday nights were for trying to get to know each other again. I felt scattered and erratic: I became a different person with each front door. I was missing, lost to sleep or anger.
I flew to London that summer and reconstructed my identity as I walked through the streets. I woke up, shaken by the adrenaline of being alone, and I saw bright colors again. I rode the metro in my pajamas to the Royal Albert Hall to watch an Ella Fitzgerald tribute from the gallery. I danced in front of The Louvre Under Snow, rain collecting in pools outside the National Gallery. I felt as if the plane had stretched and broken the long threads that tied my mind to old pain, the kind that colors in the carpet and grass of memories. “Home” lifted itself up out of my memories, out of my walls, and settled in my hair and my hands and my chest. It was no longer a place I could leave or lose. It smoldered inside of me, keeping me warm in the rain as I walked back across Camden. I wished for so long to externalize what could only ever exist internally. Home is psychological: a sanctity, a warmth, a serenity. Only in traveling across an ocean to a city with a new arrangement of stars did I realize that I am my own night sky.
Sophie Craig (18) is a high school senior from California. She is not good at crossword puzzles, but still asks for the New York Times subscription. She really loves Toni Morrison and Charles Aznavour and she once fell asleep in the Panthéon. She will attend Columbia University in the fall where she hopes to study art history and anthropology.