My mother has always told the story of our lives in chapters named after the streets we’ve lived on, and now that is how I remember everything too. Holly, Garfield, Birch, Louisiana, Spruce, and more. Telling it this way sounds better. It organizes the chaos and gives the impression we were traversing whole countries and cultures instead of just fleeing debt from one side of the city to the other. Each time we move I’m promised this house will be different and each street will be our final address, but each time I am disappointed. There is always another street to move too, enough to measure out my life.
Technically, this was my first home, though I never really did live there. Holly is where my mother grew up and where I began my life when her body was still my home. All of her pain begins here and ends with her shunned and banished after giving birth to her first child, me, a mixed-race girl. Though she leaves, it isn’t really for good. I will remember us returning to it time and time again. I will remember her mother who smiles and waves hello, and her father who never speaks and insists we stay in the car parked in the driveway while my mother goes in.
This is the street that will never leave me. My grandmother’s home where the rapidly growing brood of grandchildren come while their young parents are off working, partying, drinking, drugging, and cheating. This is a place of happiness and innocence by day and disfunction and abuse by night. I am ignored entirely most of the time, or left in the care of those with malevolent motives but there are moments of memory with my grandmother where I felt truly loved and safe though I would learn later she was one half the equation that equaled the generational trauma I’d be fighting my whole life.
I do not remember the name of the street we lived on, and my mother never says its name. This chapter is just called Virginia for the state instead. I remember the way the street looked though, quiet with lots of trees and lined with neat townhomes, each standing tall and bright next to its neighbor. I remember playing in the backyard, being careful not to go too close to the thick woods at the bottom of the hill. I remember my parents being in love, and I remember watching that love slowly turn into hate.
My mother calls this time “Warren Village” for the low-income apartment complex we lived in, but I remember that it was on Gilpin Street. I remember it as the first place we lived without my father (my mother would tell me stories about him with chapters named after his many wives). Things were confusing and sad, but I remember playing in the hallways of the building with other kids whose faces still adorn our family photo album but whose names I cannot remember.
This is the first place we lived with a man who is not my father, beyond that there is little to set the place apart in my memory. I remember we had both a dog and a backyard for the first time. We had something that looked like a real home, but it felt empty inside. I have so few memories of the place I can barely remember the layout and I have no idea how long we were there though my gut tell me the stay was even shorter than most.
I begin to feel like I belong somewhere. We’ve been in this apartment for over a year now. My mom is working and though there is a lot on me at home at school, I am free. I have friends, close friends, best friends. Friends who ride the bus with me and friends whose houses I can go to after school. I have teachers I’ve known for two grades now. On the day before the last of school, we will lose our apartment and I won’t get to say goodbye to those teachers or those friends. I hear from any of them again until I am an adult and they find me on Facebook.
We live on the top floor of the complex and I am fascinated that a two-story apartment can exist. My brother is born here, and with time I make friends again. We get to live here for three years, my entire middle school career. I should have been elated, but the psychological toll of so many homes and work of beginning over and over again anew leaves my expectations low. It will be many years before I let myself feel at home again. I make some friends, but I keep them at arm’s length. I am perpetually sullen, and my grades suffer.
One day, in the middle of my 8th-grade year, I come home to find my father has come to take me to live with him. Once again, I don’t even get to say goodbye. All the years I wished for him to come and get me, but I never meant like this with so much shame and sadness. My mother assures me this can be a new start for me, but I don’t know how to tell her that is the last thing that I need. It is the one thing I have had too much of. What she doesn’t understand is that no place is ever a fresh start, most of all this one. I am the same here as I was there, and after so a year or two of stubborn sameness, I am sent away again.
I’m back with my mother, back at a new school, making the same old filler friends and waiting for the cycle to repeat. Both of us are filled with anger and try as we might, home is a word I neither of us can define anymore. The truth is all these streets have begun to look the same. The same schools, the same teachers, the same kids, and the same old problems again and again. After a while, I can’t take it. I’m the only one I trust to find or keep a home, and I leave for the last time to do so.
This is the first place I live without either of my parents and where I begin to understand what a home could be, though I understand this one could never be mine. I’m staying with an aunt and her two daughters near the same age as me. They become like sisters and show me what it means to be a normal teenager. This must be the “fresh start” my mom was always talking about. She never said, or maybe never knew, that a fresh start has to mean letting go of the last place and establishing a new thought pattern and allowing a new dynamic. A feat too large for us to accomplish together.
Potomac and Quinten
Two streets, the distance between which I walk every day to see my girlfriend. On Potomac, I share an apartment with my father. This is not my home, but just the place where I keep my things. Paradoxically, on Quinten street, the townhome at the end of the row in what used to be an old military base, where none of my things are, becomes the place where I feel safe and warm. I spend more and more time there and years later when the city tears the row down to make room for a medical complex I will mourn its absence.
I did not live here, but I spent so much time in the area and with the people that did, I felt as though it were my home. This place is not on the street, but instead is the street itself. I may have a warm place to sleep at night but I do not have a home and for that, I feel an affinity for the homeless kids I meet wandering the streets. I leave the apartment I share with five other roommates every morning and come down here instead to be with them. To smoke and drink with them and to hear their stories that sound so much like mine.
My girlfriend and I have been living together for a couple of years now, but this is our first real place together, just the two of us. The first place I can call my own. We have a balcony and a pool across the street. We have an elevator and we add a garage spot to the lease. We buy new furniture. We decorate. We learn how to cook for each other. We get our first pet and we start having our first fights. We get our first real jobs and begin to feel like our own little family. It’s safe. It’s stable. It’s a place I can finally start to grow up.
I’ve lived on this quiet street that dead ends to nowhere now longer than I have lived anywhere else in my life. The street is lined with other quiet homes that look just like mine and together are filled with the perfect mix of families of all different cultures and sizes. Everyone here has a dog. Everyone here waves hello when they see you. No one plays their music too loud, and if you ever need to borrow some tools, they will always help you out. These past few years property values have skyrocketed and houses around the neighborhoods are starting to flip, but on this little street tucked away from the main roads, everybody has stayed. Every house here is a home to someone and as I watch as the kids around us grow up and my wife and I think maybe we can settle down and start growing old.
This post was written in response to the WordPress Discover Prompt, Day 4: Street
Photo by Tom Rumble on Unsplash
2 thoughts on “My Life as Measured From Street to Street”
This was an amazing read – thank you for sharing this! I felt like I was able to learn so much about you just from this piece. Streets are just one of the ways we remember the small details about our lives, and I loved the way you conveyed it.
Wow! Amazing memories. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for you.
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