Home Is Where Your Mattress Is
By Liz Baudler
I no longer want to live in my childhood home. I like where I live now.
My current bedroom has a blue ceiling and parakeet-green walls. It’s the only room in the apartment painted anything other than beige. It was like this when I moved here. It is about the size of two twin mattresses. It currently has one twin mattress, a record player and a box of records, a pile of unread books, two wooden crates full of journals and photos and tax returns, and a cat named Velma, who curls up with me as I write.
There’s two pieces of art on the walls—a chalk drawing of the Beatles that I love for its delicacy, and a crude craypas mountain whose peak is surrounded by a lime-green Mobius strip and a bruised indigo sky studded with hunks of beach glass. I made it in my AP English class junior year to represent Slaughterhouse Five: it symbolized Billy Pilgrim’s alienation through time and space. As I walked down the hallway the day after we’d presented our projects I saw them all stacked on top of a trashcan. I carried mine home and stuck it on my wall. I made sure to take it when I moved.
I have this urge to refer to the other bedroom I know as “my bedroom at home”, except it’s not really my place anymore. Its walls were white, like the rest of the house. When we repainted when I was 14, my mother would not hear of any room being painted anything but white. The painter and I both thought this seemed nuts. I wasn’t supposed to tack anything in my bedroom walls, but I did anyway, and there was nothing she could do about it. The holes were already made.
This room housed three different beds--a white plastic one where I slept until I was 6, a blocky Danish bunk bed composed of wood painted primary colors where I slept until I was 20, and the bed I left earlier this year, which was queen-sized, and took up half the room. We bought it from an Amish furniture warehouse that was relocating. The mattress didn’t arrive for a week, which meant I had to sleep on the floor in the middle of the frame, as if I were fortified. Its construction was knotty white pine. I said yes to the bed because I thought it would look good in a log cabin.
The beds hint that my life fell apart at the age of 6. My dad put together my first new bed, and I helped him. I went 14 years without a new bed because my father was no longer around and my mother always had some new crises to deal with and I didn’t realize that other people had bigger beds. When we finally bought the log cabin bed, my one reservation was that it couldn’t fit into an apartment. It had already reconfigured my room, shoved bookshelves against walls so that there was only a very narrow path to the closet. My mother said it would fit anywhere, and though I knew she was wrong, and that something told me I would leave the bed behind, I let her buy it.
Now the bed sits in my old room, surrounded by other things I didn’t take. I moved in about a week; it was a planned surprise in that I knew I needed to move out and I knew where I would move, but I didn’t know when. Sometimes I think about what’s left there: the imprints of the bookshelves, the sports memorabilia, piles of hangers, the pillowless, coverless bed. Occasionally I long for a book or a shirt or a necklace that I don’t remember losing and realize that I “left it at home.” I still have keys to the house, but it’s 35 miles away and I don’t have a car and I’d have to sneak back in there and it’s really not worth it, is it? For various reasons, I don’t speak to my parents. I’ve never felt that they made a home. Home should not mean towering piles of paper. Home should not mean never having people over because you’re ashamed of what it looks like. Either lose the paper, or lose the shame.
My first girlfriend and I were going to build a log cabin in the woods. She even drew me a little birthday card with a log cabin on it, which I kept in a pillow even after we broke up. Yes, I was thinking of her with the log cabin bed, though our relationship was over by that point too. My second girlfriend has photos of the Beatles, chalk and pencil drawings, paintings of cats, throw rugs with giant fuzzy owls that she found in a thrift store. The first night I spent in the parakeet-green bedroom, I woke up beside her and cried, and she held me and let me sleep in the stale summer air. She took me back to where she grew up, on the East Coast, and it was the first time in so long that I felt like someone was actually taking care of me.
I’m supposed to say the little green bedroom feels like freedom, and it does. I stay up until two in the morning, I write here, I cuddle my girlfriend. Sometimes it feels like a monk’s cell, an exile from things that didn’t work out. Sometimes I feel like my life is the adult version of hiding out in a treehouse, and eventually I will climb down the three flights of stairs to find the milk and cookies waiting for me and I can go back inside and sleep on the log cabin bed instead of a mattress.
But the best thing about living on your own is, you buy those milk and cookies yourself.
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