I decided during my sophomore year to “Quit College” because it was stupid. So bourgeois. With my parent’s wary blessing I packed my duffel full of dirty jeans and tie-dyes and moved back home. But not, it turned out, into the home I knew.
I had lived in one house and called one room mine from age three to seventeen. This room remained largely unchanged for those fourteen years—a succession of posters from animals to baseball players to rock bands, some new wine-colored carpet in the eighties. My desk, dresser, and bed never changed or moved—and despite the bed being nothing but a thin army mattress on a heavy wooden frame my dad put together when I outgrew the crib, I loved it. My good old bed, I called it. I felt safe in its embrace and proud for some reason of its Spartan rigidity. I would not entertain in the least my mother’s eventual offers for a new bed. A real bed. One on which she could place visitors without embarrassment.
Although I had slept in my familiar room on visits home from school at Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays, when I arrived in March with my smelly duffel bag and existential crisis, I opened my bedroom door to what had been newly re-named “The Cape Cod Room.” My room was decked out in white and seaside blue and lace. Lots of pillows. And instead of my good old bed there were two new matching fucking trundle beds. I had never actually heard of trundle beds before, but they stacked like Russian dolls, fit the space perfectly, and made me want to puke.
My mom did not apologize, she had been waiting plenty long for that room, and instead directed me to what had originally been the sewing room, converted some years later to a pantry, then into Grandma’s room for a few difficult years, and finally, a few months after I left for school, the room where Grandma folded her arms and died. This room and a terrible job at the supermarket had me reconsidering the merits of an undergraduate education in about two weeks.
That spring and summer I spent more time complaining about sleeping in a dead lady’s bed than I did actually worrying about any accompanying spirits. I’m not really very superstitious. But the house I can still visualize down to electrical outlets had begun to transform. The walls and floor plan seemed suddenly miniaturized—or I had grown colossal, like the Magritte painting where you can’t tell if the room is tiny or the apple is huge. The back yard where my brother and I had played thousands of wiffle-ball games could barely contain us in our weirdly muscular new bodies.
It’s harder to put the jack back in the box.
But I wanted the comfort and solidity that our home had always offered. I’d had a little taste of the world outside, and the world, at least on that first go, tasted bitter. Home had been mom and dad and Matt and a dog that died while I was away at college, too. I was the first to leave and maybe the least prepared for change and the reality that it can take a long time to create your own safety. You circle the bases and come home, right?
When I was small, my dad taught my brother and me to venerate the World Series. We stayed up later than usual to watch the games, ate snacks before bed, drank root beer. I loved how the tension of the games grew in such intensity compared to the long slow summer innings. My dad, surely with a happy beer or two in his belly, would start running from the kitchen, through the dining room and into the family room where we watched the TV. The run, only several long steps really, seemed long then. We could hear his quickening steps as he burst into the room and launched a fully-committed slide into home base. The windows rattled. Knick-knacks bounced on the shelves. Matt and I would laugh, delighted, and run to the kitchen to start our own slides– ten for each of us at least to my dad’s one or two, but we could never match the effect of his initial, tremendous approach.
“Prufrock” by James Alan Gill invokes the spirit of Eliot’s modernist angst, the poem’s speaker aligning himself with the educated and mildly neurotic J. Alfred. Gill shifts gears like Eliot, from stabbing adolescent declarations to lush, long-lined description. Unlike Eliot’s protagonist, Gill’s speaker takes on the specter of middle-aged stagnation directly, the poem’s quickening syntax and stretching lines reflective of his decision to risk house and home.
Michelle Bailat-Jones’s flash piece, “of friends and revelry and bounty” tells, in two magnificent and undulating sentences, of the changes life has brought to a woman and her sea-side home. The prose snakes relentlessly, consciousness and place intermingling, and with the ferocity of real heartbreak.
The very nature of home and of being “at home” lie at the heart of Chris Carter’s beautifully paced short story, “This Close.” His piece captures the loneliness and hope of the Florida pan handle coast, where almost no one is literally at home, and displays a gift for authentic dialogue. In Doppler, the story’s protagonist, Carter has drawn a truly memorable, nuanced, and relatable character. “This Close” gets all the way there.
Photo by Víctor Nuño