by Sonya Rio-Glick
“Where’s home for you?” is a deceptively innocuous question thrown around by college students trying to place their peers. “Albany.” I’ve answered reflexively more times than I can count. But after all these years, Albany holds no real place in my heart. Instead, it is the backdrop of a complex childhood; a provincial box that never really had the room to hold all the things I was. When I went away to school one week after I turned 18, I broke up with Albany and did not look back. So no, Albany is not ‘home’ for me; not the creaky four story rowhouse at 17 North Main I learned to walk in, with it’s red screen door and wood floors that splintered tiny hands and knees. Not the perpetually damp soccer field half a mile away that I ran down with reckless abandon, red walker reluctantly trailing me each Saturday morning from 2002-2006. And not the suburban ranch house with that quaint breakfast counter we’d move to when I was 9. The one with the dining table I’d cry all my tween and teen tears to, and the elementary school just beyond the backyard fence at which I would begin to understand I was different from the other children in body and soul. It is not Albany’s fault it is not my home- it did it’s best. To the unknowing eye, it had all the makings of a home: loving parents, early morning squabbles with my sibling as we shoved cereal into brace-laden mouths before school, family pets and school plays and first jobs and first periods and coming outs and wanting-to-go-back-ins. But Albany had a few fatal flaws; landmark heartbreaks too deeply cutting to come back from, or come back to. There was a boy in Albany that was my home. Which is to say, when he was there I thought Albany was my home and then, when he was not, I knew suddenly it was not. He had big, soft, hands and big, soft, eyes and a big, soft, laugh. One of my earliest memories is roughhousing with him,his little brother, and my sibling in his family's backroom with the colorful rug and big TV. We’d pounce and tumble until we could no longer pounce and tumble. As we grew, our roughhousing shifted to Deep Talks about crushes and the state of the world and everything in between. When I had my big surgery at 14, he came over and met the sadness in my eyes. He told stupid jokes and did not ask stupid questions. As 14 became 16, 16 18, and then 18 20, he became more distant. College, I rationalized as he had stepped into a world I was unmistakably outside of. Then one morning when I myself was a college student, I was told he had died from a heroin overdose. His name was Shaiyah. He was 21. My home had died. I went to Albany for two days before going back to school because the fresh understanding that my home was not my home was too much to bare. Albany cannot be my home because an old private school taught me exactly how to doubt myself. The experience I had there is too sad and too complicated to live anywhere but those marble halls. So while I choose not to recount it all here, the evidence that Albany is not my home lives on in the moments I hide in the granola bar aisle of the food co-op, because a former classmate and tormentor is turning the corner. Or when I have to force myself to name three things I can see, touch, hear, and smell to convince my mind I am not back there; alone in those marble halls. In the years since Albany, I have racked up a list of places that are not home either: the multiple dorm rooms of Emerson College that I hopped from like an expanded game of musical chairs, in one of which I made up a boyfriend named Kevin to avoid the raised eyebrows of a hateful roommate; the backroom of the house of a 57 year old masseuse/alternative healer in Denver, Colorado, where an air mattress and a room divider was my resting place as I took three busses each day to work unpaid at a theatre company; the bougie downtown apartment with a walk in shower the theatre company put me in the following summer while I played a maid in a production of Annie and worked part time at Dick’s Sporting Goods; the masseuse/alternative healer’s back room that I moved back into when Emerson cut my financial aid; the too-clean student apartment with a very small kitchen I then moved into as I worked a human services job I was not qualified for; the multiple dorm rooms at Purchase College, a few of which I thought I was going to die in when the fire alarm went off and I could not get out; Purchase College at large, with its looming brick and hills made of pavement; the second floor Bushwick apartment I sublet from an artist that was so hot I was sure I was going to melt, in which I told my best friend I loved her and then immediately saw a mouse run across the living room. To truthfully write about ‘home’ I must touch on her: the woman who was my home until she too, was not. I was not looking for a home when I walked through the door. We fit together so simply and so immediately, I at once had a fuller understanding of ‘home’. Home became days- long volleys of text messages, far away facetimes after long days of hard work, and then tight hugs and park benches, matching PJ’s in front of Christmas trees, eyes to find in a crowded room. We created our own space when we were together. The world felt safer, more accessible. And we went on like that, in our own space for two years. I think I got stuck in that space; a little too happy to stay home. And so I told her in not so many words that she had become my home in a way that felt more confining than warm. The moving out and moving on that followed was painful as I packed boxes of all I had given her: secrets and and struggles and stolen moments and dreams that felt too ridiculous to come true. Time. I took so much of my time back, as she stood in a wooden door frame and watched with sad eyes. I realize that while she may have been a safe place to land, she was not home because I cannot actually find home in someone else, in a city, in a school or a house. I am my own home, physically and metaphorically. This disabled, at-times-tortured vessel is mine to inhabit in all its states. I am home when I am in my body fully, feeling every spasm and itch and fall and giggle and moment of pleasure. I am home when my mind spirals, looping around past hurt. And I am home when my mind is at peace, listening to soft music. I am home in those times when a strange voice calls after me some invasive question and I keep walking, holding myself as comment after comment is hurled. I wrap myself in the warmth of self assurance in those moments I am alone in the forest, no one to hear the sound of my tree falling. I am home when I triumph and I am home when I allow myself to cry. I am already home, and really, I always have been.
Read Issue 17