by samantha freedman
Sitting on the floor of my grandparents’ bedroom, I run my hand along the coarse white carpet—
Discolored from years of tracked-in dirt and made yellow by dim lighting
it reminds me of a museum,
an exhibition of faded photographs in which I confuse my young mother for myself;
a snapshot of time in which generations of olive skin and dark hair come together on my grandma’s wooden dresser
whispering to me:
We are where you come from.
It is an eerie feeling being here
amidst peeling wallpaper and the rattling hum of the heater
As if nothing has changed since the days when my stubby limbs would sprawl themselves out in front of the boxy television set and clink together my grandma’s tiny glass sea turtle figurines.
It is here, I think, from where my roots grow.
At five years old, my roots grew from my grandpa’s tomato garden,
winding their way beneath the gravel pathway leading up to the wooden shingles of this old home.
Past the screen door, streaks of sunlight beamed in from the skylights and glided across my rosy cheeks as I bounced from one end of the hallway to the other,
my teenage father’s mischievous gap-toothed grin egging me on from the wall.
The first time I ever felt homesick was when my father’s parents sold this house—it felt like I was being ripped from the ground.
At eight years old, I planted new seeds, and staked a territorial claim to my living room floor.
With shiny blue tiles and a red and green flowered rug, I could float on the surface of the deep blue sea just steps from my bedroom door,
lie amongst the wonders of a blossoming garden even during the coldest of winters.
Some nights, I would fall asleep on the couch where land and water met,
listening to my father’s favorite artists pour their hearts out to me through stereo speakers.
I loved this land of daydreams, and could not bear the tragedy of the day I came home to find it under siege—
In the name of Better Living, Renovations had conquered my tiny kingdom.
When I turned fourteen, I decided that home could no longer be entrusted to the places I inhabited—they were too fragile, and prone to destruction.
Instead, I turned to a home that I could speak into existence,
a relic of the one my grandparents had left behind.
I swallowed my English, and searched frantically through scattered memories of the love language I had so ignorantly discarded as a child,
looking for home where the tip of my tongue met the roof of my mouth as I practiced rolling my r’s with my sister,
pasting together pieces of suppressed heritage with scotch tape,
an obviously amateur job.
I know that this has never been my place to come back to—I’ve always felt like a stranger.
When I was eighteen, I was told to find home in the bones of my own skeleton
become a strong woman who grows roots within herself and waters her own garden.
I etched ink into skin and drew beautiful blood to make my body feel like my own,
but at twenty, I cannot shake the feeling that I am always at the mercy of others
that I am hollow
that my body is not a home unless it lies next to someone else’s.
I go house hunting
Looking for new arms, eyes, lips, laughter
For a place that will call out to me:
This is where you are meant to be—
But I never settle in.
and the joy I think I must be incapable of feeling
or do not deserve to feel
I am lost, unsteady.
Amidst painted-over walls
And granite countertops
I feel that I must have stumbled off path.
With the sweet smell of my grandmother’s soap wafting in from the bathroom
and her glass sea turtle figurines perched silently on the windowsill
I begin to re-center.
With my mother’s wedding dress stowed behind closet doors
and her elementary school yearbook picture smiling back at me
I allow myself to take root.