collage map

(…) Is there a sticky residue marking the place where you first fell in love? What if someone died there or cut themselves and bled all over or broke a bone? Does trauma leave a trace? If you lived in a place long enough to memorize the cracks on the ceiling or cared enough to paint the walls, if the spaces between the floorboards still hold traces of your skin and hair, does part of you still reside there?

These are questions I can’t answer. Who I am probably has at least something to do with the house I grew up in and the places I’ve been, but there were many places that left little impression, upon which I left no mark whatsoever.

As a kid, I’d sometimes visit my father at 59 Country Club Drive, a house that had once belonged to musician Steve Miller, although I could not glean any intimate details of the rock star from walking those halls. I don’t remember much about the house since what I mostly did there was watch television (we didn’t have one at my mom’s), and I doubt I left any psychic evidence of my visits on those walls. Later, my father and his growing family moved to a huge house at 231 Forbes Avenue in San Rafael. It had six or seven bedrooms, a guest house, a nanny’s quarters, a servant’s quarters, a pair of carved lions at the entryway, and a pool. It was another dark, cold, and empty house but I tried living with them as a teenager for a year. I spent most of my time with my head stuck out my bedroom window, blowing smoke from my clove cigarette out over the roofline.

After I went to college in San Diego, I lived in a string of places I hardly remember, featureless apartments I can’t recall addresses for or locate on a map. I stare at Google maps, zooming and turning, but I can only remember amorphous, long-gone landmarks and have no idea how I got there or how they connect. For me, San Diego was a vague sunny blur of strip malls and chintzy apartment buildings and blond people with square white smiles.

At the Student Housing Office there were bulletin boards covered with index cards full of people looking for roommates and I joined the crowd of tan blond people in t shirts and shorts. We moved from board to board, taking notes, when someone spoke up: “Excuse me if you think this is rude, but I don’t want to waste time and I’m guessing some of you might be looking for a roommate?” She was tall and salon-groomed, with smart clothes and a southern accent, and I was the only one who raised my hand. Peggy turned out to be a grad student from Missouri who seemed amused by my black leather and hot pink lipstick so we moved into a tiny apartment on Montezuma Road near College. She got the bedroom, I got the dining room. She unpacked her pots, pans, matching furniture, and hot curlers while I hitchhiked down College Avenue to buy the cheapest futon they had, a double-sized foam pad that folded up into a little sofa. The salesman took pity and delivered it (and me) home for free.

I don’t know why but my living situation changed every semester. I moved to another apartment down Montezuma Road with a friend from home. We didn’t even own plates so we ate at taco stands and got salads from the Safeway salad bar. Then I rented a house in a neighborhood with dark wood paneling on all the walls, doors made of accordion vinyl, and cockroaches that came out every night to crawl on my futon. In one of my journals, I started a list titled You Know You Are A Grown-Up When…. (Your mattress doesn’t touch the floor. You don’t remind anyone it’s your birthday and they don’t remember and that’s okay. You have dishes to wash, you own more than one towel and a real laundry basket, not just a stretched-out plastic garbage bag. You use the term “adult” instead of “grown-up.” You have a dentist. You have an iron and you know how to use it. You don’t eat popcorn for dinner. You wash your face and turn off the radio before you go to sleep…). When I took a year to travel around the world, I paused at each place only a moment before moving on so they combine to form one lurching, blinking image of a nondescript dorm room with bunk beds and gray sheets where I slept with my backpack under my head. Back in San Diego, I moved in with a bunch of college girls and an older guy named Benny whose name was the only one on the lease. Benny swaggered around making jokes about bitches and whores (“Hey, hoe, aren’t you gonna share that sandwich?” “My bitches are messy, but they’re all mine.”) My boyfriend Philip hated him and put a ping pong ball in his gas tank to give Benny something else to complain about. Eventually, we girls staged a coup and moved out en masse without notice to another forgettable house which lasted a while until Philip and I moved out to yet another crappy apartment, the last place I’d live in San Diego.

Those addresses changed so fast they didn’t get recorded in my permanent brain file. I don’t even have pictures. This was in the 1980s, before digital photography, back when film was expensive and every time you took a picture you made a mental tally of how much money it was going to cost to see it. If I had pictures, maybe I’d remember but I wonder if I’d want to. Maybe I forgot those places because they weren’t worth remembering. Maybe I forgot because I knew I didn’t belong.


What have you forgotten? Where did you get lost?

This post is a part of a series that starts here.

About Anna Fonté

Girl in the Hat, aka Anna Fonté, is an author who writes about invisibility, outsider status, everyday monsters, and her attempts to befriend the neighborhood crows. The things she writes want you to look at them.


  1. Oh the early years – it does seem like everyone moved a lot.
    Nice told tale

  2. …and life rolls on, and the only thing constant is change !!!

  3. It’s been a long time since my apartment days, but I know what you mean. Having grown up in houses that my parents owned, apartments never felt like home.

    • I did have a couple apartments later that felt like home. San Diego didn’t fit. (But I’m still thinking I’d like to try Detroit on for size.)

      • Detroit, eh?
        the good: the people, the writers, the Tigers
        the bad: the politics, the economy, the weather
        the ugly: the roads
        But been here for 7 years and we’re still going strong.

  4. I love your reverie. I too have places where I have left pieces of myself. My grandmother’s upstairs bedroom used to rumble with the passing of buses their lights streaking across the vaulted ceiling.

  5. i’m always so taken by your writing. sorry i haven’t come out of the woodwork to tell you that sooner. reading this, i smell that cardboard scratch smell, the one that smells like the beginning of musty, before it turns. (that might not make sense to anyone but me.)

  6. I’ve almost forgotten my favorite childhood house, a kit house my father built in Los Alamos, NM. About all I can remember is that it was hexagonal with a smaller hexagon on top, a reading room surrounded by windows. I think I must have spent all my time in that room, and playing in the dry creek bed at the back of the property. For a city girl it was heaven. For my mother, not so much. We moved back to Vegas after 18 months.

  7. another great story Anna – I think I am really glad that every second of my youth isn’t recorded in a digital format – this way the memory is mine and I can forgot the ugly, the unremarkable and all the really stupid situations that I found myself in….but also I can mull through the bits that were special – privately. Yes lots is also forgotten but perhaps it really wasn’t that important anyway.

  8. Do you miss being in transit?

    My Dad is the perpetual owner builder. So, with the exception of a few rentals, all the houses I lived in growing up were unfinished. In my early teen years, we moved states and lived in two houses built for market. They got finished, but were sold as soon as it happened, so we never got to enjoy what it felt like to live in a real house. Those two houses have always merged in my memory into one brick, cement floor house of doom. I couldn’t wait to leave and go to boarding school. I never returned home, and to this day, my parents live in an unfinished house! There has to be some symbolism there…

  9. My bed is on the floor and I don’t own an iron. I guess I will never grow up. I do have more than one towel and a real laundry basket though. So maybe I am growing up a little. There are rooms I remember from my younger life, just by the way the breeze moved through on warm summer days and light played on the walls and floor. But I would not be able to tell you the address. I also remember houses that I return to in my dreams, like my grandmothers house where we slept on the floor in sleeping bags. I am also thinking of a house in Eureka, Ca that was more holes than house. Every night a field mouse would pick his way across my floor and peer up at me and then carry on as if I didn’t exist.

    • I don’t own an iron and haven’t seen a dentist (or an eye doctor) for waaaaay too long and eat popcorn for dinner whenever possible. What lovely images here. The house of holes. Isn’t it strange how vivid one room can be in your mind when you can’t imagine where that room exists on the map?

  10. I don’t own an iron and haven’t seen a dentist (or an eye doctor) for waaaaay too long and eat popcorn for dinner whenever possible. What lovely images here. Isn’t it strange how vivid one room can be in your mind when you can’t imagine where that room exists on the map?

  11. I have books filled with pictures, all stashed in a big metal cabinet in the garage. I haven’t cracked the cover of most of those books in years. Out of sight, out of mind and probably better of that way.

  12. You definitely know how to get my attention!

    Have you published any novels/are going to? Because I’ve got my credit card ready. :p

  13. I’ve read a couple of your pieces, and I like them a lot! I’m surprised your novel didn’t get published… and I have to say, considering the fact that you are obviously very talented, this really does cause me a little bit of anxiety about my own literary endeavours…. (That was a little self-centred, yes, I apologize.)
    In any case, I look forward to reading more of your posts! Good luck!

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