(…) 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.