There are moments of your life when you know with complete certainty that everything following that moment will never be the same. I may have never recovered from losing the house I grew up in.
My mother, father, sister and I moved to 3134 Susan Road in the Long Island town of Bellmore when I was three years old. I have only the briefest of memories of our apartment in Brooklyn – me in my crib, wanting to climb out when my parents were fast asleep; random flashes of the hallway with all the brown, earth-tinted furniture; staring out the window at the street, soaking in my view of Brooklyn after being told we were moving away. Obviously, that first move must have been significant enough for me to remember as a 3 year old. But the second move I’d make was the traumatic one.
I remember touring our two-floor house (three with the basement) for the first time, exclaiming that the master bedroom would be my bedroom. (It eventually did become my bedroom, in a way.) I can recall seeing what would be my childhood bedroom – my eventual shrine of trinkets and personality – for the first time. There was brown shag carpeting and brown walls, though they would eventually paint the walls white and take the carpeting out, leaving just the wood.
I loved my bedroom. The air conditioner included in the room never worked, and my hand-me-down bed was never quite comfortable enough for my taste, but I made that bedroom into a work of art over the years. When I was in high school, the walls would be painted purple (my choice), and I’d paint my walk-in closet myself – black, with red and yellow flames, and glow-in-the-dark stars on top. I wanted it to become a meditation room and even put a fold-out mattress/chair in there. But the lack of ventilation curbed my dreams of meditating.
When I was old enough to hang things on the walls myself, I covered my bedroom floor-to-ceiling with posters of teen heartthrobs and a giant map of the US. As my love of pop-culture grew, I put up band posters of No Doubt and Garbage. Then came the movie posters - so, so many movies. Fargo, Trainspotting, Being John Malkovich, The X Files, Natural Born Killers. Soon I added my own art, my collages, my photography. That room was me, completely.
My sister moved away to college when I was 13, which is when I stopped sleeping in my bedroom. My mom would let me sleep in her room (dad had moved out ages ago) so I could have air conditioning during the unbearably hot summers. My mom would sleep in my sister’s twin bed, in a room without air conditioning, but she never seemed to care. She actually seemed to prefer it, for some reason. All my clothes stayed in my closet, and all my belongings stayed in my room, but I slept and lived in my mother’s room. I did homework in there, I hosted movie nights in there, I had some of my first sexual experiences with boys (and without boys) in her bed. But it wasn’t her bed anymore, it was mine. I loved that bed. It was just a queen size bed with a dark brown wood frame, but it was special simply because it was all mine.
Moving to college was difficult for me. My mother had become pretty much my only family when my dad moved an hour and a half away and my sister went to college. We were constantly on each other’s nerves. Our house was so big and only had two people in it, but you couldn’t escape the tension. Since as long as I can remember, I wanted to move to Los Angeles, to kickstart a career in film and find my independence. I was confident not just in my ability to thrive in Hollywood, but my ability to take care of myself as an adult. I looked forward to the time my mom wouldn’t be doing my laundry or be in charge of my affairs.
I went away to college, and came back to my home in December for winter break. Things were as they usually were – I had friends over or went to their houses during the day, I saw my mother at night, and I slept in the master bedroom. I returned again the following summer, where I ended up romancing two guys at once while breaking another’s heart. This, I assure you, was not the norm in my life. It was an exciting time to be me, particularly since I didn’t have a job or any responsibilities – all I had to do that summer was hang out with my friends, date boys, sleep in, and have fun.
That summer, I attended a family friend’s wedding with my mother and sister. I barely knew the couple or their family, so it was quite boring – all mandatory family events like these were always boring, as I had no one my age to relate to or talk to on the same level. I was basically invisible. So, as usual, I let my imagination go wild with stories and cinematic scenarios while life carried on around me.
It was during the reception of this wedding that my mom came up to me, beaming with joy. We sold the house! she exclaimed. Our house being on the market was a running joke – our house had been on the market for YEARS. I remember hearing something about us selling the house when I was still in elementary school and us potentially moving to California, but that never happened for whatever reason. After living for so long with our house always attempting and failing to be sold, I never thought our house would actually sell.
My mom was so happy. She had always hated Long Island and only stayed because I was in school. This was freedom, being able to walk away from this five bedroom anchor.
I felt blank; the numbness you get when there’s just too much happening at once. I was in shock. My house would be gone in just a few months. And with it, my friends – what will I do when I come to New York, now? Sleep on couches? This town had been my home practically my entire life, and now I’m a tourist?
My first thought of action after hearing the news was one big giant FUCK IT.
I went to the bar in the reception room and got a drink. I was 19 years old. Not only had I never had a drink before, I had never even wanted a drink. I went through my entire high school years and my freshman year of college without desiring alcohol. I didn’t even want to be around it.
Once, on senior cut day, I attended a friend’s house party. She was popular (I wasn’t NOT popular, just not popular in her circles of attractive, alcohol-drinking friends), so I went, surprised to get an invite at all. I lied to my parents and sister that I could not go see a Broadway show with them because one of my friends was having a birthday party that I promised I would attend. They dropped me off before driving into the city, and I strolled through the downstairs rooms of the girl’s parent-free house, baffled that someone would choose to ruin watermelon by soaking it in vodka. I called my friend who was a year younger than me to come pick me up, I was scared, people were drinking. I was embarrassed, but the thought of being around drunk people was too adult a situation for me.
All through college I denied alcohol, too, only accepting a red cup of liquid so that people would stop asking me if I wanted a drink, why didn’t I have a drink. I did not want alcohol, but I became bitter that I had no way of escaping my thoughts, my problems, myself. I had to put up with everything all the time at complete consciousness, while others allowed themselves temporary relief with this potion. It sucked.
I ordered a strawberry daiquiri at the bar. It was the only drink name I could recall. They surprisingly had the ingredients to make one, and handed it to me, not asking any questions or to look at my ID. The pink, icy liquid filled a small plastic cup, which I brought back to our table. I sipped half of it. I recall my mother asking if it was a virgin, her tone implying that it would be very bad indeed if I said no. I said yes.
I did not finish my daiquiri. But it didn’t matter. The point was I ordered it, willingly, because I just did not care anymore. I was not a child anymore. My childhood home is gone. You cannot go back. And everything changed after that.
Now that the seal had been broken, I drank more. A drink here, a drink there. It only took a month into my sophomore year to get drunk the first time, off six shots of vodka and rum in a row. (I do not recommend this, nor do I recommend letting your friend who does not ever drink do this.) I started experimenting with pot. I started stealing food from the Commons on campus, picked up photos developed at the bookstore and left without paying. I flirted with guys who had girlfriends, fooled around with guys who had girlfriends.
I started seeing myself as “not good” and “not nice”, the opposite of how I’d been described my whole life. But I didn’t care. Or if I cared, I didn’t try to curb my behavior. Who cares. Who gives a shit. My home is gone.
My home was literally wiped from existence. The people who bought the house only wanted the property, not the building I called my home for 15 years. They tore it down, and built a new house, a gaudy structure three stories tall (not including the basement).
I went back to school two months before the movers came and took everything away, so I was spared that heartbreak. My mom moved to Newburyport, an hour’s drive from Boston. When I went back East for winter break, I flew to Massachusetts. My mother’s house was two stories, but our five bedrooms and three bathrooms became two bedrooms and one bathroom. Everything was smaller. The place was basically a beach house. The room with all my stuff, thrown onto two bookshelves with no art to it whatsoever, was not my room, but just a place to sleep. My bed and its comforter and blankets had been thrown out in favor of a new bed, a stranger.
It took me a few more trips before I allowed my Long Island friends to drive me back to 3134 Susan Road where my house used to be. In a way, maybe it’s good it was torn down – I’d hate to think of another person living in my sanctuary, my heart. I’d be filled with so much jealousy I would burst. Instead, I was the last person who got to call my room My Room, the last to call 3134 Susan Road My House. I suppose it’s fitting. But it does feel like I never got to say goodbye. It was there, I left, and then it was gone forever.
I still go back to New York a few times a year – it used to be more, and now it’s less, as with everything the older you get. I can’t count how many couches I’ve slept on, how many favors I’ve asked of my friends to let me stay multiple nights with them.
My friends I met during my 15 years on Long Island continue to be my close friends, even 10 years later. Even though I don’t see them very often – only a day or two each year, if that – I know they love me and I’m their friends for the rest of our lives. Maybe that’s what I was most scared of losing – not a physical piece of architecture to put my stuff, but a landing spot that would always have me. A place that always welcomed me back, made me feel like I belonged. I supposed I now have several places that welcome me with open arms – my friends’ homes.
But I still can’t ever seem to stop missing my home, the home that was taken away from me without my consent and there was nothing I could do about it. I’ll never have that house back. All I can hope for is a new home that I can cherish just as much.