At age 29, I moved back into my childhood bedroom in my parents’ suburban home outside of New Haven, Connecticut.
I had moved back to the East Coast after a three-year West Coast sojourn, where I lived communally in an old Victorian in old Oakland with five human beings and a costume closet. There I learned how to cook with berbere, hosted zine parties, and spent most of my time basking naked in the backyard of an old hippie who opened up his hot tub to neighbors.
I arrived to my parents’ home with the remnants of that California life: nine boxes of unorganized shit I drove 3,000 miles, nothing labelled, nothing sorted. I lugged the boxes into my parents’ garage, shoving aside a lawn mower, bags of soil, and boxes of single, unmatched gloves that no one wore anymore.
My dad grumbled about the space I took up, and I grumbled about the objects that my parents had collected over a lifetime of raising four children. I didn’t open any part of my boxed-up life, already nostalgic for a world I had just left.
I wandered around my parents’ home, the layout of which had virtually remained unchanged since I was 10 years old, seeing it all anew, seeing it all gone stagnant: the same framed pictures on the wall, the same furniture in every room, and my dad’s weird habit of funneling excess objects into cardboard boxes.
I asked my mom, “Don’t you ever want to change it up?” She looked at me quizzingly: “Change what? Up how?”
Life on the East Coast with my new roommates felt quite static.
Sleeping in my childhood bed, I woke up in a t-shirt from Israel and my brother’s basketball shorts from fifth grade: utter disorientation of self, place, identity, politics. On the walls were framed pictures of self-portraits I had drawn at age 5, bat mitzvah photographs, my college diploma. I peered into each frame, contemplating a past me, what that still life still spoke to. In my childhood bedroom I was once again my parents’ daughter.
I kept erratic hours — maybe I always have as a young girl. I can remember so urgently the adrenaline that rushed when my father swept open my bedroom door to find me AIM’ing with the boy I had a crush on in middle school at 2 a.m. — the don’t-get-caught of it, the knew-I-was-doing-something-wrong of it, the thrill of it. At 29, I found myself waking up at dawn, slipping on flip flops, taking short walks around the sleepy neighborhood, then slipping back inside to slumber. I continued to live out of my suitcase and backpack, opting out of putting my clothes in drawers, maintaining some form of the unstable.
The first day I woke up and walked into the kitchen, bleary-eyed, to find the contents of my backpack strewn across the table, haphazardly. The only things left inside of my backpack were a box of condoms and a grinder. I texted my mom: “Did you go through the stuff in my backpack?” to which she responded, “Yes, Dad looking for the EZ Pass!” I paced the kitchen, saying, “Oh my god oh my god oh my god.” I settled on a response of “that’s my stuff!” and allowed the unparalleled adolescent rage to mount.
I texted my brother; I texted my sister; I debated texting the person I used most of the condoms with, but decided he didn’t know enough about me or my dad to help me find the humor in the situation, so I went back to pacing.
My dad called me; his first words were, “Your secret’s safe with me,” which prevented me from articulating the actual adult explanation about how I felt like my privacy had been betrayed, and ultimately disarmed me from any kind of self-defense, rendered me a child, utterly confused. Was my father referring to the condoms or the plant use?
I rushed out of the conversation, hung up the phone, and called my sister, who laughed and pointed out: “You’re 29. Our parents are weirdly Puritan.”
So I passed a month with my weirdly Puritan parents, attempting to continue the pastimes of my queer California chapter. I started doing my three morning pages, journaling every day from the kitchen table where I once passed afternoons doing homework, where I learned geography from a plastic placemat that was assigned to me. I drank my mom’s watery coffee, made from suburbia’s lost land of lifehacks, the Keurig machine.
I walked around late at night listening to fireflies and crickets, realized that I could walk for miles without being disturbed. On the same streets I walked to elementary school, to Hebrew school, to visit best friends that were so intertwined in my life they felt like family.
I drove around deep in nostalgia, cataloguing all of my firsts: the place where I went to a punk rock concert and first made out with someone, the gas station where I first pumped my gas alone (I remember feeling oddly anxious about this feat), the home of the first girls I babysat and grew to love. The first time I walked home from high school by myself. The first time I came home past curfew. The first time I walked to the Walgreen’s with friends. The first time I watched a friend do graffiti. The first hang out in the Krauzer’s parking lot.
That August paired for me an odd coupling: the sweet familiarity of my suburban hometown origin story with the alien adult in me.
Each day, my parents delivered to me an evening report: this person got engaged, this person died, this person’s sick. Their chronology of time was one that moved in points, anchored, graphed. At almost-30, I had to wonder: Did I wish to live in this type of suburban orbit? In this neighborhood of the never-change? Eighteen years of the same furniture — what does this type of static normalcy do for a partnership, for a self-understanding?
I learned about the neighbor who, after two bad car accidents, couldn’t drive herself on the highway anymore — couldn’t even sit up when someone else was driving her on the highway. Imagine that: a life spent horizontal, the sky whizzing you by on all sides.
I woke up to the sounds of my parents quarreling in the mornings. The first thing out of my mouth: “What are you fighting about already?”
I fought with my parents about sharing iPhone chargers, parking in the driveway, watching television, what beer to buy, about their fights and how they fight, about taking the trash out, about privacy, about where I would live in New York. I fought as if I hadn’t moved back to the East Coast for them, as if I had temporarily forgotten the draw of familial kinship that had returned me home.
That whole month the overhead light didn’t work in my bedroom: 30 days without fluorescence, lit instead by a dim bedside bulb.
When I inquired to my father, “Can we get it working?” he responded, “No one has lived there for a long time, Laura,” and I saw in his face countless Sundays spent organizing a basement full of tee-ball trophies and computer parts, cleaning bathrooms, clicking until he found the same comforting movie on late night television, settling in to watch it, even though he knew exactly how it would end.
I sent out email after email to strangers on Craigslist, offering myself, no longer California’s daughter. Even as I readied myself to move to New York, a city that wouldn’t love or nurture me, I found myself wishing to prolong the liminality of my childish adult-ing, I wanted to live in that wistful recession, to bask forever in that particular parental care.
Header Image by Fernanda Sanovicz