Written by Montez Louria
Art by Jessica Lewis
I moved to California during a pandemic to create a space for myself. Although, I was moving to try again at graduate school, I realized this would be the first time living on my own, away from my family and “home.” I didn’t really develop a sense of home. I found comfort in objects that were familiar to me. An egg custard flavored snowball, a lip liner pencil sharpened to a nub, or the smell of salt, pepper, and ketchup gave me a feeling of Baltimore. That was home. However, when I have memories of Baltimore or my previous living spaces. I don’t feel like home. When I think of home, I think of sadness, some ridicule, and trauma. I know home shouldn’t feel this way, so I ask myself, what does home mean? I’ve always lived in a house with relatives. But there always seemed to be something missing.
I grew up living with my mother, grandmother, and four aunts until I was thirteen. By that time, my mother had become fed up with constant turmoil. I remember the straw that broke the camel’s back for my mother. An argument the day before. A slammed door. “Yall are so judgemental! All yall do is judge people, “ an aunt screamed as she stormed up the stairs. The next day my mother’s cordless phone and caller ID box was thrown out of the bathroom window. It was wedged between a rusted gate and the church who was our neighbor. That was the day my mother decided to move out. They were always arguing about something. The smallest word, wrong look, misunderstanding, or missed social cue caused an uproar whenever we were all in the house together. We always waited until we were home. At church or any public place, we plastered cheap smiles on our faces to keep up the facade of a “happy, tight knit family.”
Most of my life was spent in places that bred silent resentment. Dwellings with walls, carpets, and ceilings but no sense of home. The first house where my earliest, and often most dreadful, memories formed was in East Baltimore. The chaos of city life was no match for the tensions in my home.It had three bedrooms, two floors, and a basement. A kitchen with open cabinets and a washing machine placed next to the sink. Walls painted with words that created grudges.
that were coded with secrets and lies. The presentation of a perfection when really there was depression and molestation growing like mold in every corner.
Until the age of seven, I shared a room with my mother and my aunt. I slept on a cot wedged between them. In that house, your business became everyone’s business. We moved together, but separately. We always stayed and moved together. So much so that I didn’t have my own room until I was thirteen,13 and by that time I had no sense of what privacy meant. We always kept the bedroom doors open because we weren’t supposed to hide things from each other. We had a mantra that my grandmother would use as ammunition against us, “We have to stay close. All you have is family.” She would say more frequently after the death of my mother’s third youngest sister. She would say this after telling us stories of her cousins, sisters, and mother betrayal or deception. She was able to pull us in enough for us to believe that nothing in this world mattered more than family, except being partnered by a man. That’s what mattered in life. Naturally, when I started to stray away from the script, it did not go over well.
“What happens in this house, stays in this house. You don’t need to go run and tell our business to everybody,” my grandmother would say to me. “You have a problem, you come tell me.” My grandmother would say after the day after I was recommended to see a school psychologist. I don’t know which teacher recommended or why at the time but I made the mistake of going home and telling my family about my day at school. There was a silence at the dinner table. My grandmother’s eyes shifted. My aunt’s eyes shifted. My grandmother held her fork still in mid-air. She asked me to repeat myself. I gulped and I knew in that moment, I had messed up. My grandmother stood and began to make her grandiose speech about family business. She stood in the kitchen, scolding me as I sat in the dining room watching my two youngest aunts giggle at me. Her voice echoed like thunder. I sat at the table twiddling my fork, appetite lost. I watched my entire family nod their heads and agree with her. “Everybody don’t need to know everything,” my eldest aunt said to me. “What he ask you? Your favorite color? He told you it’s okay to be sad,” my grandmother taunted. I sat at the table, tears slowly falling down my face which caused more laughter. As the word left her mouth, I could see them floating from the kitchen to the dining room, dancing around my head. Slowly the words disappeared from not only my view but her mouth. All I could hear was rumbling. It was just noise and no words. So there it began. My ideas of home.
Home is a constant state of wander, wonder, and waiting. Wandering away from the places I’ve known for so long. Wondering what life was like for other people growing up. Wondering how I can create a home. Waiting for escape. Waiting to grow older. Waiting for a sense of belonging and stability.
Often, I would sit back and listen to other people describe their young life and what it felt like to be home. I started to realize that there was so much,etching missing from my own experience. Feelings and ideas that were never available in those spaces where I grew. Maybe it was love or happiness or understanding, but I was never able to grasp what I was missing from the places I lived.
Currently, I am gathering a sense of home, trying to abandon the wander, wonder, and waiting.