Posted by: alegra22 | May 15, 2011

searching for home

It is ten minutes to midnight and I slip out from beneath Dan’s arm and gently push aside the blankets. He lifts his head, reaches for me, but I am already moving through the dark, away from him. His head goes back to the pillow. Pepita lets out a long sigh. Joaquin stirs and then settles. The tick-tock of the clock on the wall defines itself at the edge of the light spilling out from my laptop. I imagine the light turns my face into a strange terrain of lines and smooth surfaces. I imagine Dan watching me from the mattress on the floor. He would see all of me, my features shifting to my youngest self and then, as I frown in concentration, the old woman I will become. Everything I have ever been, and everything I will ever be. I am glad his eyes are closed. I am grateful that my past and future are unwitnessed.

I sit with my feet up on the chair, my legs pressed into the table, as I search through old photographs on my laptop. I am looking for  the photo of my first home. I built it myself when I was seven or eight years old. Dragging scraps of wood from a pile behind our house in Salt Lake City, Utah, I spent hours banging the walls together and stapling thick plastic across the ‘windows’. I remember sitting inside that small space and crying because I had failed. The windows leaked. The walls leaned. It would not protect me.

I don’t find the picture I want. Instead, I find picture after picture of the various houses that I lived in as a child. As the tap tap tap of my fingers hit the keyboard, Zaviera laughs in her sleep. The laugh tumbles into a giggle and then there is quiet. The ticking of the clock.

I have been thinking of that little girl, remembering the pain of the hammer hitting her fingers, the excitement at what she was creating, the fierce anger at her failure. I want to tell her how proud I am of her. She built a house. It was more than just a house, it was a time machine. A message to her future self. Over twenty years later, I understand the code.

I’ve been thinking about the importance of a home. WHen we first moved into our little house by the beach, I was thrilled. I had grown up in a series of funky little homes that my parents had transformed over the time we lived in them. My priority had been financial freedom and proximity to the scent of saltwater. I wanted to hear seagulls when I walked out the door.

But then something began to rob my joy. I began to feel shame. I thought: It is too small. It is cheap. It is an old, rougher neighborhood. I chose wrong. I failed.

It was that little girl crouched in the corner of my mind, hugging her knees. Digging her fingernails into her skin. Watching the weather batter at the plastic windows. Alone and afraid.

The long winter of that little girl has been giving way to spring in my mind.

I have been watching the yuccas we planted four years ago stretch above the top of the fence I built with my father. It is just how I imagined them to be – a fortress of proud, regal spikes. The oriental palms we bought as babies and planted while Zaviera was still in my belly are now taller than I am – their fans shade my three children as they play. Our gravel driveway has been transformed by curbing, riverstone, and tar seal. Where there was once prickly weeds and sharp stone, my children now run barefoot on smooth surfaces. Our feijoa bushes are bearing fruit. Everywhere I look, I see the history of my family.

A couple of nights a week, the children and I take Pepita for a walk down to the greenbelt that runs through all of the neighborhoods. I am becoming familiar with the people who live on this street. A Maori man whose face is covered in tribal tattoos once helped me to catch Pepita. The kindness of his smile surprised me. There is a tree at the beginning of the footpath leading through the greenbelt. I stood in front of it over two years ago and realized I was pregnant with Joaquin. I had just been notified by Bitter Oleander that my story, Naming Shadows, would be published. Pepita was tugging at the leash. The sky was clear. The air crisp. The tree was a silhouette of thin, upward thrusting branches, and something in the way it outlined itself against all of that blue told me my life was blessed.

I realize that what I have wanted is not a bigger home, but the permission to be home. I have been thinking about what home has meant to me over the years. Before now, I have never lived in a home for longer than 4-5 years, but home for me was always defined by the warmth of the kitchen, the gardens my mother coaxed into life, the plants that draped and crept along bookshelves lined with paperbacks, the paint on the walls, the scent of cleaning products…the details continue on and on, my memories jumbled from the many different rooms I inhabited, the places we lived in, and what runs through these images and scents and sensations is something very simple: a sense of safety. When my parents were happy, I felt safe, and my home came alive. This is true whether I was three years old or eighteen.

I sat in that small shelter so many years ago and cried for the walls I could not get to stand straight, for the windows that refused to keep out the elements, for the nails I bent, for being so small and confronted with such a great task.

Tonight I realize: I am no longer small. The task before me is one I can do. Every day, I learn to strengthen the walls holding my family, to build them with gratitude, love, affection, and forgiveness. I am home.

post note: Good old Papa found the photo of my first house!



  1. as always…
    I have lived in this house for 6 years…the longest i have ever lived in one place. I bought it to house my mom…so it is huge, 3500 sgft and 6 bedrooms…there was a point where it overwhelmed me…but like you, I look at the dents in the wall from my mom hitting it with the wheel chair and all of her’s and my grandmother’s possessions and I know I need to keep them here where they have room to be displayed.

    its not the size of the house, because when you have a big house, you want the snugness of a small one….it is who lives in it with you, and the space you create within it….

    • “it is who lives in it with you, and the space you create within it….”
      Amen, to this!
      I realized that some part of me was worrying about the future, wanting to make sure that my children have a comfortable space where they will be happy – reviewing my own past, it became clear that while there were small times that I had longing for what other children had (bigger homes, a swimming pool) they were not consuming, just blips on my radar – when my home was happy, I loved my home. I never really noticed it being anything other than beautiful because my mother always made the most of the space we lived in, transforming it with her artist’s touch.
      We have a wooden support beam with the height of our children marked on it – from the time Sol was two – every time I’ve thought of moving, I’ve looked at those markings and wondered how I could leave that behind.

  2. I purchased my first house in 2008 and it was a big, open space that gave me exactly what I’d been searching for at the time, room to breathe. When I stepped in the door I knew I could take that deep breath and feel the crazy of the day exit with my exhale. Then I realized that it was still missing something and when I met Nick and brought him here it seemed almost right. When we brought Victoria over it hit me that this is my family and I want them here with me. They moved in relatively shortly after we began officially dating but it felt so wrong whenever they weren’t here. Now we’re closing off some of the openness to make room for Logan while preserving space for Damian and Nick’s father when he stays with us but it only makes it feel more like home because it’s growing with us. The projects I’d accomplished prior to my family entering my life pale in comparison to the projects we’ve accomplished together. Yes, it’s a commute to my work and our town is far from many conveniences but it gives us plenty of room to run and grow and that’s one of the things we like. I’ve never really felt this sense of home so strongly before. Growing up we never put paint on the walls, now I have a safari wall and pirate wall, the kid’s rooms have paint and we’re working on the rest one space at a time. It’s nice knowing that this isn’t some impersonal post-housing, it’s a place where I can grow roots. There are moments when my tumbleweed nature tempts me to roll to the next stop but as soon as I start to tumble I realize that the roots are too deep and I have no interest in pulling them.

    Short form: I get it.

    Wow, this hit home. Sorry about the comment blog.

    • Debbi –
      You know better than to apologize to me! ❤ Blog-comments feed my writer-spirit and friend-self! They are part of the reason I blog.
      You also know I have long had that tumbleweed pull as well – that nomadic surfer desire to chase waves and sleep at the edge of the sea, without any other responsibilities then my immediate surroundings and surviving the waves. Somewhere along the way, over the last six years and three children, something has begun to find balance within me and those two selves are beginning to exist in harmony. I had the sense that when you met Nick, he was the soil that would invite you to sink deeply into – I know, because there was something in your face, the way your beauty came alive on a different level, that reminded me of when I met Dan.

      • It’s good to know that there will be balance. It’s been hard at times as I’ve gotten the wandering bug. The funny thing is as soon as I’m gone (work still keeps me traveling) I miss home. I’d never really experienced homesickness before but now I know what it feels like. Funny that I was 30 before that ever happened! I do feel more alive, more at peace with the world and most like I’m right where I’m meant to be now that Nick is in my life. Now if my parents would only come around, but that’s another story, one that’s still too angry/frustrated to blog.

  3. you draw things together so beautifully–past, present, future. i really felt this post.

    • Sarah – Thank you. I’ve been trying to surrender to the rhythm of the writing and stay committed to not editing (other than obvious things) for the next 90 days in order to learn to listen better and not come to the page with my own agenda. It is often scary, but more and more, it becomes peaceful and exciting to see where I will be taken – but every time I post, I always go through that sense of vulnerability about it being read and how it might be fall short. These comments mean a lot to me, they are like safety nets appearing every time I step off the edge.

      • oooh yes i deeply *get* that feeling of vulnerability. that, i think, is what ultimately caused me to stop blogging. but now, i’m not writing at all. and that is much, much worse than that feeling of free-fall…..
        your writing is brave and honest. i’m really happy i found you.

  4. This wiped all of my mascara away! Your writing is continuing to deepen, and I feel I am witnessing something brilliant and transformative in you… So beautiful and moving, personal and deep, thank you again for sharing your stories… ❤

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