The day I was born was a surprise to everyone. Not that my mother didn’t know she was pregnant. She did, very much so. But I decided to enter the world six weeks early, and it caught everyone off guard. My entire life I’ve been early. It’s my thing. I was born at 8:12 pm on April 5, 1983 and my father was petrified. He’s never said that to my face, but I think it’s an unwritten rule that every man is petrified the day his first child is born. Mothers may feel the same way, as well, but women don’t say those kinds of things aloud.
My father went for a walk after I was born. I know this because every year of my life that my mother and I were speaking, she would mention this, as if it were a fresh wound. Little did she know that she was the one ripping the scab off year after year after year. I would listen to her recount the story. It was a gory one that sounded more like a horror movie than a joyful birth event. “Your father walked out on me,” she would say. She used the same words every time, so I know that’s how she perceived the situation. My father did not walk out on her. My father went for a walk.
And he came back with a stuffed animal for me. It was a stuffed dog. I think if it were a real dog, it would have been a cockerspaniel. It was small, and it had sad eyes. He was quickly named Auggie Doggie and it was my first gift. I slept with Auggie Doggie every night. I couldn’t sleep without him. For eight straight years, I slept with my beloved stuffed animal. Then, one day, I noticed that Auggie Doggie was looking thin. I had loved him to stuffed animal anorexia. In my loving embrace, his stuffing deflated over the years. And he had a hole near his right armpit. I was devastated. My parents offered to stitch him up, but I refused to allow him to go into surgery. What if he didn’t recover? What if he lost his smell? What if he hated the color string my mother used to pull him back together again. It was such a small hole, I decided to leave it be. But I never slept with Auggie Doggie again. I wanted to preserve him, and I thought by leaving him alone that I could save him forever.
Auggie Doggie survived many a trauma-he was one of the few items not taken by my mother’s ex lover when she robbed our house. I was so grateful for that. Auggie Doggie could have been taken; so many things that never belonged to Joyce, my mother’s ex lover, that she could have easily scooped him up along with my mother’s wedding albums and taken him away for good.
I lied about never sleeping with Auggie Doggie again. I slept with Auggie Doggie the night I discovered that he was safe from the robbery.
That incident changed me in a way I’ve never been able to pinpoint until recently. From that day on, things (physical possessions) became almost clinical in their existence. I stopped reliving memories, people, and experiences through tangible objects. I became very detached from things and stuff. This was further worsened when I was kicked out of the house and all I could take with me was a suitcase.
There was one exception to that suitcase. I was home for spring break and I asked my father to drive me to my mother’s house. I didn’t tell him why. I wouldn’t tell him why. We got to the house in his red Saturn and I asked him to stay in the car. My mother’s car wasn’t in the driveway. I still had a key and quickly discovered that she hadn’t yet changed the locks. I inserted the key only to find a new person living with my mother. I don’t know who or when or why that happened, but I told them who I was and I asked them not to call the police. That tactic didn’t work, and she called 911. I ran upstairs to my old room and grabbed a few photo albums, the only memories of my childhood I have now, and Auggie Doggie. He somehow escaped me when I had to leave the first time. Or maybe I had, for a short while, removed the emotion from him, but I had to have him. The police arrived at the house and my mother was on her way home from work. My father was crying in the car.
They asked my mother if she wanted to press charges. I expected her to say yes, but she didn’t and she allowed me to leave with the few items I had gathered. She changed the locks after that visit. I left everything with my father, afraid I would lose something or everything. Or maybe I was afraid of feeling something when I looked at them. I lived a very empty life back then. I didn’t have anyone. I didn’t have anything. I was living paycheck to paycheck and barely scraping by. Everywhere I lived clearly had a human in the space at some point in time, but you never knew who might be inhabiting the space, what their favorite color might be, did they have any friends or family…things you can tell by a typical person’s home.
I did not have a home. I did not have a home growing up and I was too afraid to create one as an adult. I moved around a lot. I moved eight times in one year. I threw things away that, in retrospect, were kind of meaningful. I treated apartments like hotel rooms and I never fully unpacked anywhere I went. My apartments were cold, sterile, empty. So was I. I hated the idea of things in my space. It was just stuff that could disappear if you didn’t keep your eye on it, so why bother getting attached to anything? Getting attached to something just means that one day you will miss it.
Where did I put that necklace my grandmother gave me?
I could prevent myself from being sad by avoiding things that made me happy.
Everything will eventually be gone. I will be gone one day, too.
This lifestyle changed. It changed recently, in fact. I’ve lived in my apartment for almost two years now. I finally threw away the last box leftover from the move a few months ago. That box was a security blanket, reminding me that I could flee the scene at any given point in time, and I’d thought about it many times. I did something I’ve never done before. I hung things up on the walls here. On almost every wall, in fact. There are mirrors and paintings and photographs of me and my best friends. There is art and there are post-it notes on my front door with my handwriting on them, reminders, goals, hopes, and dreams. I filled up picture frames and placed them around the house. This apartment is undeniably mine. Anyone who visits will know that I live here. This apartment is more than a physical space that I occupy. This apartment is not an empty shell. It is mine.
I just signed my lease and the idea of waking up for another 365 days in this space is comforting to me. It makes me feel safe. It makes me feel like I have a place to belong. This apartment is my home. It’s not a materialistic place-nothing is terribly fancy or expensive, but it is a place which houses memories now. And sometimes those memories are best represented by a physical object, the way wedding bands are symbolic of eternal love.
Auggie Doggie lives here, too. He’s safe in my closet with some other stuffed animal friends. And I can tell you-the things here….in my home…it’s not just stuff.