Before he stopped responding to me, I had one last good phone conversation with Kevin*. We talked about my housing situation. I have been without a permanent home ever since leaving my abuser–it’s coming up on two years. My mailing address is with one friend, most of my things are in storage, and what I need for daily life is with another friend. I spend some time there and often go off to watch someone’s animals or house sit; I have no real home.
When I left my abuser and went to live with friends, I remember the sense of terrifying groundlessness. There was a lot of terror in those days, but the sudden flight from my home was a distinct and horrible pain. “It’s all right, Kira,” I would whisper against my cat’s silky gray fur, “Home is wherever you are.”
My cat died a year ago.
The closest I’ve felt to belonging somewhere has been with Kevin*–before the sudden and completely unexpected collapse of our relationship. I watched a friend’s cats while we were together and he stayed with me there. For the week, that house felt like home. When we woke up at his place, it felt like home there. When we went camping…maybe a tent wasn’t wholly homelike, but having him next to me felt like comfort and ease, joy and hope, warm security and a great, expansive sense of perfect rightness. Kevin* was home.
In our conversation, he impressed on me the effort I was expending to remain stuck in my nomadic existence–always packing my things to leave and always driving somewhere. He reminded me how badly I’ve been sleeping with the noisy upstairs neighbors in the place I stay the most and the frustration I have with no control or sense of order in my surroundings. So many times someone has asked “Wouldn’t it feel better to have a place of your own?” Which of course is true but does nothing to address my financial instability or my debilitating fear. In a very real way I have felt trapped despite also being intensely grateful to have a roof over my head all this time.
Kevin* started to brainstorm with me how I might move myself into a more stable temporary situation. I told him about my friend with the empty guest house who’d given me a key when Kira was still alive. I’ve since talked to her again and she was still happy to have me stay for a few months. I didn’t think I’d stop hearing from Kevin* altogether, so the terrifying step in the right direction he’d lovingly encouraged me to take felt like something that maybe I could do.
Now I’m really, really frightened to make the move. Inconsolable with grief, I can’t imagine how I’ll be able to get through the night alone never mind make meaningful progress toward anything more permanent. I’ll be alone in the guest house–face to face with my unfulfilled need to be loved, my suicidal ideations, my nightmares. Still, I’ve committed to making the change. The friends with whom I’ve talked it over agree that it’s a great idea. I am desperate for a night of decent sleep and the guest house is quietly nestled in the woods. I’m frightened but I’m going to try.
When we get back Thanksgiving night it’s early enough to make the drive. I drag my bags to the front door and collect food from the refrigerator. My friend helps me take things out to the car. I walk around the apartment one last time. In the room with my cot, my race medals and precious objects sit on a shelf. He’s told me it’s fine that I leave things. We’re just trying this out, I can come back if I need. I go to the shelf and take up the box of my cat’s ashes, hold it to my heart and cry as I walk back out.
I impulsively reach out to hug my friend through my tears. We rarely hug, but I need to suddenly for strength. I sniffle a few times, then go out into the night alone.
I hold Kira in my lap as I did every time we moved. Her carrier would fit between my body and the steering wheel and she would cry with fear on the road. I would drive with one hand and push the other into the bag with her, stroking her back to reassure her. Now I stroke the cold wood of the tiny box that holds my cat’s ashes. I cry for assurance that doesn’t come as I drive to the first place in a long while that will be home for me alone.
When I arrive I walk to the door holding only my purse and the ashes of my cat. I ease the door open and turn on the lights. The space is warm, beautiful and inviting. I step in and take my shoes off, walk across the floor and find a place for Kira on the small table near my bed.
“All right Kira,” I murmur, “I miss you and I don’t know if I can do this without you–but I guess we’re home now.” I kiss the box and set it down. I look around at the windows and the pretty, cheerful art. I initially set my bags inside the door and bring my sleeping things to the bed—but the room doesn’t quite look right with a pile of bags in the corner. I carry in food and toiletries, yoga things and supplements. The closet is small and I eye my clothes, unsure how to arrange them. I’m very good with spatial awareness when I’ve slept properly and am not an utter emotional wreck.
I set clothes on the bed and begin to arrange things in the big mirrored medicine cabinet. A peculiar peace washes over me as I find the right shelves for toothpaste and deodorant, jewelry and tinctures and psych drugs. My “get ready for bed” alarm floats in from my phone, and with nobody around I let the Beetles’ “Let It Be” play over and over as I put my shower things in the shower and my food in drawers in the kitchen. I place cans of sparkling water in the fridge dispenser even though I don’t like my water cold because I’m charmed to have a dispenser. I hang the handmade tea towels my friend Kim gave me in the kitchen and cover the alarm system console so its glow won’t bother me at night.
When I go to bed, I surround myself with pillows and put another over my head. Tightly swaddled in my pillow fort, I turn out the last light and pray for sleep to come quickly. I lay in bed and cry for Kevin*. With no friend in the other room, I don’t even bother being quiet about it. I wish I could hold him again, wish I could understand why he doesn’t want me. I wish I could show him the beautiful place he talked me into coming to. I cry for a long while, consumed by grief and loss.
Eventually I tell myself how beautiful and brave it was that I could trust him after everything I’ve been through. I remind myself that love is the fundamental truth of who we are. Frightened and alone in the darkness, longing for sleep, I struggle to reconstruct my favorite C.S. Lewis quote which I often read to classes though it always makes me cry:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Though my heart breaks over and over and over again, I will not close it. Somehow, love must find me.
*Not his real name