At nine months old, leave the Upper West Side apartment your parents brought you home from the hospital to. Retain no memory of it. Move into a big house in the suburbs with a view of the river. Play in the sprinklers, build zip lines and fairy houses, invent games with your brother and sister. Color with chalk and pick berries. Fall in love with this house and cry with your older brother when your favorite tree gets cut down. Be the baby of you three, falling twenty-two months behind. There are three boys next door, all of whom you will have a crush on, but especially the one your age, the middle one. You’ll run around with these boys and swim and stray too far from your homes. Their parents will divorce when they are young, elementary school age. Their mom will move away. They will be around less and less.
Ring Neighbor Ruth’s doorbell. Talk to her and drink orange juice and eat strawberry hard candies. You call her Neighbor Ruth because your father’s mother is Grandma Ruth. She has a small white house and no children and monochrome rooms. You all love her. When you have a snow day, bring her a crepe you made. Every Halloween, trick or treat at her house first.
Go to all the parties your parents host—dinners, holidays, weddings, fourth of July barbecues, parties where your dad’s whole office comes up for the day. Make challah or do something else adorable so that everyone will fawn over you. Ask your mother if she’s drunk after your parents’ holiday party and watch her laugh in response. Feel unsettled by this answer but relieved to see her happy. Soon enough, your parents won’t throw parties anymore.
Try to accept that your parents are getting divorced. Let the news that you are moving gut you. Let the divorce tear open a hole inside of you that you will spend the better part of a decade, or maybe your whole life, sewing back up. Wait out the year where both your parents rent a temporary home.
On the day that your mother finally moves into the new house she bought, get there early and sit in the bathtub and read while you wait for the movers. Unpack as quickly as you can in your new pink room with your big white bed. Put in white shelves to organize all your books by genre and author.
Fight with your sister over your shared room at your father’s house. You will decorate it floral and purple and she will exile herself to the downstairs office with a daybed. Don’t let her resent you for it—she put herself there. Keep your drawers bare, your life completely at your mother’s house. Don’t let anyone come until a full year has passed. Eventually, let your best friend come over, and let her meet your future stepmother. Wonder why you are still empty and heartbroken. You cannot figure it out.
Turn fourteen and fifteen and sixteen and seventeen and eighteen. Use your mom’s big kitchen to teach yourself to cook and bake. Decorate your wall with quotes and photos that make you happy even when you’re sad and lonely. Bury yourself in your big bed during summers and winters of depression. Get a smaller bed so you can have more space in your room and less space for your grief. Watch your brother paint big canvases of landscapes. Have sleepovers with your friends, get drunk and spill juice in the basement. Knock on your sister’s door when she has boys over, refuse to be the forgotten little sister. Junior year, take your skirt off on the reclining couch with that cute boy with whom it would never work out with.
Get new appliances and do your homework at the kitchen table decorated with a border of painted lemons. Make candles and spill wax on the bamboo floors. When it’s cold out, take a shower while you wait for the bath to fill. Take lots of baths in that big tub, in the last house you can call yours.
Watch TV with your mom in her California King bed all through high school. As you come closer to graduating, your mom will talk about moving, but do not let yourself feel it or deal with it. You will leave for school and you will never come back to that house again. Bring all your stuff into your father’s house when your mother moves.
Make space for yourself. Take out the old curtains and lamps and pillows and replace them with new, white ones. Watch your family fill itself out and build itself back up. Make a huge mess that your father will complain about, but clean it up before you go back to college. Drive up and down and take the train and the subway to escape the hole you’ve been hiding from since your mother sold your house.
Avoid thinking about the word home. Every time you come back to your parents’ houses, swear you never will again. Go to Ohio. And every time you say you won’t, come back to New York.
Spend a summer in Brooklyn and be depressed and exhausted and narcoleptic. Smoke too much weed and start thinking that you’ll get into drugs. Go to Israel, to LA, to Nashville, to Portugal. Get yourself out. Keep hiding from what’s eating you alive.
Stop boiling. Spend a summer with your father. Sit in the Adirondack chairs on your lawn and look at the butterflies in your garden. Roll joints and smoke from your bong. Your father will complain and tell you that you need to stop lighting incense in the house. Fight with him about tattoos. Sit on the floor of a room furnished with the way your childhood bedroom was, cut out pictures from magazines and glue them to another piece of paper. Bring three of your best friends to sleep on your floor. Stop hiding as much. Fight with your dad in a park in Nolita and tell him you’re not going to his wedding. Then tell him you will.
Start to move toward acceptance. Fight the instinct to run away and sit tight as much as you can. Yell at your sister and best friend from middle school for being bitches. Feel grateful for the people in your life. Apologize for being mean. Tell everyone how you really feel. Make your father take you to look at the house down the street he wants to buy and don’t freak out when he puts an offer on it. Fixate on the poem “WHEN THEY SAY YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN, WHAT THEY MEAN IS YOU WERE NEVER THERE.” Fixate on that title. Think about the idea of home. Start to create it for yourself. Grapple with the idea of your father getting married. Give yourself permission to not have it all figured out.
Think about your first home, with fairy houses and a zipline and your favorite tree before it was cut down. The three neighbor boys are all at Duke now and Neighbor Ruth died a few years ago. Your sister and brother graduated and you are across the country at school. Think about how you’ve grown up. Try to remember what it felt like to be six, to be in that big yard and to catch fireflies and think your idyllic life was what everyone had. Love that you are still the baby, even after all these years. Take comfort in the things that don’t change. Learn that home is not a place or a feeling or a state of mind, but what you had, even if you are unsure that you will again. This is where you can start.