Walls

There was a gas stove humming in the corner and a forest green chair just beside it with my book left open on its arm. I spent my evenings there, reading and staying warm by the fire, petting the dog with my feet and feeling completely content. The wooden walls reminded me of a cabin and maybe more so, a simpler time. They had once welcomed me inside as their guest, family even, but now the rooms are cold and indifferent. Only a month had passed, and already the welcome was worn. It kills me to think of how quickly I came to love this house. It was our new beginning. These walls were supposed to be written about with affection and fondness, not the heaviness and regret with which I write about them now.

I could hear him a room away, beating the indifferent walls and screaming things I couldn’t understand. Minutes before, I informed him of my decision to leave, to move out, to end our commitments entirely. That was the pivotal moment. I was no longer home. I was no longer in love. I was the stranger inside.

I sat while he screamed, and I stared at the walls, so wholly unfamiliar to me now. Eyes emerged from the knots in the wood and stared back. They were dispassionate and removed. ‘You’ve probably seen this before’, I said aloud but not loud enough to be heard over his cries. I stopped listening when he started cycling around the same threats and pleas. I sat next to the fireplace and waited. Soon enough, he came stomping around the corner, hunchbacked and deformed in every imaginable way. He demanded to know why I hated him so much. He met me face-to-face in the chair and breathed all over me. Then, he shrank away from me, cowered more like, and said amidst stuttering sobs, ‘Why are you smiling?’ Smiling? I thought, instinctively bringing my hands to my face. I was smiling. Worse, I was laughing, giggling like a nervous girl at her first R-rated movie. I hated myself. I tried to stop, but the muscles in my face weren’t mine to command. ‘I’m sorry’ I said, hiding my face behind my hands. It was a cruel trick. Nothing inside my heart was smiling. I went to him, suddenly compelled by my own coldness to care for him, to take it back. I threw my arms around him, but he pushed me away and shook his hands as if I were diseased or covered in slime. I tried again, this time cooing at him and begging him to calm down. I held him tight and tried to stop his shaking, but it was like trying to contain a monster. I could feel how he was torn between holding me and hitting me. Over his shoulder, I looked at the walls and fed on their indifference. Then I felt his arms around me, squeezing me, breaking me. I released my embrace and kicked until he released me. I fell to the floor and felt his weight on top of me. He held my hands behind me and kept his foot on the small of my back, spitting and screaming into my ear, swearing and cursing and threatening again. No pain was registering, not even anger. All I could think of was how dusty the carpet smelled. I imagined falling through the floor into the cellar. Spiders and mice, dust and shadows – all of this would have been a glorious escape. Finally, he subsided. I expect my complacency did not satisfy his want to frighten me. I was still too naïve to think that he wanted to hurt me. I am not entirely foolish, though, because up until that day his temper was more moderate than my own. He rarely lifted a finger in anger towards me and scarcer still did he raise his voice. So, it’s not that I’ve tolerated such behavior this last year, just that I tolerate it now.

He left the room as thunderingly as he came and growled at me not to get up. I had no trouble obeying, as my body seemed magnetic to the floor, pulled and pushed at the same time. My breath made the carpet smell worse, but I did not move. I heard his keys and winter coat and then the screen door slamming behind him. I lay still, though, until I heard his car pull away over the snow pack and ice.

I still did not feel alone in the room with all the eyes. ‘You don’t frighten me,’ I spoke again to the walls, this time observing my own sanity with skepticism and laughing at hearing my voice aloud. I went to the kitchen and poured myself a glass of water. A mouse fled from one end of the kitchen to the other, disappearing behind the stove. The cellar is coming to me, I thought, amused and confused by the matter of my own thoughts.

The kitchen was filthy. I blamed my own negligence; although, most of the marks and stains were there when we had moved in. The cracked floor and the burned counter tops were probably decades old. The dirty dishes were mine, and the sauce stain on the stove top. I frowned and went to sit in my chair. I didn’t read though; that would have been strange and inappropriate, even without a witness. The walls were witness enough, and I could not deny the effect they had on my behavior.

I let my mind wander to a month before. It was Christmas time, and I jumped for joy at seeing the fireplace in the corner, the perfect selling charm for two people looking to buy a home in December. In a day I had arranged everything: clocks, pictures, furniture, books and candles. We had a lot of candles. Now, they were deformed, burned up like him and me. Some of them were only puddles of colored wax stuck on shelves.

Together, our things formed an eclectic collage. I tried my best to arrange everything according to style and color, but no two things seemed to go together. On one wall there was a Picasso next to a bird house made from a Colorado license plate. On another wall there was The Kiss by Klimt and a tall bookshelf made entirely of cork with a thousand cds alphabetically organized from top to bottom – a chaotic array of colors and text that complimented nothing, not even itself, but it did not matter then because we were in love. It was a delightful mess that I adored.

We had already had dinner parties and Sunday breakfasts, everything that makes a house a home, so my attachment was considerable despite our short stay. As I looked around, images lingered in every space – ghosts only days old flickered in and out as if they resisted the very passage of time. On the floor in front of the couch I saw us sitting with a board game between us. We were smiling, sipping tea and talking about nothing in particular. In the far corner our figures were entangled; he had just come home from work and I was dressed up. I remembered that day. It was two days ago. We made love that night, and I stared at the walls then too and imagined terrible things in the shadows. Somehow, I knew what was coming, but I avoided it. I wanted things to remain as they were, not because I was happy but because I was comfortable, emotionally and economically stable. But it is not comfort my heart thrives on; it’s happiness, and I wasn’t happy, not really. I scowled in defense at the ghosts and cursed my vulnerability. I shouted something I can’t remember, and the ghosts disappeared from the room, from my mind.

I noticed, again, the puddles of wax on the shelves, and I had an irrepressible urge to scrape them off, so I began picking at them with my fingernails and thinking of nothing else. I was being very meticulous and obsessive, but I was content to avoid another haunting, so I continued for nearly an hour. Now there were only tiny flakes and ribbons of wax on the carpet, and my fingernails were red and brown, cinnamon and sandalwood.

The refrigerator made a sound like a nest of birds right outside the window; it chirped and hummed and wailed all at once. The gravity heater crackled and popped like old stairs, and I looked to see who was there, no one of course. Just me.

My mind wandered again and imagined the future of the house. Would he stay? Would he brave the ghosts and memories alone? Would he sit in this room with a hundred eyes, outnumbered and alone? Or would this house be silent? Could this house ever be silent with so many ghosts? Our story was in the walls now, eternally fixed like the eyes – in the eyes. If I become a ghost, will I exist here within these walls even after I am gone? Will part of me stay with him, with the house? I wondered these things as I wonder now, two weeks removed from the walls. I have yet to feel completely gone.

After I had waited nearly two hours in the haunted house, I considered leaving for the first time. I had stayed hoping for some resolution, pleasant or unpleasant; I felt some sort of conclusion was due. I never considered that our love, our time together would be completely forsaken. How can God abandon two people who truly loved?

Just as I was losing faith, I heard the unmistakable sound of tires over snow and an engine I had come so accustomed to hearing. But I did not run to the door and prepare to greet him this time. Blood rushed to my head, and I became frantic and disoriented. I looked for my keys, my phone, my stuffed dog Henry – anything and everything I believed could protect me or aide me in my escape. Through the window I saw him walking. His countenance was changed since last I saw him. He seemed sad, detached, or tame at least.

‘Where are you going?’ he greeted me. I asked him if he wanted something to eat. ‘You need to eat,’ I said, ‘you look pale.’ He agreed, looking very sympathetic of his own condition. He grimaced and sulked into the living room and took a seat. I asked him what he wanted. ‘A sandwich?’ I offered, eager to leave. I had never known him to refuse a meal. He nodded pathetically – almost made me smile again, but I avoided the same trick by turning and leaving directly. I hadn’t decided if I was coming back. I just knew I was leaving.

The winter air had a nasty bite that morning. I filled my lungs with the dry, icy air until they ached to release. It was everything I needed, a brutal awakening of my senses, a sharp reminder that I wasn’t, in fact, dreaming.

I started my car and noticed that I had a full tank. It was an invitation to leave. A tank could get me to my parents’ house; their walls shone with happy memories. I was a girl there and always, always safe. I was still undecided as I pulled into a school yard and parked. I felt so free. I couldn’t go back. I had done what I needed to do. I had no lingering obligation to him or that house. I could just get my things later. Everything I really needed was in my car, except clean underwear, but that was cheap enough to buy. I was already pulling out and turning onto the highway when my conscience made a semi-successful attempt to break through the emotional block I had been building all day. I couldn’t just leave him sitting there waiting for a sandwich, so I called him. He answered and sniffed into the phone to let me know he’d picked up. I told him that I was uncomfortable coming back, that I’d said everything I needed to say and that we would take care of practical matters when he was feeling better. His protests were incoherent and, from what I could tell, mostly to do with the sandwich. I apologized over and over until he became angry enough at his futility in the argument to hang up.

That was the end of it for nearly two days. I was ridiculously happy; it was an offensive kind of joy that I didn’t attempt to defend or explain, but I relished in my unexpected wellbeing. I found an apartment on the opposite side of town. The walls were bright and empty, like a blank canvas.

At the end of two days time, I found myself driving back to the house. I had called a moving company and was meeting two men at noon. That left me roughly three hours to get everything boxed and ready to go. His car was not in the driveway when I pulled up, so I hurried to take advantage of his absence. I grabbed everything that was mine, in no particular order, and threw it into a box. As I filled one, I set it by the front door and went to fill another. What had taken a whole weekend to put up took just over two hours to take down. My furniture, linens, knick-knacks and dishes were in one pile nearly six feet tall in the living room. In appearance it looked very orderly and organized, but I knew better. I think I actually packed dirty dishes. Every room had been stripped of my things, but I continued to systematically open closets and cupboards in search of something else, and an occasional trifle made it worth my while.

Just minutes before I was expecting the movers, I heard the door slam. He was back. I suppose seeing him one last time was inevitable, but I was grossly unprepared. He let out a loud exclamation of grief that made me jump, and then my nerves were back on guard. He shouted and whined at the same time, a quality I had only witnessed in him and never desire to witness again. He was sincerely confused – delusional enough to, in fact, forget or disempower the changes and events of the last two days. I told him I was expecting the movers in just minutes; he seemed surprised still, so I left him to remember. He followed me at my heels and reissued his pleas. Every word opened a new wound and reinstated new doubt. The power he had to persuade me was more frightening than the potential of his temper. I tried to distance myself internally from his voice. Outwardly, I was making incoherent pleas of my own, but he just talked over me.

Then, in a moment of weakness – or maybe it was strength – I spun around and said in a steady, hard voice, ‘It’s done! I can’t help you.’ My stare was unflinching, but I was already regretting my words. The next minutes were a blur. He was taking things from my boxes and throwing them against the wall: My snow globe, a set of Tupperware and a picture of my sister and I. I was just picking up pieces and trying to remain calm. At one point, I looked at him, and he was holding a pottery vase over his head. It wasn’t the vase that scared me, though. It was the look of reckless abandon in his eyes that made me take cover behind the couch. He missed, but it came close. I started for the door, but before I managed my way out, he shoved me from behind, and I hit the door and then the concrete porch. It was the back of my head that hit the ground, but my eyes pounded and pulsated like there was a band of drums inside my head. His voice was completely hoarse now as he shouted at me from inside to get up. I got up, but he knocked me down again as he pushed past me to get to his car. The movers had arrived; I don’t know what they saw, but they saw him spin his tires in the snow until he screeched out of the driveway and swerved on down the narrow, icy road.

The two men had moved us in the month before, and I greeted them accordingly. Although they never spoke to me directly of the situation, a look in their eyes and a tone in their voices indicated they had seen enough to feel sorry for me. I sat on the floor and watched them take my things into a truck big enough for ten times the load.

The walls watched, too, but it was different that day. The tables had turned because I was leaving. They could no longer prey on my vulnerability or haunt me with shadows of sentiment. As my things disappeared, so did my attachment to the strange house. The comforts of my life were in boxes and inside of me and never belonged to the house.

As the two men waited for me outside, I said goodbye. It was half empty now, but I was leaving it completely whole. The stupid smile was back on my face again as I wrestled the key off of my key chain. I dropped it on the floor on the way out and didn’t even look back. As I walked down the porch steps covered in a strange green rug, I smiled at the movers who waited patiently in their truck. Behind me I left a house, a love, a year and a broken heart, but I smiled anyways – because I was going home.

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On Living In My Car

2005

Winter was coming on fast. For me, it didn’t mean snow angels and hot cider after icicles have formed in my nostrils. It didn’t mean Christmas or family or snug nights with a book by the fire. No the first frosty night made me afraid in ways I never felt growing up. I remember the first night the temperature fell below freezing – the breath of life becomes a steamy fog, and ice grows on the corpses of fall and anything else without warm blood pumping through it. Like cars.

My car was a 1994 Buick Lesebre. Not your pride and joy car, but the heater worked and there was a lot of leg room. In the reclined passenger seat I lay and watched my breath float away from me and attach to the windows to form intricate, symmetrical patterns of ice, my own breath betraying me – still, I loved to watch. Every blanket, coat and article of clothing I had was piled on top of me so that really only my nose could testify to how cold it was. Every few hours I started the engine and ran the heater ‘til the icicles in my nose melted and I could breathe again, but mostly I just stayed still, almost completely motionless except for my ankles and thighs rubbing together in a mindless dance that sometimes gave the illusion of warmth. And this is how I slept, if at all, in hour-long intervals, dancing and defrosting ’til the sun came up and scared the ghosts of breath away.

When the sun came, I would emerge just a little more from my laundry so that I could hold a pen, and then I would write. Not words. Music. Then, I wanted to be a composer. To glorify God, or myself, or both – I don’t remember. It was the dream that made living in my car seem insignificant at the time. Every day I wrote music, scribbled notes onto yellow manuscript paper and imagined a concert hall full of dressed up people, all waiting to hear my music. I could even tell you the appearance of these people; each one of them was more familiar to me than anyone of real matter. Dreams are funny things.

I never called myself homeless, still don’t – because homelessness implies so much more than simply being without a home. The homeless are penniless, famililess, hopeless. And I had parents, completely oblivious of my situation, who sent me money every week, most of which filled up my twelve gallon tank, and the rest bought me enough food to keep me above one hundred pounds. When I spoke to them on the phone, I kept my teeth from chattering and told them cheerfully that I was home watching sitcoms and drinking tea. I couldn’t tell them the truth because I wasn’t supposed to need them anymore. I was stubborn to a fault, but it kept me from feeling sorry for myself – and so I am glad to be stubborn.

During the day I went for walks, sat in coffee shops, book shops – you know, the kinds of places that don’t kick you out for not buying anything. Sometimes I even went shopping; I’d buy a dress or blouse with my weekly allowance because buying a dress made me feel normal; it was my disguise, and without it, I felt like a caged thing at the circus, huddled in the corner while people cringed. But circus freaks don’t wear floral dresses. And they definitely don’t have clean hair. Dirty hair was a dead give away. So I stood outside the college dormitories until eventually someone would come out and hold the door for me, and I would stand in the shower until my fingers pruned and the water went cold. I washed my hair three or four times, convinced it would last longer, and I can still smell the suds that smelled like strawberry chap-stick and feel the smooth tile beneath my feet.

Still, I was only an image of normal. I couldn’t invite anybody over, ask them to come inside my life, my car. So often days would pass in which I did not speak more than two words to anyone. The silence was exhilarating and frightening because the less I said, the more noise there was in my head. Had I tried to make a friend, I think I would have scared it away with nonsensical stammering, spewing scattered bits of the chaos inside my mind, probably with a stutter and nervous slur of simple words because I was so unaccustomed to conversation. In fact, it happened this way a few times, and all I remember is my tongue sticking to the top of my mouth and suddenly being very conscious of how chapped my lips were. I always ended up the same way, ducking in my car to avoid further confrontation and trying to refocus on my composition to relieve the humiliation. My power to forget healed many injuries. I am both grateful for and afraid of this ability.

For instance, until recently, I forgot the night I was questioned by the police. I had parked in a carpooling lot outside of town. It was surrounded by prairie and highway, and I had slept there many times before with no trouble from the police. From this spot, I could see the stars as clearly as if I were floating above the atmosphere with them. The day I was asked to leave broke my heart. A fat man who looked entirely too pleased to discover something amiss knocked on my window and asked me to step outside. I struggled to release myself from the tangle of blankets, but I was otherwise too stunned to think. I stood barefoot in the parking lot and mechanically produced my license, social security number and some ridiculous reason why I would be sleeping in my car. I said I didn’t know it was illegal, and he said he didn’t care. This bully of a man kept me standing in the blowing winter for forty-five minutes while he looked up my record and asked me questions. I lied about everything except my identification. But no matter how I lied, I could not fully recover. My dress didn’t do me any good that day. The flashlight in my face showed me for what I really was, and I had to look away, to forget.

It’s curious, the things we remember. Sometimes insignificant details plague our memory for life while what we perceive as life-defining moments slip through the gaps in our brain and get washed away with time. Like the day the police asked me to leave. I can’t remember what was said or how many policemen were there or what they looked like, but I can remember a prairie dog who braved the winter, that was infinitely bigger than he, to sit in the shelter of my front, right tire and wait with me. He knew something was wrong, something was changing. We had a history together, a sympathetic relationship that kept me company. It began the day I showed up in the parking lot and disrupted the daily pattern of noises and commotion by playing my trumpet. The sound erupted into the hollow night. It soared over the highway and into the prairie dogs’ homes and eventually came back to me, a clear, warm, brassy echo that penetrated my very core. It was after the first song that I saw the prairie dogs; nearly one hundred tiny, cautious bodies crept closer and closer to find the source of the sound. By the end of the second tune, I had a devoted audience. They shifted nervously, like all rodents do, but all and all I think they liked it, maybe even understood it. Now, one of them, not even a foot high, stood by me with a timid fidelity that I have never experienced with any human being. I drove away with a heavy heart, and I often wonder if they remember me, if the same ones are still living, if they can hear the tunes I played in their tiny, anxious brains.

I don’t visit them anymore; I guess it’s because leaving was too painful; one more song would just seem to prolong saying goodbye, and I am not very good with goodbyes. But in the course of a day, I see many animals: deer, rabbits, horses, squirrels, birds, sometimes prairie dogs, and I always stop my day for just a few minutes to talk or stare or sit with them. There are a few I see regularly and some I’ve even played my trumpet for. No room has ever matched the acoustics of playing outside, into rolling hills and starry space, and no audience has ever been more devout or sincerely interested in my music than the animals. I prefer playing for them to any number of dressed up people in a concert hall. Ultimately, my real passion exists in the sound, not the fame, the unprecedented, heavenly communication between myself, God, the animals and the earth.

It was my nights with the prairie dogs that began a thought in my mind that hasn’t rested a moment since, a battle against my humanity – against reason, responsibility, government, society, my own intellect. The barrier between myself and every other living creature became impossible to ignore. Every element of my life employed reason somehow. Despite my demoted rank in society, I was a product of its lifestyle – everything from combing my hair to buying new clothes to dreaming of concert halls. I reflected its values and succumb to its expectations every day. And worse, my awareness did not hinder my participation. But there were times quitting was palpable. Most often, these times were at the park. I was usually the only one there – I suppose that’s because it’s not the golf course kind of park where poison has got rid of bugs and weeds and any brown grasses are plucked like gray hairs. But my park was wild and overgrown. There were red-winged black birds swaying on tall wheat grasses and cattails by a marshy, unlittered shore, and ducks nestled in the shelter of the Cottonwood trees. I preferred this place to all others, even in the months of winter. It was here that my thoughts made roots, which are now so widespread that it seems I’ve never really left. I can never forget my footprints in the snow because my perception had changed so much that I was no longer walking on top of the earth – I was supported, carried, nurtured, the way the soil nurtured the trees, or at least I flattered myself to think this. I felt more likeness to the restless, migrating birds than to my own kin, and lying in the natural burrows between the Cottonwood’s great, arching roots, I felt I could truly inhabit the earth, that it would protect me the way it protects so many gracious creatures. But I never had the courage to stay past dark. Right there – there is the difference.

Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if I had stayed, if I had grazed on the earth and defied the life that expected me to return. Would the muddy shore have crept towards me and eventually swallowed me whole? Would I have been plucked like a flower and taken back into the roaring world of reason and responsibility where I would wilt and shrivel into a fragile shell of faded color? Would I have even survived? I think my expectations for quality of life limit my ability to adapt. A squirrel, say, does not expect to sleep in a home with the thermostat set above sixty degrees. It does not expect to be full all the time, nor does it have the same expectations for comfort and safety. I do. People do. We approach life with expectations, and so we can never understand a squirrel.

I knew a particular squirrel who I named Walter after my grandfather because he looked old and his tail looked like a winter branch. I know by now it must seem that I had a thing for rodents, but really they just seemed to gravitate towards me. Plus, I kept peanuts in my car. One morning I woke up to find Walter sitting on the hood of my car, watching me sleep, or perhaps trying to wake me with his scratchy chirping. His black eyes focused in on me, piercingly steadfast and unusually brave for a squirrel. I took a handful of peanuts and held it out to him. I didn’t coo at him or click my tongue the way some people talk to animals. I didn’t say anything, but I kept eye contact. He waddled (yes, waddled) towards me and helped himself, one by one, to the peanuts in my hand. He was there morning after morning, and I even had the thought that if someone offered me an apartment I would have said, “No, thank you. Walter needs me.”

Like with the prairie dogs, Walter and I lost touch. I can’t testify to the longevity of a squirrel’s life or the acuteness of its memory, but in my heart I believe he is somewhere beautiful and green – and I’m there too, my spirit, with a can of Planters peanuts.

All right I do have a thing for rodents. Strange as it sounds, they filled the role of friendship that was otherwise completely vacant. I didn’t need conversation, someone to drink with or ask me to be a bride’s maid; in fact, I quite preferred communication without the hassle of talking back and forth. At times, infinitely more was said between their beady eyes and mine than could ever be spoken. I’m still not good at conversation, but to get along well with others, one must learn to perform it moderately well because silence tends to invoke such labels as “misanthrope”. Not that I am one who cares to avoid such presumptions. And they would not be entirely incorrect.

I can’t color myself too defiant, though, because I was afraid of judgment – enough to fix my hair and wear fancy dresses to disguise my situation. I’m not sure exactly when I came to be of the mind that the world didn’t deserve that consideration. I mean, I wasn’t fooling myself; all the fuss about appearances was just a consideration for those around me, so they wouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable sitting next to a girl with a pit-stained, white t-shirt and ratted jeans that fell just below protruding hip bones that seemed to jut out into the world and force my secret on passers by. So, sometime in the first or second month after Christmas, I stopped dressing up. I wasn’t a Christian, but something about the Christmas spirit illuminated how phony my masquerade was. I was a participant in the very thing I condemned, and like any ethical human being who has discovered hypocrisy in their self, I made earnest actions to level with myself and get rid of the contradictions in my life. I stopped dressing up, and immediately, people’s looks were riddled with questions. I smiled and answered none of them with a curious spite. I felt like the circus freak, and I didn’t care.

Materialism and the constant, mindless consumption of things is a lot easier to see from a car with all your things in it. I won’t deny ever having been a part of it, because I was – and to some degree, still am. It’s so easy to validate new shoes for work, a new car for better mileage or a new house for a well deserved upgrade. But in the whirl of consuming, it is difficult to see the increasing dissatisfaction with things. I became aware of how frivolous I had been prior to living in my car; there are, in my memory, a few occasions when I actually threw change into the trash. Now I would not slight a penny in my path. In retrospect, the wealthy are those who see the value in what they have, not the ones who are constantly chasing after greater acquisition. Not that I didn’t wish I had more – I did, but I was never unsatisfied in any important way. I had life’s essentials and so much more – the privilege of an education, a dream, family, music, the prairie dogs and squirrels. Really, I was very fortunate, wealthy – if you will. One man served to remind me of this.

He was no man that I ever spoke to, yet I knew him, and I think he knew me. He slept beneath an oak tree at my park. Only God knows what circumstances landed him there; my best guess wouldn’t even come close. My own were complicated enough that I knew no person ended up under a tree for the same reason. He was forty, maybe fifty – it’s hard to tell the age of his skin beneath a beard he’d let grow all winter long. This man was homeless, not I. But he was a different kind of homeless – not a beggar or a dumpster diver. Truthfully, I never saw him leave this spot; he lay in a natural cradle in the bosom of earth. I say cradle because the ground held him, hugged him, maybe even rocked him when no one was looking. No matter what the temperature was outside, he looked to be at peace – the look of a man asleep with the thermostat set at seventy. Sometimes, I thought he was dead, and I would wander down towards the bank where he lay and watch his chest for the gentle rise and fall of a sleeping breath. He was never dead. I don’t know how his tiny, meatless body survived the insufferable cold. There were times ice blew horizontally, but it was never enough to make a ghost out of this man. I never spoke to him because he looked to be as disinclined to conversation as I. Plus, I wasn’t entirely sure he wasn’t a ghost, and I liked not knowing. Anyways, while his eyelashes froze together and bugs nestled into the folds of his skin, I sat in my car in a cocoon of blankets, the heater toasting my face and making my eyes water, and I was grateful.

But in the same day, I could feel envy and resentment looking at a home with three or more empty bedrooms a block away from this man and myself in a world where millions are in need of a home. I was a part of the middle class once and probably will be again, but never the kind with so much to spare. Taking up space has increasing value in the middle class, but homes and offices are built on top of space, shrinking it until all of it is boxed and owned. But given the chance to have a box of my own, I don’t think I’d snub it for another winter in my car – or, God forbid, beneath a tree.

Now, I think I am somewhere in between – sometimes part of the boxed up world of man, sometimes part of the untamed park. I guess I’m still looking for the balance, if one exists between the two, and I’m prepared to change at the first discovery of truth; it’s the only thing in my power to change.

I don’t own the Buick Lesebre anymore. I traded it for a white Chevy Malibu, and within a week, it was bought by an old woman who drove it carefully to the grocery store and the hospital to visit her husband. She kept it very clean, but it was hard to let it go. One might think I could spit and say good riddance to such a car, but I couldn’t. It contained memories in the raw, physical sense – and sometimes, for what it contains, things can matter.

I’ve never slept in the Malibu; although, it contains elements of sentiment and memory that I’m sure will make it difficult to part with when the time comes. It’s funny that often things are our only evidence of memory, of experience – and even as the memories are stored in the chambers of our brains, we infinitely prefer something tangible, something we can trust to our hands, or to a drawer, or the very walls of our homes or cars.

Living in my car, I didn’t miss the things one might think I would. Like with memory, I missed strange details that had once seemed meaningless – the lamp I read by at night, the thumping sound the heater made just before it came on, the smell of laundry detergent on my clothes, but more than anything, I missed the implications of these things – predictability, security, familiarity. But if life were lived with those things always intact, there would be no change, no growth, no discovery.

I am not the same, and I will never be able to resume life as it was before living in my car; in good conscience, I couldn’t – no matter the perks of ignorance. My feelings for that time are not bitter. In fact, I think of it with an unnatural fondness. Time does that. This unyielding, unflinching movement through space brings the hard times as surely as it brings relief. I trust it now, the cycle, the infinite passage forward into inconsistent winds with the comfort of knowing everything will pass.