All the Little Aliens Deserve Homes
I’ve lived in this apartment since September of 2012. It’s the longest I’ve lived in any place since I was a kid in my parents’ home, and I’m just now, in my 40s, figuring out what home is supposed to feel like.
My parents worked hard and created truly good home for me and my brothers. My mother kept it immaculately clean, even through all the years that our house doubled as a daycare. I can’t seem to stop making piles of laundry and papers and boxes all over the place, but she managed to keep her home clean and in order with too many children trying to wreck the place every day. I am astounded by this ability. I walk into a room and blow the whole place up in about ten minutes. If you need someone to make your place look like it was robbed, just invite me over to snoop through your stuff.
No matter how nice my childhood home was, though, I never felt like it was mine. This is more on me than my family. I’ve never felt at home anywhere. I was always aware that my place in the world was moulded by who people thought I was and who I belonged to, and that was complicated by the fact that I was both a queer and nonbinary kid living through the 1970s and 80s. We had none of the language we have today for those things, so no one could see what I was. Even I couldn’t.
Plus, have I mentioned my lifelong anxiety? I thought too hard and too long about everything that travelled through my head, and all of it had the capacity to be terrifying. All I knew for sure was that I felt like a little alien in a shaky structure built on very unstable ground. Everything could break apart at any moment if some phantom truth was revealed. What was that truth? I didn’t know. I was little and freaking out about things like how some of the stars I was seeing emanated their light thousands of years ago to travel this great distance and they might actually be dead on the other end and I wouldn’t know it. I was born with a sunny disposition.
Then I went to a Mennonite boarding school for grades 11 and 12, and my dorm rooms weren’t homes. They felt like way stations. Then I moved back to my parents house, but after being away for two pretty formative years, it felt even less like home than it had before. I moved out into my first shared apartment at 19, but it was filled with my roommate’s stuff, and then I found another apartment with another friend, but we were both so poor that all the furniture we had aside from our beds — my bed was made up of an old piece of foam laid on top of cardboard laid on top of 20 plastic milk crates — was a set of metal utility shelves and a single chair we stole from a university teachers’ lounge.
After that sad apartment, I lived in several different places with several different roommates and one boyfriend. I tried to make places feel like a home of some sort, even though I honestly didn’t know what that was supposed to feel like. My 20s were poor, poorer, and at one point dumpster-food poor, but I managed to find a couch, cushions, strings of lights, shelving, and whatnot. I rarely hung art unless it could be supported by blue sticky tack, because I needed my damage deposits back. I felt awkward everywhere.
This is the fifth apartment I’ve lived in with Aidan, and it’s only this year that I’ve finally dug into keeping it tidy and fixing up all of the annoying, unlovable bits so that they are enjoyable and ours.* We bought this place seven years ago, but, out of both habit and disposition, I kept behaving like it was a way station. Some things are still packed from our move in 2012. I really did try when we first came here. I painted a few rooms to make it more ours, but the momentum died and I just kept on keeping on.
I’ve since decided that this little alien deserves a home. All little aliens deserve homes. (I have issues with anyone feeling like they “deserve” anything, but I’m making an exception here. I’m taking the concepts of being loved and valued along with ones of secure place-making and being-in-community and choosing to let “deserve” rest here. We deserve this, all the little creatures on this earth, whether we manage to find our homes or not.) And because this little alien deserves a home, I’ve decided to just do it, disposition be damned.
We have tiny closets, so I’ve brought in an extra clothing rack and shelving. We’ve done all our laundry and weeded out our drawers. The furniture has been steam-cleaned. There are new cushions on the couch. The broken dishwasher has been replaced. I’ve donated a lot of stuff to local charities. There is still a lot to do, because this place is still in transition — our hallway is filled with things that I need to have hauled away — but we’re making this place ours. The things we choose to have in our home are no longer objects we shuffle left or right to make paths to our desks. This isn’t a warehouse anymore.
I still don’t know what home is supposed to feel like, but I have a new sense of it creeping in that is kind of nice. I like being here. I like filling this place with the smell of fresh biscuits. Vacuuming no longer feels like I’m merely stemming a threatening tide of disgusting chaos. We make the bed. We clear the counter of old dishes. I used to dream that I was a bag lady living in a cardboard box in my own hallway, but I don’t dream that anymore, so we must be making some progress.
Oh crap, I just had an epiphany.
It occurs to me now that I have felt at home, but always in places that are not mine, and most in a particular place I have visited again and again since I was six months old. There is a northern forest my heart pulls me to, and when I go there I am planted and warm. I am strung through the rough conifer roots. My flesh belongs with the soil. I rub moss on my ankles and neck so I can carry its savoury aroma with me out of the trees. The rhythm of lapping lake water slows my own heart.
I just wrote a whole essay about not understanding the concept of home, only to find out I was stuck on an overly narrow definition of what home can be. And now it turns out that I’m a tree-hugging hippie all up on the oneness and interconnectedness of all things. Where are my cork-soled shoes at? Cheese and rice. Should I say it? I have to say it:
This little alien’s already found their home, and it is Earth.
I’m cutting out of here before I embarrass myself any further. I am ridiculous. The more I’m alive, the more ridiculous it all seems. What a trip. I just wrote a whole essay about how I don’t understand a thing I absolutely do understand. I’m just going to keep doing laundry, dust some blinds, and take a nap. Breakthroughs are bloody exhausting.**
* You might wonder why I’m not more critical of Aidan for not picking up where I slacked off in homemaking, but how could I be? We are both cerebral dreamer types who dive into particular projects with a deep focus to the exclusion of all else. It’s in our general natures to be blind to growing catastrophes of wayward furniture and laundry while we work over words and images. Basically, we are chaos’s highly successful tag team, so I’m thrilled that he’s enthusiastically coming along with me on this new homemaking initiative.
** Epiphany #2! I could actually make good on my threats to move out to the woods now, and it would be a coherent response to my life, right?