Thursday, April 2, 2015

Finding Home: Other Voices

Today I'm pleased to welcome Mary Rowen to Finding Home.

Home Without a Door

I grew up in suburban Massachusetts, in a middle-class family, in an average, three-bedroom home. And because I had two parents and two brothers, I had my own room from an early age. It never occurred to me during those years that I was the only person in the family with that privilege.

In college, of course, the complete opposite was true. Even during the years that I lived in off-campus apartments, I shared bedrooms with others. And although I loved that experience most of the time—having roommates was almost like having sisters!—it occasionally wore on me. Sometimes, I longed for my own space.

After graduation, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, so I got a waitressing job and went back to my parents’ house for a few weeks. But it didn’t take long to realize I wanted more freedom. More excitement. And all the good jobs seemed to be in the Boston area.

But I had no experience, and again, no idea what I wanted to do, so I answered one of those ads in the paper, looking for people to canvass door-to-door for a nonprofit agency. It seemed pretty clear that the pay wouldn’t be great, but I’d heard that you could survive on the salary if you were good at what you did, and eschewed an extravagant lifestyle.

So one day, I got on the bus, rode into Boston, had an interview, tried canvassing, got hired, went to a party, and ended up crashing at a coworker’s house. It was a big day! I quickly found out that many of the people who worked for the nonprofit shared houses or apartments with each other, and in many cases, those residences housed many more individuals than the landlord knew about. When I awoke in the morning on a couch, there were several other people sleeping in the living room with me, some on chairs, some on the floor. Yes, I’d called my parents the previous evening to let them know where I’d be, and no, they weren’t very happy. All that college tuition, and I was taking a job that involved going door-to-door, asking people for money?

During that summer and fall, I lived in a couple of different (very crowded) houses. None of them ever felt like home, because I was never an official resident, and I never had my own room. I’d make an agreement with one of the tenants to pay a certain amount of cash each month, and in return, I’d get to sleep on a sofa or futon.

I can’t recall eating a single meal in any of those buildings. Lunch was eaten at sub shops on the job, breakfast generally skipped, and dinner would usually involve nachos or pizza at one pub or another. I’ve written plenty of blog posts about the eating disorder that plagued me for about fifteen years, and that period of time was right smack in the middle of it. However, because I had almost no privacy, I didn’t have a lot of opportunity to binge and purge, except on weekends, when I’d sometimes go and stay with my parents.

Then, in December of 1986, the landlord who owned the house I was living in at the time informed the tenants that they’d need to leave at the end of the month. I never heard the official reason, but can only imagine it had something to do with the fact that there were about eight people living in a two bedroom apartment.

I wasn’t sure what I’d do, but I didn’t really worry until we really got kicked out. For about a week, I drifted around, sleeping on one couch or another. Then, one day in the office, a canvasser told me that she and her roommate—who lived in Winthrop, MA—were hoping to get a third roommate to help with the rent. I had no idea where Winthrop was, but she assured me it was an easy commute from Boston, and asked if I’d like to see the place. Of course I did, but when we got there—on a frigid, snowy night—I saw that the “room” they were renting wasn’t actually a room, but a subsection of the living room, cordoned off by a flowered curtain. “It’s sunny in the daytime,” the woman pointed out, “and the other bedrooms are in the back, so it’s actually kind of private.” For rent, they were asking $250 a month.

There was a futon-like piece of furniture already in the room, so the woman suggested that I try sleeping there for a night to see if I liked it. And how could I not? It was affordable; there were drawers where I could put my clothes (I’d been living out of a duffle bag for months); across the street was a Laundromat; we could make coffee and breakfast in the galley kitchen. And to top it all off, the next day, as I opened the door to head for the bus stop, I saw the ocean. Right then, I knew I was home.

As it turned out, Winthrop remained my home for many years to come. A few months after moving into that apartment, I moved to a different one—and got my own door!—but I’ll never forget the peace I felt sleeping in that small section of the living room with the flowered curtain separating me from the rest of the world.
Mary Rowen loves music and is a Boston area mom to teenagers. All of her novels focus on women of various ages growing up, or at least becoming comfortable with themselves. Her two novels, Living by Ear and Leaving the Beach are both available on Amazon and by order at most bookstores.

1 comment:

mary rowen said...

Thank you for having me as a guest, Arleen!