I don’t remember the house I lived in from birth till age 3, except in random snapshots… the bushes next to the red (I think) house, painting a sign made of a half slice of tree trunk for the neighborhood park with my mom. I know from visiting the neighborhood in recent years that it has been hit hard by economic decline – no one has painted in years and years, lawns are untended, so it has taken on a dilapidated air of neglect.
The house I spent the rest of my childhood in, where my parents still live, I have a lot of mixed feelings about. It’s in the sprawling suburbs of Atlanta, which I hate, but it backs up on actual forest (old growth, even!) with an actual river (albeit with high levels of coliform bacteria) and railroad tracks and a swamp (I use the term loosely, of course… it was really just a permanent, giant, icky puddle, with tadpoles). Our neighborhood is older, built in the 60s or 70s, and thus the lots aren’t squashed together, and they actually have trees on them. Going home now brings back a flood of memories – the hill I sustained upwards of 5 concussions on between ages 8 and 15 (when I stopped riding bikes… I’m a slow learner, possible because of all the head trauma), the woods I spent years playing in (pretending we were characters from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, building forts and tree houses, rope swings, tubing in the river, putting things on the railroad tracks to watch them get squished, the time the swamp froze solid and you could see all the little fish and plants in suspended animation, in between “skating” around it in our snow boots), that eventually the neighborhood miscreant would set fire to, the night before I started high school. More in the house – the bookshelf I used to sleep on top of, the rollerblade routines we made up and performed in the basement before it was finished (usually to Whitney Houston and Disney songs). I love my neighborhood and my house, I just wish it weren’t in such typical suburbia – we used to hang out at QuikTrip. Seriously. We’d go play frisbee at one of the numerous parks, and then go to QuikTrip to get fountain drinks and just… sit outside. For several hours. You can’t walk anywhere (sidewalks got put in since I went to college, but it’s still several miles between where people live and Everything Else), there are strip malls everywhere, and there is zero diversity. I can actually remember the first time I saw a black person. My high school was 94% white, with the remainder mostly consisting of asians. It was very bizarre, especially to my parents, who moved down from greater NYC.
When college started, I moved into dorms on campus. My first roommate was a huge disappointment – she was a senior, and had lived in the same room for several years, so I felt like I was always in “her” room, rather than “our” room, and she could no longer relate to my college freshman experience. Of course, we were also like oil and water – I was on probation my whole freshman year for climbing a building; she was super religious, and I would frequently return to find letters to Jesus on the whiteboard on our door. Somehow, I convinced her to move across the hall for second semester, into her friend’s room. Then a new girl moved in – a freshman. She was escaping from her first semester crazy roommate, and we had much more in common – both science track, smart kids, both freshman, etc. Later on, it became apparent that she was one of those smart people completely lacking in common sense. One of my clearest memories of living with her was the time she spilled sugar all over the floor of the room, and didn’t clean it up for weeks. WEEKS. if you walked barefoot, you’d get sticky granules of sugar all over your feet. It was… unpleasant. It was also my first solid introduction to leaving passive aggressive post-it notes, which I believe is a rite of passage for American college students. The sugar incident coincided with one of my bouts of mysterious and intense illness, so I was confined to the room for the better part of a month, watching Dawson’s Creek re-runs (4 in a row, 8-12pm every weekday on TBS!) from my lofted bed, refusing to move because of the sugar and my fever.
That summer, I lived with my older brother’s roommates, first in a house way out on the east side of town, notable only for its creepy unfinished basement, where you had to walk on wooden planks across a frequently-flooded area to get to the washer/dryer (and I am the kind of person who thinks serial killers are obviously lurking in all dark corners all the time, so it was extra fun… I think my mom did all my laundry that summer), and then in a house on the far north end of town, in an area that was… a bit past the fraying edge. My roommates left something to be desired… they were stoned all the time. One of them had a puppy and a full-time job, and he never walked the dog, so it pooped everywhere – I felt terrible for the dog, and also angry because there was dog shit all over the place all the time. They never did dishes, and I remember seeing dirty dishes stacked 6-12 inches high on every surface in the kitchen, with roaches everywhere. The house was sort of scary, in retrospect, as the doors didn’t fit the doorways and the windows didn’t lock. I would frequently come home and find random kids from the neighborhood in the house and have to shoo them out, after giving them food or whatever was lying around to play with. One day, I came home from work to find my window wide open, and it freaked me out completely. Later I learned that my brother’s friend had gotten stoned out of his gourd in his upstairs room, and had gotten himself locked in his room – broke the doorknob off, apparently. So, he’d escaped by -no shit- tying his sheets to his bed frame and rappelling out his window, and then entered the house again through my window. And didn’t explain for a week. It was… a great summer.
In the fall, I moved into a different dorm – a residential college. My roommate was random, chosen from profiles posted on the wall like personal ads. Mine said “Me: studies a lot, goes to bed fairly early, hates hair dryers and make up, likes climbing and playing frisbee. you: hates hair dryers, not a drunk, respectful.” I was in high demand, based on that, and had my pick – it was good, mostly. She wasn’t crazy, and I got a lot done that year, but we aren’t still friends or anything. Our room was on the top floor, the co-ed floor, the first of the girls’ rooms. One of the boys who lived across the hall was a freshman frat boy, and I vividly remember getting into a top-of-my-lungs screaming match with him when he wouldn’t stay out of my room, or stop making sexual comments. Other than that, it was a great dorm – the kind you could walk around in your PJs all day, like a giant home. We had massage club in the lobby, we would read books aloud in each other’s rooms. I took O-Chem that year, and learned all the various equations by writing them in sidewalk chalk around the quad. I snuck on to the roof to make out with a boy from down the hall. We would play frisbee all day on the quad on game days to try to stave off the tailgaters, and we would bully the drunk guys who would pee on our building. Some weird kid wrapped the building in ribbon one day… It was exactly what a dorm should be.
This is really long already, so I’m leaving the rest for another entry.