For Here There is No Place

… and nobody can stand still.

I’m ready to move again. Eight years ago, my parents moved me for the last time into a four-bedroom house with a great view. Their room, with blue carpet and weird wallpaper with pink and blue flowers, smelled strongly of sweet vanilla tempered by something less smooth. It turned out to be one of those wall plug-in air fresheners.

I still get little whiffs of it, and it reminds me of that first cold and lonely winter there, of eating quiet dinners in the kitchen with Mom and Dad, of talking on the phone with a friend I’d left behind and absentmindedly pulling down the attic stairs while I chatted, letting them go, and watching them fly into and break the glass lampshade on the hanging hall light.

I was 14 then, and I’d already moved five times before. I loved the excitement that accompanied exploring a new place. I loved touring houses and imagining what my life would be like in each one. My parents would walk around each house slowly with the real estate agent while I tore through the rest of the place, measuring out its potential for playing hide-and-go-seek (which I adored), for sleepover space, for new places to build fantasies.

(We once lived in a house with a rambling old basement full of impractical things left behind by the previous owners, like a giant blue whirring machine with lots of buttons. I have absolutely no clue what its actual purpose was, but it made one hell of a time machine.)

I always sought out the biggest room after the master bedroom and dreamed it would be mine. We toured a house with giant steps in the closet that I was enamored with — and really, why wouldn’t I have been? What are giant closet stairs for except to be a village for Barbies?

The summer I turned eight, we bought a house with a one-room log cabin in the backyard, and we lived there for three years. We lived in the house, not the cabin, of course, but I escaped almost every day after school into a little cabin life where the only thing that mattered was who I would pretend to be that day and what cabin-in-the-wilderness plight I would find myself in.

We bought a house in the woods in a neighborhood after that. Tim, my nature-loving brother, came excitedly out of the woods after another visit to the still-empty house, exclaiming “I smell like pine!” as he sniffed his winter coat. All of the rooms in that house were either perfect squares or perfect rectangles in my memory, short or long bare boxes made cozy by thick wall-to-wall carpet.

I had my own bathroom with a laundry chute that emptied into the basement. I used to throw socks down it and race down to the basement to see if I could possibly move faster than gravity. Eventually I traded the socks for a sheet of toilet paper. I could run to the basement and be there waiting for the slowly drifting paper.

I miss moving. I miss the exhilaration and apprehension. I hadn’t really thought about it until I passed a renovated and vacant house on a side street a few blocks away from the apartment I live in now.

As I looked at the house and the for-sale sign in its small front lot, I remembered the empty houses I used to adore touring. I could vaguely grasp the memory of that feeling and sense it again, vividly for a just a few seconds, hazily for much longer.

I haven’t felt that way in a long time. Moving in and out of college dorms doesn’t count. After freshman year, there’s no new exploring going on (not pertaining to the architecture around you, anyway). There’s nothing unexpected. And for four years, nothing unexpected was okay with me. Friends and a dining hall and rehearsals and life in a place where I belonged: sheer bliss.

Now I’m back to not belonging anywhere. In August, I somehow deluded myself into thinking I would enjoy living in the small town where I went to college. It was the first concrete decision I’d made since graduating from college. It was a move.

Yeah. I was wrong. Okay, there are a few redeeming features: I live in a beautiful hardwood-floored apartment with much more space than my roommate or I will ever need. The other day, I opened a nearly-empty closet to retrieve some wrapping paper I had stored in there back in September and my roommate Kate said, “You know, I’d forgotten that closet was there.”

I can walk to work in about two minutes; I come home for my lunch hour every day; the park on the river is just around the corner; my boyfriend lives three blocks away; and now that it’s finally cold and all the Christmas lights are up, you’d have to be a real asshole not to feel at least a twinge of “Isn’t this pretty and charming” holiday spirit.

I can stare at those lights, breathe deeply, and feel for a small moment like everything is right with the world and I’m not really as antsy to get out of here, not really feeling as suffocated as I am.

If I were either geriatric or spending a summer doing nothing, this is the place I’d like to be. Instead I’m atrophying at a job that doesn’t pay me enough to put even a dollar in savings after my rent and bills are paid.

I get to spend my days with edgy coworkers who can’t seem to separate their mood swings from the workplace, serving a public I couldn’t care less about and trying to smile while I do it. We get a lot of customers who comment on what a lovely store it is, what lovely things we carry. I try to heartily agree and seem proud to be there, but really it’s all I can do to keep from grunting blankly at them instead.

Sure, it’s nice of them to point out that I’m surrounded by pretty things, but I just don’t care. There’s nothing anybody can say when what you’re doing just isn’t enough.

It’s time to move again. Wondering where I would build imaginary worlds has disappeared — now I wonder where I will go for coffee in the morning. Where I will go to walk when my brain is supercharged and chattering and nothing will soothe it except the air and the sky and the streets that have nothing to do with me. I wonder where I can go that I will not feel like I am drowning, not just treading water.

Something is going to change.

Article © 2003 by Jill Coste