I grew up in “Mitchell-Lama Housing” in the 70’s and early 80’s in New York City. It’s a New York City and State program for affordable housing for middle-income families. At the time, our apartment was a rental. It was very spacious and felt safe, there was a doorman and you had to get buzzed in through doors to get to the elevators. My school for a time, was in the same building. I just took the elevator down and walked 100 ft to the school entrance. My best friends even lived in the same building. I look back at that stability and am grateful for it. At some point after we moved, the building moved out of the program and went condo. Our apartment where my parents encouraged me to be creative and draw on the walls in crayon is now worth well over a million dollars. Nuts.
In the 90’s my grandparent’s “gifted” a small apartment to my mother and me. I put that word in quotes because they kept it in their name supposedly for tax reasons but later used it as a pawn in an argument with my mother and took it back when she refused to be controlled by them. It was on the west side and high up with a balcony so I could see across the Hudson River. I still wonder why such a high rise would have a balcony. It was terrifying to be out on it and I usually crawled out on my hands and knees if at all. That apartment was my home through part of high school and part of college. I actually lived there mostly by myself during vacations from boarding school and college since my mother was mostly in Japan. I didn’t know how to cook and ordered lots of Chinese food. The doormen would buzz up and laugh at yet another delivery. The doormen would also be the only ones “home” to welcome me back at each holiday or break. I learned to give good tips to food delivery people and to doormen at that apartment – they were the ones keeping me company, safe, and alive. I remember when my mother told me that my grandparents were taking the apartment away how furious I was that they could play with my life, my stability, my home, like that. It was my home. I lived there. My mother was barely there. I had no other. For me it had nothing to do with monetary value. It was just home.
Since then, I’ve lived in almost as many apartments or houses as I have fingers. All of them have been rentals. Earlier this month, I started the process of buying the house that I have been renting for the past 7 years. Circumstances forced me to have to try or become homeless. That’s some motivation. That coupled with working from home almost exclusively since March has had me thinking a lot about what home means to me. Sometimes it’s part of our identity. When we work out of our homes, the lines between work and home are blurred. For a while, in my 30’s I ran an art gallery out of two of my apartments. People came in to look at art in my living room.
The gallery was called “Little Cakes Little Gallery” and soon not only was the gallery, my apartment called Little Cakes but I was also Little Cakes. We were one big (small?) package. Home is also how you keep your loved ones safe. When I thought I was going to have to move out of the house I’m in now, I was terrified about “What are we going to do with the turtles?” We have two aquatic turtles in big tanks. They were rescued separately from the streets of NYC. (Oh dear, what you come across just walking in the city… ) Moving with them is not easy. The larger of the two lived in my bathtub for a few months before we left the city. Whether you have pets, children, parents, grandparents, spouses living with you, your home is a vessel that keeps them safe. We think of home as a “thing” much of the time but it’s of course more than that. It holds our histories and memories. We have a relationship with our homes in much the same manner as we might have with a living being. While I understand homes have monetary value, I so wish that society as a whole gave more value to the relationships that people have with their homes and wish that the world made it easier for people to have and keep their homes. I know I am one of the lucky ones. We all need and deserve our cocoons.