Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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Luna Cottrell-Scott
English 201
Essay 1
December 2003

In This Place

 

This place is full of quiet. Not the silence of things left unsaid or words waiting to burst forth, but the quiet that exists beneath all the noise of daily life. Beneath the clatter of dishes being washed and bills being paid and NPR playing on the radio, there is a calmness, a serenity that most visitors don’t notice expressly, but by which they are changed briefly. Most people don’t want to leave. When they do, they take some of the quiet with them, and they carry it, unknowingly, into the busy streets, among the crowded subways, across town. The people who live here are fuzzy, not yet recognizable. The location is unknown, the structure a vague image. There are no distinct details, no marking objects. It is simply a place that is filled simultaneously with quiet and laughter and light that fills every corner. It is specific only in the feeling that it evokes in you, the observer, a strong urge to take a moment to appreciate the vitality of the quiet.

I spent much of my time growing up feeling displaced. As I shuttled back and forth between what I felt was my real home—my mom’s house—and the various apartments or houses my dad moved through, I often dreamt of a place that was simply for me. Returning ‘home’ after a weekend with dad, I would feel out of place and awkward in my own bedroom, as if the stuffed animals and books might have turned on me while I was gone. I hated packing up my important belongings every other weekend to traipse across town and live a different life in a different house for those two days. During this time, I felt as though I was being torn in two- as if those days in a different space somehow negated the person I was the rest of the week, somehow separated the girl I was into different beings, each unsure of the others’ role in their life. I felt a great unquiet in my soul. There was no place where I could rest.

 

There is light in this place. Windows span every wall, open to the summer air or cracked for the briskness of fall to creep in and remind you that the world is nestling in for the winter. Light curtains blow in the breeze and the sounds from outside drift in, bringing with them the reminder that life is always continuing on, through every troubling time and joyous moment. Returning from a week at the beach, you can feel your soul settling in again as you come through the front door. This house has been waiting for your return, sitting quietly at rest while you frolicked in the sand. You do not feel out of place when you return here after a weekend gone. As soon as the door opens, it is as though you didn’t leave the quiet and the bookshelves behind, but instead like they traveled with you on your journey, the calmness of your home radiating throughout your vacation.

In my travels from one home, and often one state, to the next, there was often no place where I felt I could stay forever. Even as a child I knew that these houses were impermanent, unstable, not places to get attached to emotionally. What I yearned for more than anything else was a home where I did not feel out of place and uncomfortable after time spent somewhere else. I wanted to have a home where I could stay forever, a place where other people could come and appreciate and feel at home as well. I wanted a space where the two halves that I could feel battling inside of me could come together again, where I could feel whole again. Even today these girls surface in my life, each one valuable in their own way, each with their own strengths and their own weaknesses.

The girl who felt for most of the week like she had a stable home and a place to return to is headstrong and fearless. She tells me to jump in the middle of the ring, to dive in headfirst and to worry about the consequences later. She tells me that the risk is worth the joy of flying free or following a dream. She remembers her childhood home with fondness and looks back on those days with a faint smile in her eyes, remembering her blessings. She revels in my happiness.

The other girl remembers the other things. She remembers the fear of abandonment and fear of loneliness, brought on by the constant moving and her ever-changing reality. She is the one who tells me to be cautious, to follow the safe path, to survive by whatever means necessary. She knows the other girl well, and she envies her vitality. But also knows the importance of simply surviving through the struggle and has the calm assurance of a protector. She gets me through the hard days.

 

In this place there are hardwood floors, family coming and going often, pictures of friends and their children up on the fridge. There are plants scattered around the rooms, throw rugs on the floor, engaging conversation often taking place. There are books everywhere. The built- in bookshelves above the fireplace are stacked with good friends and sometimes enemies—books that have peppered our lives with their stories. The coffee table serves as a space for current reading, books that are in progress or have just ended or are soon going to be delved into. Reading is a constant in this house. Sunday mornings the kitchen table is covered in newspapers, coffee mugs scattered throughout the editorial section and the Sunday comics. Breakfast remains sit on the table as you laze through the Sunday morning, taking each moment and appreciating the closeness of a morning simply spent at the table. Through all of this, the quiet remains.

As a child of multiple homes, I had to learn to take care of myself, to look for the safest path, to do whatever needed to be done to protect myself from getting hurt by parents who certainly never wanted to cause me pain. I found myself buried in books, escaping my present reality for whatever alternate world that I could get my hands on, barely finishing one book before I jumped into the next. The worlds I found in these books were my homes for the duration of the story, as I found myself living in the fantasy world of Madeleine L’Engle and running across the fields with Anne of Green Gables. These people were my friends, and their homes became my home for as long as I could make the book last, often making return visits to favorite old haunts.

 

In this place the dinner table is fundamental. Meals are lingered over, beer turning warm and dinner leftovers turning cold as the conversation drifts through the night. After the sun sets, after other houses have been lit up by TV screens, people linger over this table. Children don’t ask immediately to be excused and scurry off back into their own life—they are part of the scenery at this table, part of the whole. At this table life is considered. The day’s events, the just finished story, the current life struggle are all discussed at this table, one topic falling away to another with moments of precious silence peppering the evening between the ideas and wishes that float from people’s hearts out onto the table. Guests are comfortable here as well. They succumb to the quiet of the space and fall into the rhythm of the calmness. This table is not life changing, but it is concrete and it is important. Real life takes place here. After the dishes have been cleared and the evening moves into the doldrums of reality, the quiet remains at the table even while the words from dinner still hang in the air.

For now, this place is only in my mind. This home I will inhabit someday lives for the time being in my thoughts, where it holds most of its truth and hope. The homes of my childhood were not awful and yet they were not ideal for what I probably really needed at the time. But they were the homes of my childhood, inescapable and undeniable. In order to honor those two girls inside me, it is important to recognize where their roots lie. They came from these houses that surface in my childhood memories as a farm, a trolley car, and a house on the park. I look back at those places with fondness because who I am is in part due to those homes.

 

Here amongst the books, the light, the quiet, there is one complete person. Nestled on the couch reading on a rainy afternoon, watering the plants while the radio drones on, returning from the corner shop with groceries in her arm, there is one soul, a whole being. While the rain pours down and the vacuum cleaner runs, a whole person is here. As the light shines in and dishes dry on the rack, I am here. I am not split between those two children inside of me, but have instead united them as one being, here in this home. They are safe here, and comfortable. I am safe here. Amidst the details and the daily life, I inhabit this space wholly, my soul finally, quietly, at home.

 

Copyright 2003
Luna Cottrell-Scott

 

Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA
1999-2015