Vacancy

Are you happy to be home?

The fourth time this week I’ve been asked this question, and it’s only Wednesday.

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I’m sitting on my bed, my legs pulled protectively to my chest, while she hovers expectantly in the doorway, one hand placed on its frame.

My suitcases have been unpacked and tucked away, but the room still has just-returned-from-college written all over it. Two new precarious stacks of paperback novels on my desk, a royal blue journal with golden-etched suns and moons on the floor beside my bed. An organizer bin heavy with things I haven’t found homes for just yet: lab goggles, a hefty psychology textbook, crisply folded sheets.

I have an answer ready, well-rehearsed, but behind my customary facade of nonchalance I’m drawing a blank. Home? I’m not even sure I know what that word means.

…Okay, sure, I’m accustomed to the traditional definition of the word, the one people are most often referring to when they use it. Home (n): The place where someone tucked you in and read you your favorite story before bed each night, once upon a time. The place where, if asked, you could point out all of the best hide-and-seek spots. Where the meals are made from scratch (except for when they’re mac and cheese). Where the cabinet above the bathroom sink contains your toothbrush, where the attic contains your old Halloween costumes (oh, and where there are embarrassing photos of you lining the wall along the staircase).

Technically, I have one of these places. On days that I choose to view the world through rose-colored glasses, I could tell you singular things about it that I find familiar, even comforting.

The cat’s eyes, shimmering yellow-y green in the headlights when I pull into the driveway late at night.

The smell of liquid lavender soap, tendrils of steam dissipating into the air as I meditatively wash the dishes.

Non-serious, nonsensical debates with my brother. (Because why not?)

The leafy canopy that stretches solicitously over the backyard, making a time capsule of the viridescent enclosure.

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But. But, but, but.

Am I happy here?

Every time I try to come up with a truthful, organic response to that question (one that hasn’t been practiced to perfection fifty times in the mirror) I feel a heavy ache in my chest, a hitch in my throat. And I have a sneaking suspicion that those two symptoms of something’s-not-right probably speak for themselves.

To be entirely honest, it is very difficult (often impossible) to find any similarities between the tiny red house I was raised in and the Hallmark version of what a home should be.

After all, I remind myself bitterly, a home isn’t a place where sickness is in charge and logic constitutes punishment. Where restriction and religion are inseparable, a toxic cocktail. Where a child must be the adult while the adult indulges in a deranged daydream. Where being yourself is against the rules.

I found ways of distracting myself back then, while things were bad. While I was suffocating in plain sight, but hiding it well. I was in my own dark little world, I once wrote in an angst-filled letter to an entrusted teacher. I was angry all the time and I loathed my parents for what they were putting me through. The secret they were forcing me to choke on.

I’ve been able to breathe easier, since those days. Freedom tends to associate itself with the purest of air. Once I put roughly 140 miles between myself and my heartache, I slowly began the process of re-learning how to exhale properly. After that I was even able to mend a little bit, to grow and develop (see Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). But right now I’m back in the house that once doubled as a prison, and even though it’s only for the summer, I feel a little bit like a fish on dry land–flopping about in a panicked frenzy, desperate for water.

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It seems that I unpacked questions along with my wardrobe when I moved back in with my parents. Enormous, intimidating ones with unclear answers.

How do I begin the process of forgiveness?

and

When will I be able to hug my parents without cringing internally?

and

Why is all of this so damn hard?

The truth is, when I think of the concept of “home” in a broader sense–a place of refuge, acceptance, unconditional love, et cetera–I don’t think of this place at all. The truth is, returning from college feels a little bit like taking two steps forward, one and a half steps back. The truth is, I’m a little bit trapped between wanting to feel better and not being ready to let go of the past.

The truth is, I’m not quite sure where to go from here.

In terms of forgiveness, I’m just not there yet.

I think that some people grow up with the luxury of never having to mentally untangle “house” from “home“. I think that those people are really lucky. I hope that one day I’ll get to share a nice little place with the person I love most, and maybe then I won’t have to distinguish between the two, either.

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My favorite person visits me on weekends. He wakes me up, shaking my shoulder, and we giggle like the happiest goofballs alive. When we’re barrelling down the highway, racing toward new adventures at ten miles over the speed limit, it’s easy to talk about all of the dysfunctionalities I’m leaving behind with a flippant, light-hearted tone. They feel trivial, insignificant.

But our reconciliations last two days, my week lasts five. And the emptiness always finds its way back to me eventually and settles in to my stomach, its standard residence. So I embark on quests to find the missing pieces of myself. I go for long runs on shady paths, I take photographs of trees and ferns. I buy tiny trinkets at shops with extravagant names. I sit in my favorite booth at the library (the one with red leather seats and natural light) and write, attempting to pin down my run-away thoughts. I sip tea, I lay in the grass and read books. I tell jokes to make my friends laugh. I run errands.

I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that home, for me, is not what it is for other people. Some days it is a hard pill to swallow, one that leaves a bitter after-taste in my mouth.

Lately I’ve been stuck on this habit of taking the longest possible routes back to my house. There’s just something vaguely reassuring about a city as it’s closing up shop for the night. After a trip downtown I often drive in an erratic pattern of lefts and rights, passing by a park, a book store, my favorite coffee shop. I’ll circle through out-of-the-way neighborhoods, I’ll weave my way through the college campus just to kill time. I’ll cruise along windy stretches of road illuminated by moonlight. Sometimes I park next to the soccer field two blocks from my house, just to watch the different hues of twilight blend together.

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I don’t know what it is that I’m looking for…or maybe I do.

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Maybe I’m looking for pieces of a home–the unconventional kind, my only kind–to last me through the night. Maybe I’m looking for pieces of this town that I can tether myself to. Maybe I’m looking for secluded spots where I feel a little more me, a little less lost. Or maybe I’m just putting off the inevitable return to the place where I’m the smallest version of myself. I’m not really sure.

All I know is that some nights as I drive through the dark, the moon looks as melancholy as I feel, and it helps me pretend that I’m not alone.

That I’m not the only one with a vacancy in my heart, instead of a home.

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Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel

 

Fond Reminiscence

I guess journaling feels something like being my own mood ring.

(Today’s color: hazy orange, not unlike an August sunset.)

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I woke up blanketed by the soothing color of fond reminiscence, of something once-brilliant now just a bit blurred. Something delightfully nostalgic, if only slightly smudged. I enjoyed the tranquility of a day not yet touched, a silence not yet broken as I emerged from my slumber; I breathed in the air infused with the flowery fragrances of past pleasures to be savored all over again. Like a handful of cool glass marbles, I marveled at the smooth surfaces of these moments, their individual swirls of color, their aesthetic as a whole. I closed my eyes and sank back down into my still-warm pillow and allowed yesterday’s happiness to temporarily serve as today’s reason to smile. I remembered.

Have you ever watched the sun set?

It is very likely that you have, and if you’re like me, you’re always the tiniest bit in awe of (and occasionally vexed by) the way the light drains out of the sky with so much subtlety, so much grace that you never truly see it happen. It always seems as though the sun and moon wait to do their nightly hand off until you’ve closed your eyes for a moment too long, or averted your gaze for a split second to look at some other element of the natural world. The particles of pinkish-gold sift to some other section of the globe and leave you to admire the universe’s starry black backdrop, (and let it be noted that there has never been something more worthy of admiration than this glorious display of far-away radiance) but this change always occurs too indistinctly for you to track. The artful transition from day to night adds to the ever-present mystique of the skies.

After revisiting the events of this past weekend I am of the conviction that life’s sweetest moments are similar to the setting sun. Fleeting, bittersweet fragments of the best that life has to offer: so full of belly-aching laughter and eyes-closed contentment that they always slip away a little too swiftly, while you’re too busy appreciating them to worry about the fact that all good things must eventually end.

Or maybe you’re all too aware that they are passing you by, and this is the source for a slight heaviness in your heart, even during your most amazing adventures.

This afternoon, as I stretched out on a clean towel cushioned by a bed of clovers and overgrown grass, I allowed the sun to seep into my skin as I thought fondly of my favorite snippets from a now-immortal, magical weekend.

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I thought of a long overdue hug, of a spontaneous change of plans (actually, several of those). Of a shared sack of french fries, eaten in a parking lot. Of hearty, tears-in-your-eyes laughter.

Of an out of the way trip to a pet store (related: of falling helplessly in love with the wiggliest puppies, shivering with excitement).

Of a never-ending quest for new experiences. Of a dinner date, an evening drive.

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Of a let’s-take-our-time kind of morning spent writing in a library. Of appreciating the little things: a cup of tea, a handwritten note, a forehead kiss.Of not quite perfecting a tricky dance move but damn, you should’ve seen how much fun we had trying.

Of a million I love yous, each one unique and so, so sincere.

Of a much-needed cry, of holding on tight. (Of wishing that a moment could be suspended in time.) Of laying hand-in-hand, side-by-side on a wooden dock, enjoying an almost-chilly evening.

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Of a prolonged goodbye, of being unable to look as the car drove away.

I am not a believer in leaning heavily on the past (the fondly remembered good-‘ol-days) as a primary source of elation–I cannot endorse that, not in good faith. But I do believe in using memories as a means of embellishment, kind of like a smattering of sprinkles atop an ice cream cone. They are pretty, then sugary as they melt into something sweet and indistinguishable on your tongue.

Yes, the greatest experiences can only be treasured briefly before they are translated into mere mental images. Just like the elusive sunset, they end quietly, beautifully.

But the sun will set again.  And you will have so many more lovely moments, which will become lovely memories. You will be sad when they’re over, but you’ll find new adventures to embark upon.
And in this manner, life proceeds.

 

Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel

Nighttime Transient

Allow me to describe to you what I think Insomnia is–or rather, who.

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Have you ever been paid a visit by this shape-shifting transient of the night? Perhaps you could share with me what that encounter was like. I’ve never seen the face of this shadowy drifter, but I’d like to think I know him rather well.

Even in the silence (you can hear cat one and cat two sashaying softly through the house, but only if you are hold-your-breath quiet) he knows how to notify you of his presence, as the rigid red numbers on the desk clock dutifully, sluggishly proceed toward what I consider to be the “black hole” phase of the night that yawns endlessly between way-too-late and bleary-eyed-early.

And you cross your fingers behind your back where he can’t see them, not tonight, please not tonight. Because tonight just might be the night you get sucked away into that black hole, where even the sun can’t be bothered to stop by, where you’ll wait and wait for a morning that will never show up. (And it doesn’t matter if you think you’re sleepy, exhausted, drop-dead-where-you-stand tired. When Insomnia slips under your door and sidles up next to you where you lay, he will zap the sleepy serenity right out of you. You’ll quickly learn that feeling weary is not the all-access pass to the kingdom of the comatose that you once thought it was.)

He’ll remind you gently of your subservience to him by planting an itch in your left foot, a desire for just one more sip should do the trick.  With jumpy, giddy, twirly thoughts that just won’t settle down, dammit. With sheets that are just a tad too whispery, murmuring unintelligible nothings as they rustle past one another. Or maybe it’s just your ears that are a touch too sensitive tonight, because you swear up and down that you can hear yourself blinking, the trees rustling outside, the neighbor’s dog rolling over in its sleep, and why is everything SO LOUD?

If you try to ignore him…well, you probably shouldn’t. Because then he’ll see to it that you’ll switch sides of the bed fifty times in ten minutes, because maybe just one more readjustment will solve all of your problems–you know it won’t, but you’re a little panicky at this point, and the hour of logical thought came and went who knows how many flipped pillows ago. You’ll start counting sheep, but you’ll give up when the 160th one appears in your mental pasture and you are no closer to being unconscious, and you’ll curse at all of the adults from your childhood who promised you that this tactic would work (just keep counting, honey).

And don’t even think about counting the seconds as they march by, the minutes, the hours. That, my friend, is a dangerous game to play. Before you know it you’ll be pacing around your room, and you’ll envision everyone you know resting easy all snuggled up in their beds like the actors in NyQuil commercials, and the envy will trickle through your veins glowing emerald-green. And all the while you’ll be stealing paranoid glances at the clock as it apathetically reminds you that time is a train that stops for no one. And you’ll feel sick to your stomach and remind yourself to throw a towel over the stupid thing tomorrow night.

It’s best to play it safe. It’s best to resist the urge to dejectedly get out of bed, plod down the hall to the medicine cabinet with your eyes half-closed, and swallow those three (four, five, six?) tiny pills that are supposed to ease your restlessness but most likely won’t. It’s best to remind yourself that another trip to the kitchen to refill your glass of water won’t fix the never ending dryness in your throat. Another round of on-again off-again with the blankets won’t magically produce the perfect sleeping temperature. It’s best to ride out the merry-go-round that is your thoughts until it spins its way into oblivion; to let the tornado in your brain carry you to wherever it is you go in your sleep.

The result still won’t be too satisfying, I’ll warn you of that right now. It’ll be a grayish, fleeting, tempestuous encounter with the unconscious, and if you’re lucky, you won’t see anything while you’re there. If you do, the images will be chills down your spine unsettling, because Insomnia becomes displeased when his spell (finally) ceases to enchant you and he’ll see to it that you suffer in the dream world.

And when you get up the next morning people are likely to comment on the circles under your eyes, couldn’t sleep again, huh? They’ll smile sympathetically when you speak of Insomnia, but try not to get too upset if they breeze over your recollection of events from last night (cue nods and vague condolences). After all, they are familiar with his clinical definition, not with his persona.

He’s never paid them a visit.

But that’s probably because he’s been too busy visiting you.

 

Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel

 

 

 

A Wonderful Something

Let’s pretend we are clasping steamy, too-hot mugs of tea between hands protected by bunched up sweaters. Let’s pretend we are sitting in a small sunny booth with our elbows planted defiantly on the table, and let’s discuss our safe havens.

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Do you have more than one? Are they places or are they feelings? Is it the texture of a familiar, well-loved hand clasped firmly in yours, or is it perhaps the rich scent of your favorite novel greeting your nostrils as you open it to page one for the millionth time? I’m curious.

I’m in one of mine right now, in case you were wondering. If I were to invite you in, please, close the door behind you, the first thing you’d see would be my bed. It’s a small one, just large enough to accommodate a slightly-shorter-than-average 18-year-old girl as well as the occasional kitten that wanders in every so often (sometimes the clumsy calico, sometimes the timid gray one) looking for the ever sought-after perfect napping spot. On the bed you’d see a lavender bedspread and a thick, multicolored, polka-dotted blanket bunched up at the bottom, and if you asked, I’d tell you that it was a gift from a good friend from middle school and that it’s one of the few things from those years that I’ve never considered parting with, not even for a second.

You’d be sure to notice that the room has a glow at this time of night, partially from the neighbor’s too-bright garage light, but mostly from the assorted lights hung carefully from walls and draped just-so over mirrors. They are pink and multicolored and soft white, and don’t they add a lovely luminescence to this tiny space? I like to think they do.

And what color are these walls, anyways? you’d ask jokingly, Are they pink or are they purple? And I’d grin and shrug and say well, both, I guess.

You might at this point peer into the closet, the one that’s not closed off by a shuttered door, and notice the tiny bookshelf packed as tightly as possible with novels, or the puzzling pile of shoes on the floor that doesn’t seem to abide by the careful organization scheme that dictates the placement of the books and blouses and blankets.

Are you looking for a place to sit? Here, I can move my laptop and the granola bar wrappers and offer you a spot on the bed, or maybe you’d want to snuggle into the futon–yes, you can move as many of the pillows as you need to, make yourself right at home.

It’s always secretly pleasing to re-learn the joys of my small, squarish bedroom through the eyes of someone seeing it for the first time. Especially when they finally look over above the mirror, as you probably would at some point, and see the collage I worked on tediously all through high school until it was juuuust right. And after you’d ask me all about the carefully chosen selection of pictures and posters and postcards and poems, I’d probably still catch your eyes straying to my vibrant masterpiece here and there throughout our time together, and mine probably would, too. Even though I memorized it long ago, it’s still nice to gaze at every now and then.

Do you have a cozy little room too, somewhere? With a guitar sitting in the corner, or a bright quilted blanket crocheted by a loved one and saved for rainy days? If I were to visit, would it tell me a story about your past, your hobbies, your aspirations?

It doesn’t have to be your room, but I’d love to hear about it–about your sanctuary, that is. About the place that you feel safe to exhale that breath you’ve been holding all day, and relax, and just be you, for once.

I’ve discovered something wonderful within this past year, though, while I was busy working my way (sometimes blindly stumbling, sometimes elatedly soaring) through my first year of college. And that wonderful something was as simple as realizing that a sanctuary can be a person. Looking over at him from the passenger seat as we fly down the highway a little bit too fast, as my heart beats a little bit too fast, but in the best way. Tossing and turning all night with him in a way-too-narrow bed, but giggling, because who-cares-as-long-as-we’re-together. Laying in bed with the lights off and my eyes closed and my phone pressed to my ear, because he’s laying in his bed with his lights off and his eyes closed and his phone pressed to his ear, and it’s two a.m., and we’re talking about insignificant nothings, and we can’t stop exchanging I miss you’s and I love you’s and we don’t want to hang up, not just yet. It’s feeling happy and overwhelmed and anxious and stressed and so in love my stomach hurts, but through it all, it’s feeling safe, because I have my haven by my side, and we’re invincible, and nothing can hurt us, not when we’re together.

But while we’re apart, just for now, don’t worry, my bedroom is a pretty acceptable backup haven.

 

Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel

Desiderata

“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.” –Desiderata

What comes to mind when you think of solitude?

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I always think of this photograph, which sits encased in a magenta-colored frame on my dresser amongst tiny colorful boxes and a turquoise owl candle holder.

It’s something about the way my neighbor’s run-down shed can nearly look quaint and picturesque with just a spritz of ethereal evening sunlight, how it seems to sit quietly and listen to the animated conversations of the birds that hover nearby. How once-yellow, dying dandelions become spheres of glowing energy as they reach desperately toward the sky in a last-ditch attempt for acknowledgement, like twinkling stars slowly fizzling out of existence. The way that the overgrowth shrouds this abandoned structure in a cloak of shadows, encapsulating it in a perpetual state of serene semi-darkness, allowing it to slowly, safely, discreetly, gracefully begin the inevitable transition from structure to rubble, as this is the fate of all things; as the universe favors chaos over order.

On slow summer days like today, as I sit cross-legged on my bed idly watching the afternoon light filter in through the spaces between my drapes, I am content. I am happy today to be like my neighbor’s desolate shed and sit as a silent observer, watching the clouds play tag with the sun. This isn’t to say I that I choose observation over participation in life, I am merely saying that on days where I find myself alone, I do not panic–I celebrate. I can appreciate the warmth of a not-too-hot day, the whirring of a passing plane, the calm loveliness of summertime. Every now and then we could all stand to take a lesson from nature and learn to appreciate our own existence instead of living with the incessant fear that we are somehow missing out on life. We can be like the grass and the trees and the creatures of the Earth, all of whom are happy simply “being,” and realize that being alive is a treat in and of itself. It is okay to be alone, and it is okay to take time to breathe and to reconnect with the natural world.

“You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.”

 

Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel

Hi, there.

What’s your name?  Tell me all about yourself–don’t leave anything out.

When’s the last time you did something for the first time?

I’m asking you, but a few moments ago, as I engaged in a staring contest with my then-empty blog post that was patiently waiting to be filled with interesting somethings,  I was asking myself the very same question. When was the last time that I tried something entirely new? I had to hesitate as I tried to come up with an answer, and that subtle pause was enough for me to realize that it had been too long since I had embarked on a brand new, let’s-do-this kind of journey.

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So in a nutshell, this is me, trying something new. And unlike most hobbies, such as painting or playing piano, I don’t get to have a practice run, or a trial-and-error phase, if you will. I am doing this for the very first time, like a colt learning to walk on its long, shaky legs and tripping all over itself in the process…and I am doing so right before your eyes. But no pressure, right? Right. I’ll keep telling myself that.

But seriously, why does it have to be so difficult to push up your sleeves and start something new? It’s so easy to be right-smack-in-the-middle of things; to continue on with the status-quo requires minimal effort or no effort at all. I guess Newton’s law of inertia is applicable not just to objects that may or may not be in motion, but to human lives, as well. In both cases, it always seems to be harder to get the ball rolling than to keep it moving.

In terms of writing, I am always frustratingly picky when it comes to the first sentence, the first paragraph of an essay, the first entry of a brand new journal. That’s always the hardest part, no doubt about it. But as I have realized in the past with said essays and entries, there’s no way to get around that irritating initial hesitation: you just have to delve right into it. So here I am, mid-delve, taking my own advice like the adult that I claim (pretend?) to be.

Now. Let’s get further acquainted, shall we?

I’m Tessa. Pleased to meet you, by the way.

In job interviews I describe myself as “innovative,” but that’s just a classier way of saying that I tend to wing it a lot of the time.  I’m 18-going-on-19 years old and studying journalism in a charming, fairly average college town in Ohio that is surrounded by eons of cornfields and not a whole lot else. My sense of humor is bone-dry, and I pride myself on finding laughter in non-funny situations, even though it gets me into trouble sometimes.

There are plenty of isms that factor in to my life–feminism, atheism, liberalism–and yes, they help to illustrate my personal perspective of the universe but no, they don’t define me. So let’s move on.

I really like to read, and while I admittedly have a bookshelf full of the works of Stephen King in my bedroom at my parents’ house, my taste in books isn’t limited to the horror genre–if I have a novel in my hands, I’m happy, period.

What else could I tell you about myself? Hmmm, let me think.

I could give you a very limited list of the many other things I like, which would include running, obsessing over outer space and human existence, spending copious amounts of time in coffee shops, napping with my boyfriend Danny, journaling, walking through the woods, creating art, and being incredibly (obscenely?) facetious regardless of circumstance.

Oh, and constantly striving to find adventure and laughter and just a touch of whimsicality hidden in the mundane like a tiny gem glistening within the embers of a dying fire, waiting to be noticed. I guess that’s important to me, too.

So, the million dollar question: What brought me here? What was my initial inspiration for starting a blog?

Well, long story short, I realized that

a) instead of spending my days rolling my eyes at the tumultuous ignorance that has infected most forms of social media and has splattered its way into the deepest corners of the internet, I can actually counteract some of its evils and help restore balance to the digital universe by sharing some of my most thoughtful inquiries and musings via blogging. Hooray.

I ALSO realized that

b) I have successfully kept a (mostly) continuous personal journal for over a year now, so I have no reason to think that I can’t commit to a blog. I have plenty of (random, lovely, forlorn, peculiar) thoughts and a (feverish) love for writing, so why not?

If you’re still reading, thanks for struggling through my first post and debut as a blogger. Consider this my “Pilot” episode, and if you liked what you read, even just a teensy weensy bit, I hope you’ll think about coming back and reading more of what I have to say in the near future.

 

Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel