Home Away From Home

By Ash Murray

I once wrote that I felt most at home and at ease when I had a pile of books sitting next to me, each one waiting to whisk me away into another universe. Growing up as a queer kid in the south, it’s easy to find home somewhere other than your house. I used to write about how, someday, I would have a fridge filled with fruits and veggies, in a home that I built with the woman I loved. I wrote about pride and found family, and I dreamt of sunlight pouring in through windows onto a well-loved collection of houseplants.

But the simple truth is: I keep killing my houseplants.

I keep killing my houseplants, and it doesn’t matter—because home doesn’t have to be what you thought it would be when you were fifteen and one wrong move away from killing yourself.

I live in an apartment in the snowiest city in America, where the radiators don’t work and I spend my nights piled high with blankets. I live in an apartment where the dining room table is used as a desk; where the couch—passed down from tenant to tenant—smells slightly of piss and sort of hurts to sit on; where the floors creak and at least one neighbor is always making noise. I live in an apartment that costs way too much money for the radiators to not work and the couch to smell. But I love it. Not because it’s a good apartment (it’s not), but because of who I share it with.

As I write this, a cat sits curled at my feet, gently sleeping. A second one has made a bed out of our table-desk and the cardigan that I haphazardly tossed there earlier today. From the other room, Jean’s snores travel through the air to my ears, a strangely comforting sound. They are what makes this place a home. I’m cold, and tired, but I know that even from the depths of sleep, their arms are always open to me. That is where I feel the most at home: in their arms. When I’m with them, it doesn’t matter that the radiators don’t work—they are so warm, all the time. When I’m with them, it doesn’t matter that there’s still dirt on the windowsill from yet another houseplant casualty—a cat sending a basil plant tumbling to the ground. When I’m with them, it doesn’t matter that we ate the last of our fruit two days ago and can’t afford more until Wednesday.

Home, for me, is a person—and I know that that’s cliche, but it doesn’t make it untrue.

Home is picking Jean up after work on Fridays and taking them to the market downtown. It’s buying them strange-flavored lattes and hunting for a table near an outlet so we can sit there with our laptops out and pretend to do homework. We both know we’re just going to talk for two hours, but we keep up the pretense anyway. It’s holding their hand at the farmer’s market on Saturdays as we compare three different lettuce options that all look the same to me. It’s dancing on the broken kitchen floor and saturating our building with the smell of cooking curry.

Home used to be such an abstract concept to me. Sure, I had a house where I lived with my parents, and a school where I saw all of my friends. And I had a beautiful city full of sunshine and beaches and art, everywhere I turned. I had a place that I called home, and a place that I believed was home. But when I met Jean, I realized that home was something new entirely—something I’d never had before. It was a brand new concept to me. When I met Jean, I felt like I had found something that I never even knew I was missing.

In all my dreams of home and the future, I never thought it would look like this. I never even thought it could look like this. I used to think that home would be a picture-perfect paradise—that as soon as I got my first apartment, I’d somehow be able to afford something luxurious. The fact of the matter is, though, that I’ve grown to love the clang of our broken radiators. Sure, we’re moving in two months and we complain about the apartment all the time, but it will always be the first home that we rented together. And sure, there are always dirty dishes in the sink and the toilet is always running and sometimes the back right burner on the stove doesn’t work, but it’s our place and our mess and our names together on the lease.

On sunny days, the light pours in through the windows the way I always imagined. In the evenings we curl up together on the couch—a fuzzy blanket thrown on top of us—and watch the same show that we always watch, for what I’m sure is at least the fifth time. I wake up every morning excited for the day, because I know that it’s one more day that I get to spend with them. I come home every night excited to crawl into their arms and tell them about every single detail of my day. Even the horrible, ugly, scary parts of life seem manageable when I’m with them, because at the end of it all, I’ll make them coffee and they’ll make me chai, and everything will be okay.        

They’re sitting next to me now, and we’re both feeling a little sick, but all I can think about is how excited I am to take care of them and to have them take care of me. Surely no one has ever felt like this before—like their home is not a place but a person. If they have, how do they ever get anything done?

Ash Murray (they/them) is a senior studying English, psychology, and LGBTQ Studies. A fairy tale fanatic, Ash is deep in the process of composing their theses in the genre. In their free time, Ash enjoys reading, watching TV with their fiancé, and cuddling with their two cats.