Home Is A Fragile Thing

By Kat Freydl

She sleeps in your old bedroom, lavender with polka dots. It smells like candy apples when you leave it, but once she’s been staying there for a while, it starts to smell like baby powder and decay. This is how you wash her hair. This is how you look at her wig without staring. This is how you empty out her pot in the morning—in the morning, every morning, or it will start to smell. This is how you reassure her this is real, Mama Jean, this is real. This is how you help her walk. Stand on your tiptoes, tall as you can manage. She needs to lean on you. She needs to lean on you, now. This is the TV channel she likes. Her favorite is The Barefoot Contessa. She’ll see a recipe for lobster and ask you to make it. She never liked lobster before. She’s forgotten that you can’t cook. This is how you plan a birthday party; you won’t have to work too hard to make it a surprise. For her, waking up is a surprise. This is how you smile.  This is how you sight read hymns on the piano. This is how you hold hands with a cousin you never spoke to before while your uncle grinds out a desperate prayer, like 80 years old with a glioblastoma (a glioblastoma? Multiple gliobastomas? You’re no expert. You don’t know this territory, you just know that she’s dying) isn’t a sign from God already. This is how you put on your Easter dress. Smile for the photo, Katelyn. You’re only taking a photo because it’s the last one. This is how it starts to feel normal.

This is how you escape, hop a plane to Michigan to visit your father. This is how you miss the worst. This is how your phone calls start to purposefully omit her, oh, Mama Jean? She’s doing alright. No, best not talk to her tonight. She’s awful tired, now. This is how your vacation starts to feel suffocating. This is how your lungs rattle, feel like they’re clogged by the dirt they’re going to bury her in. This is how it’s July. It’s July, and you’re 13, and you’re writing her a eulogy. Mama Jean was like summer, you write, as though she’s not still alive in some way, atrophied muscles and that lopsided wig and eyes gone all faraway and dusky. This is how your mother reads it to her, changing all the past tense verbs to present tense ones with a voice that doesn’t shake, because everyone that isn’t you seems to be over this by now.

This is how it’s your birthday, and Paulette is coming to you and saying I’m sorry, Katelyn, Mama Jean in in heaven with Jesus, and you deflate a little because you’ll admit it, you will, you’d forgotten about the woman in your lavender bedroom with the polka dots for a moment and were thinking about birthday cake and candles. This is how for years, maybe forever, you won’t be able to eat cake because it will make you sick. This is how it’s the biggest funeral in the world—in the whole universe, even. This is how the pastor asks you to read the eulogy. Mama Jean was like summer, you say, and you mean it like you’ve never meant anything in your life. This is how your voice shakes until it doesn’t. This is how you refuse to cry.

This is how you grow up.

 

Diners are my Home

By Allie Shyer

All kinds of people stop by diners.

Diners have laminated menus with greasy finger marks on them. Diners will serve you a Greek omelet at 2 AM. Diners will have a waitress with long red fingernails that go “clack clack” on the antiquated cash register. The smell of diners is fake maple syrup and must. This smell is not appetizing but it is trustworthy. Nothing bad can happen to you at a diner; or if something bad has already happened, a diner is a good place to go to recover from that event. This is a proven fact (within the context of my narrow experience.)

Diners will have vinyl booths, vinyl booths are a very good thing to be a teenager inside. If you are a teenager in an overstuffed vinyl booth at a diner, then chances are you are on a family road trip staring longingly out the window with one elbow crooked on the table next to a half eaten club sandwich. Diners will serve club sandwiches skewered by toothpicks that are garnished with festive tinsel. Diners will all use the same unappealingly watery coleslaw recipe but also deliver a pickle with a satisfying heft and crunch. It is important that a diner is dirty and clean simultaneously. A sticky immaculately washed kind of grime that comes from daily use. It covers the smooth oatmeal colored speckled mugs and the white paper placemats with scalloped edges. It covers the people in a diner too; chances are if you are sitting in a diner currently, it is covering you.

Every food at a diner will remind you of the first time you ever ate that food. This deep-rooted memory will fill you with hope upon taking your first bite, but will soon be replaced by a growing amorphous sense of dread as your meal continues. There is a particular kind of ennui that can only exist within diners, dare I say it is American ennui. It feels specifically mundane, almost charged in its ordinariness. My memories of diners are all amalgamated into one memory of one diner. It exists outside time because whenever I go to a diner I seem to be in that same memory again.

Diners are my home.

Diners are menacingly safe, they will stay put and follow you around. Diners orbit slowly around the human life cycle, their patrons age and die away while others have babies that then teethe on the one high chair at that same diner. Diners are a safe slow spot in my heart that is also very sad. It is the part that is perhaps the most muted, under the brighter and more articulated parts of my personality.

Drawing by Edie Fake

Drawing by Edie Fake

Home: A Listography

By Annie Zidek

Home is something you know too well. It’s good and bad, abusive and loving. Home is snippets of life scattered nonlinear in blank spaces and in falling blossoms and in mom’s shadow. Home is everywhere for me, so here is a list of things I found too familiar:

  • Your lineage dates before the Babylonians, before the mapping of the stars and man’s discrepancies. South Carolina bitterness laps at your tongue, and cicada shells pile up in your closet. These are southern formalities. You knocked over red candles in my sister’s room. It was carpet. It stained. Everytime I walk past I see the first bloodshed, our own civil war. Dig up the bones of our carcassa gossamer of unforetold signs and interlaced stars. She did not rot; she waxed and waned, waiting for you and for her resurrection.

  • They all leave in misty Saturday mornings. They rip out bottom jaws, clean cuts without blood or hesitation. Half my lips are gone, and They are just ghosts with warm shoulders and fiery arms. My mom said they all leave, and I will tell my daughter to expect nothing but broken backs and coffee rings. They all leave.
  • It rained bohemian crystal for four days, and no one could step outside with bleeding feet. But we walk through cobblestone streetsunsteadyand dance with Saint Wenceslaus and banter with over half a bottle of riesling. We see our breathes join everyone else’s. Dad climbs astronomical clocks in hopes of better futures, which tarot readers could not see.
  • Tumbling in parking lots with Spanish lullabies brings forth no conclusions. All I know is there are three dots on your neck: an equilateral triangle. Symmetry is comfortable. It’s all worth the spilt coffee and burning hands because when I hear jangling keys and reserved footsteps, I look up. Jesus, don’t cry.
  • Your tattoos are a balancing act, and you whisper in German. Ignore brain research: the results are inconclusive. Focus on the knots in your back instead, the mounds of glory and deceit you’ve studied and know too well. We sit in between two mirrors; is this a ritual or a mind game? It doesn’t matter as long you don’t stop singing about Russian composers, and tell us about your faint past.
  • These things I saw: drinks coffee black, crooked teeth, a freckle behind your left ear, pigeon toed, bitten fingernails, ribs. These things I missed: Picasso and lovers lost and everything in between. All I know is "Ok wait now I’ve gotten too angry to talk right now I don’t want to say something I’ll regret. Can we talk about this later when I’ve calmed down." The only grounds for divorce were irreconcilable differences.
  • Planets aligncalculated but unplanned. The sun and the moon and Mars and Venus grace us with their love and plunge into our hearts, pulling the tide up to the point where it teases our feet. Lake Michigan screams, “It’s a shame we can’t count the stars!” Instead we count all of the emanating buildings polluting the night air (341). But it really doesn't matter because these towers are the closest I’ve ever come to love.

Most of these homes are in the past, places and people and times I considered a part of me, but all my homes are nonstructural and impermanent: they are flesh and blurred memories and roaring feelings. They cannot be counted or measured, and that’s what makes them home.

Music Takes Me Home: A Love Letter To My Best Friend

By Meg Zulch

Everyone has it: that song or movie or photo that just magically transports you to the past. Its powers are so strong and so escapist in nature that you intentionally consume certain media (especially in times of need) to be reminded of more carefree times, and people that make it all better. For me, that song is Lorde's "Ribs," and that person is my best friend Kenny.

Media tends to make us nostalgic because, in this millennial day and age, music and culture shape our relationships and even our personalities (seemingly "reduced" to a long list of likes and dislikes). Young people communicate and bond through media references, much to their older counterparts' chagrin. How important are your musical tastes, and music in general, when concerning your ideas, character, and ways of relating to the world anyway? Many of us would answer: quite important.

Even if you think media as a center of conversation is shallow, you can't argue against its surface value and that talking about a band you mutually love can be the greatest of ice breakers. For Kenny and I, that band was One Direction.

I met him at our school's LGBTQU club, but was too nervous to form a conversation beyond "I like your hair." However, when we were walking back to our dorms after the meeting, I caught a glimpse of a Harry Styles poster in his room and swooned. So when I ran into him in the library the next week, as he was scrolling through photos of One Direction through his Tumblr dashboard, I formerly introduced myself and confessed that I too love that British boy band. And so ensued about an hour of conversation about Harry Styles' body, followed by two years of friendship. The first year of college is nerve wracking for everyone, but some my own stress was alleviated by simply finding somebody who shared in my greatest passions.

Since that day in the library, we've exchanged (and even created) so much art. He burned me Haim's Days Are Gone on a CD and played me hours of spoken word that had me lost in a sea of my feelings in his bed. I've written him poems and introduced him to the melancholic wonders of Sky Ferreira's music. We've written a screenplay, made a zine, started a radio show--using all projects as outlets to express our queer identities, and consequently further understand what it means to be young and queer Kenny and Meg. We've shared in moments of total spiritual surrender and reawakening at Bleachers shows, screaming along to "I Wanna Get Better," as we try to trick our anxiety-ridden minds into being more cooperative. We've shaken off the memory and hurt of boys who've done us wrong, wildly gyrating along to our favorite pop tunes on dimly lit dance floors. Today, we smoked in a field together, listening to Mitski as we discussed pursuing therapy. Both of us have been through a lot in our lives and in our first year in college, and whatever complicated feelings we fail to find words for at the time are worked out through the music we listen to.

My friendship with Kenny has taught me a lot about who I am. He's always been really supportive of my feelings, pushes me to get better, and always shares art with me that I collect and surround myself with when I'm the most sad. Art that hits closest to home for me, art that is comforting, and in a way that only he and I can fully grasp. Of everyone in my life, I think Kenny understands me the most. We feel a lot of the same things, and both struggle with anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. So oftentimes music and art speak to us in very similar ways. When he sends me a new artist or song to check out, it usually is directly applicable to my musical wants and emotional needs, and speaks to me on a higher level than works I encounter in other ways. And these songs help me put my words together, to begin expressing the muddled up mess of emotion inside. And a lot of the ways we've come to express these new realizations is through writing.

We have always pushed each other to write and improve our work, being our most authentically realized selves as well as successful in what we do. Nowadays, we each write for multiple publications, creating content that is first and foremost therapeutic for and gives agency to our sad queer beings in the hopes of reaching out to more people like us. Because of all that he has helped me find in myself and in art, I consider Kenny a safe haven, a home for my heart. And in all of the songs he shares with me, I see his goofy grin or his feel his heart beating as I cry into his chest for the umpteenth time. I feel his presence and remember our friendship, my growth, myself, and I feel okay again.

There are plenty of songs that we claim as "ours," like Hop Along's "Tibetan Pop Stars" or Sky Ferreira's "Sad Dream." But none of our songs affect me quite as much as Lorde's "Ribs" does. In Kenny's freshmen year, we listened to so much Lorde, which quickly led us to feel sentimental about certain tracks of hers.

The words in "400 Lux" related a lot to our love of driving around in my car at night, singing along to Grimes (our night driving music); and the line "you buy me orange juice, we're getting good at this," reminded us of my constant dependence on him to buy me my precious OJ from the campus convenience store.

However, "Ribs," has always been most powerful to me, as one of the verses sums up the way I feel about my friendship with Kenny: "you're the only friend I need/ sharing beds like little kids/ we laugh until our ribs get tired/ but that will never be enough." It captures the carefree, childish, and nonjudgmental nature of our relationship, conjuring memories of all the hours we've spent giggling in his bed into the early hours of the morning.

Anytime I found myself lost (whether it be in my small town grocery store, out to dinner with my parents, or even on campus) and "Ribs" plays, I close my eyes and wait for the verse. As it approaches, I can breathe deeply again, and goosebumps appear on my arms as a smile spreads across my face. Music, our music, always brings me back to the place I want to be: feeling safe, happy and understood by my concert buddy, my soulmate and my best friend.

My Childhood Bedroom

By Rivka Yeker

My mom made that board during my Freshman year of college. I came home to it one day and laughed, and also kind of cried.

My mom made that board during my Freshman year of college. I came home to it one day and laughed, and also kind of cried.

It is the first time I am back in my “old bedroom” in my “parent’s house” and I feel my past self filling up each square foot of my wooden floor. I am haunted by my bookshelf and the space where my TV used to sit, my keyboard, the embarrassing flower border that I never wanted. 

A person’s childhood bedroom holds their most intimate experiences: the first time they fell asleep with the lights off, their first panic attack, the first time they thought about sex. This room has been the storage space for countless nights of sad music blaring through speakers, hours of Sims being played instead of homework being done, post-work exhausted collapses onto my bed, the loneliest thoughts and the most desperate. This bedroom has seen every inch of me, every angle of my mind, every thought I’ve ever blurted out loud, every mistake I’ve tried to hide, every movie I sobbed to, every song I've belted, every selfie I’ve taken; this bedroom was my best friend, my most comforting friend.

This room is empty now. Most things are in my new apartment in Chicago, aside from books I read growing up, the keyboard I have yet to move, and the same unsettling and triggering lavender color that paints the walls. I never chose to color my room lavender, as much as my mom tries to tell me I did. I distinctly remember saying “yeah, that’s fine” when my mom offered the color to me because I knew, even at 5, that putting up a fight with my mother would be the wrong option, so I accepted lavender. Years of internalized misogyny and confusion, I was in my own personal physical hell. 

I decorated the closet with posters from AP Magazine on the left side and Andy Samberg’s face on the right. I plastered as many concert posters across the room as I could, even throwing up Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” album art just to hide the lavender that taunted me. 

The nostalgia is overwhelming.

My eyes swell at the thought of all the times I’ve barged through my bedroom door unable to control fits of mania, every outburst, every punch to the wall, every time I thought I had reached my limits.

I wish I could grab her by the shoulders and tell her to keep trudging and to continue being passionately in love with existing, regardless of how many times her friends make her feel less than she is or how many boys comment on her body and weight, how many times her intelligence is mocked, and how many times she will have to prove herself over and over again.

All I wish I could say is, “it won’t get easier, no, but you will become stronger. It’ll be hard, but it’ll be okay.” 

I feel bad for the girl I once was. I feel bad about the people that treated her like a dog toy, chewing her up and throwing her to the side, I feel bad about all times she let herself be vulnerable only to be ignored and stepped on. I feel bad for how confused she felt, for how she didn’t fit into a category or didn’t fully understand her customized femininity. 

When I was a little girl, I saw my future self have short black hair, bangs, a strong sense of self, and the motivation to keep moving forward. I saw my future self as strong, powerful, and independent. I’m screaming to my younger self, “You did it. I’m doing it.”

I sit in my empty room staring at the tennis trophies I won as a constellation finalist for almost all of them, the one ballroom dance trophy, the photo of me playing a nurse in a production of The Secret Garden, and the giant board of concert tickets I saved and stickers from bands and record labels that I kept. My mediocre and average self resting before my very eyes reminding me how ashamed I once was. How I had to work ten times harder to understand a concept or win a tennis match, how learning to cope with my mind was my biggest accomplishment, and how living as myself has never been easy.

It has taken me a long time to admit that I am proud of myself, but I think about all that I've done this past year, and I am proud. 

There was a time where I punched holes in my walls because my anger consumed me, a time where I sat against the bathroom wall and lost my mind in front of the mirror, a time where I thought it was impossible to feel as much as I was feeling in that exact moment, but now I am handling myself through the help of what was once my best friend and my worst enemy:
the childhood bedroom that I grew up in.