After my parents separated, my dad moved to an apartment complex about 30 minutes away. Although it was a one bedroom, I had my very own closet in which to keep my toys and books. On those weekends I visited I would sleep on the couch; but my bedtime was earlier than my dad was willing to relinquish the tv, so I would go to sleep in his bed and he’d carry me out to the living room when he’d finished.
I’m not sure when he moved again, whether or not it was before or after the big custody dispute, but eventually it was acknowledged that I needed a room of my own. Before I’d always shared with my half-brother (who has a different father and thus did not now factor into the equation) and so it was a thrill to decorate the room by my own aesthetic. I fancied dogs at the time, and it showed in my bedding and on my bookshelf. My father is a very neat person and so I kept my own room remarkably tidy, a skill I’ve since lost.
I remember my first television. It was a birthday present when I was eight or nine, a tiny thing by today’s standards but I was so proud. On Saturday nights I would stay up late to watch Snick on Nickelodeon; Roundhouse and Are You Afraid of the Dark? and The Secret Life of Alex Mack. And then the programming would end and I’d switch off the television and go to sleep.
I was eleven when my father moved to Florida, the place he’d spent most his childhood. I didn’t take it well, in the long run. The first time I came down to visit, I had no bedroom, not even a toy closet. He’d given all his things, all our things, away to Goodwill. He’d asked me, before moving, if I’d wanted anything, but I said no. I think I had assumed he would take it all with him, it would be there for me when I visited. But my legos were gone, my Littlest Petshop play set, my Beverly Cleary books. My bed was a mattress in the living room. My father’s home wasn’t my home anymore. I felt like an unwanted guest.
My father eventually moved to a larger apartment in Florida, and when I visited I would stay in the guest room. There was my old dresser, my old nightstand, even my old television, looking so much smaller than when I’d first gotten it as a child. I would put clothes in the dresser, set up my phone to charge on my night stand. But it was always the guest room, never mine. Did other people stay there when I was away? Did other people hang their coat in the closet?
Over a decade after moving to Florida, my father decided it was time to build a house of his own. It is a two story house, two bedrooms, a long sprawling deck, even a fireplace, reminiscent a bit of our first family home back when my parents were still married. I stayed over Christmas, in the guest room. The furniture, my old furniture, had all been replaced. New bed, new dresser. Nothing left of me. I left my clothing in my suitcase for the entire stay. No use unpacking. The room wasn’t mine. I would be leaving soon.
When I went back to live in Ohio, I stayed in my mother’s guest room. We fixed it up a bit for me, put my posters on the walls, my clothes in the closet, things scattered about. But there was always dissonance, things that didn’t quite fit to me, relics of a time when I wasn’t there. The room has since been turned into a nursery for when my brother’s baby comes to stay.
I am an adult now. I keep my own room, my own home. It is mine in all aspects; I decorate, I pay the rent, I deal with pests and problems. And yet, for as long as I’m renting, I’ll always have the feeling that it’s not truly mine. I can’t paint the walls pink, or hang a hammock from the ceiling. The bed and nightstand are not mine, pre-furnished. These are other peoples things, and I have to take care of them, because in a couple of months, in a couple of years, I’ll be leaving. No matter how many posters I stick to the wall, I’ll always be in the guest room.