Where Are You From?

“This is my sixth time at this conference. Why do I have the jitters?”

I fired a short, honest tweet into the digital atmosphere, took a deep breath, and stepped into the halls of a Disney World convention center I knew so well. I scanned the crowd, simultaneously hoping to spot a friendly face and remain invisible until I got my bearings. My name badge displays a new city, a new company, and, oddly, my old name: Jen Rose.

The last time I was here, I was telling my engagement story and showing off a ring to anyone who asked. Two years later, marriage has changed more than a few things, but my former last name remains. Now it’s a radio name, belonging to a character on this networking stage.

Once I settled into the energy of the conference, I felt more like my past self. I spent the weekend laughing at old jokes with friends I grew up with, meeting newcomers, and struggling to give a short answer to every stranger who asked, “So, where are you from?”

IMG_6982“Well, I’m from here, Orlando, originally. But now I live in Massachusetts.” And I wondered every single time if that’s the right answer, if there even is a right answer.

Where are you from? Is it really where you traveled from? Because I’m definitely not from New England. Or is it where you work and live now? Is it the airport I flew from, Providence, Rhode Island, another state entirely? Do I tell them where my employer is – a small and sort of new CHR station in Worcester – or that I work from my apartment in another city over an hour away? I used to tell people I was from Orlando, but I actually lived in a small town an hour away. So should I tell them I’m from Boston because it’s a major point of reference and the only city most people out of state know of? No, definitely not.

Having two homes is weird.

*  *  *  *  *

It’s been about a year and a half since I said “I do,” packed up whatever could fit in a suitcase or the trunk of my Honda Civic, and moved into a third floor apartment 1,200 miles away from everything I had known. And since the day I arrived I’ve been wrestling with ideas of home and finding my place. Friends and family ask if I’m feeling at home yet, and I say yes. It’s partially true. I can get around without a GPS most of the time, I have favorite coffee shops, and I can finally pronounce some complicated Massachusetts town names.

And yet, still the displacement. Still the realization that I can’t go back to the past. And sometimes, the nagging voice that says “You’re different. You’re not from here.”

In some ways, the voice is right. This will never quite be home. That isn’t resistance to change, or bitterness, or resignation. It’s truth. And it brings some comfort.

IMG_6905The biggest move of my husband’s life was from the house he grew up in to our current apartment, eight blocks down the road. He’s a New Englander through and through. The rhythm of the seasons, the cadence of the language, the pride in the land and its history are all a part of who he is, and loving him teaches me to love this place more. So in a way, with him, this is truly home.

As for me… well, I can’t turn back time and grow up here. I can’t transplant my family, can’t rewrite history so my New Englander grandfather never married an Alabama girl and worked out his days in the orange groves of Florida. I can’t, and I’d never want to. The rhythms, seasons, culture, and history of my homeland have shaped me into the person I am, and though I never fully appreciated it then, I do now, every time I catch a glimpse of palm trees outside an airplane window and relearn how to breathe the heavy tropical air.

And you know, that’s okay. Home can be in two places, even many places. Home is where we first spring from seeds, and it’s where we replant our roots. But we still reach for the sun, for something more, for the home still coming, someday.

*  *  *  *  *

 Jen Rose“Where Are You From?” was written by Jen Rose Yokel. Jen was born and raised in central Florida, but now lives in the strange land of southern New England. She’s a poet, a radio nerd, and a regular contributor to The Rabbit Room. When not writing, she enjoys frequenting coffee shops, hunting down used books and vinyl records, and exploring nature with her husband Chris. You can find her thoughts and poems at jenroseyokel.com and see pictures of mostly food and trees on her Instagram @jen_rose.

Things That Go Bump in the Night

Newlyweds have the best stories. The travails of the freshly married are used at cocktail and dinner parties as an amusing source of friendly one-up-man-ship. Who has the worst story? Whose honeymoon was the biggest disaster? From the cliche (“It rained the whole time!”) to the strange (“Bears ate all our food!”), fun messes are what happen to other people, certainly not to calm people like me.

Dan and I married a month ago. We had a quiet wedding in Connecticut and honeymoon on Cape Cod. Then we drove to our new home in Colorado for four days, listening to a Game of Thrones audiobook and talking about how we’d do life on one income while I looked for jobs in Denver. Our driving time was leisurely and as I’d never really been off the East Coast, I found the American interior both a marvel and an education. Pennsylvania so long!  Kansas so flat!

We got into our new apartment a couple of weeks ago. We were delighted with it.

“I won’t have to clean that much!” I crowed to Dan.

I loved its freshly painted beige walls and brand new carpets and the trees that shade timage3he patio and windows.  “Looks a little bit like Connecticut,” I mentioned off-handedly.  

We hung a big painting of his over the mantelpiece and felt at home.

Our friends moved us in and we all sat on the carpet afterwards eating pizza and drinking soda.   The next morning Dan went to make coffee and I sat in bed reading a novel. He came back a moment later and sat down next to me.

“Don’t get upset,” he said. “I think we may have cockroaches.”

I blanched. I’d seen a couple of reddish fast-moving little bugs in the kitchen when we moved in but had no idea what they were. We tiptoed to the kitchen and Dan showed me four he’d killed in the sink, next to the new pizza cutter we’d neglected to wash, with a couple of shreds of cheese still on it.  

“Those aren’t roaches!” I cried.  “Roaches have hard black shells and live in New York City!”

I pulled out my phone and Googled “cockroaches.” As we suspected.

One thing I’ve learned: roaches are the bugs nobody wants. They’re not helpful like ladybugs or praying mantises. They leave their droppings everywhere, help spread salmonella, and cause asthma attacks.  They breed at an amazing rate. Once you’ve got them, they’re nearly impossible to drive out. The archaic word “pestilence” comes to mind.

Everyone we have spoken to about our problem has been horrified.  So we don’t talk to many people about it. I can’t help feeling there’s an implied judgment in others’ responses. “We are clean people!” I want to say. “We aren’t gross!”

I’ve started to blame the neighbors.  This makes it all the more difficult to live in the place. To accept what is happening. To receive the pest control treatments and wait for the roaches to lessen and die.

On the practical level, we have learned to clean our new space like it’s never been cleaned before.  Like I’ve never cleaned before. We use bleach regularly on all counters, after every image2meal we eat, after every snack. We vacuum like mad and hand-wash dishes so they can be put away immediately. Our dry food and silverware we store in airtight containers. We use only two coffee cups and one pot and one pan. We are living by deletion. We accept dinner invitations from friends but let them know we can’t return the favor yet.

Neither of us is particularly house-proud. In fact we’ve both been pretty indifferent home-makers before marriage. Dan is fine artist who needs precious studio time and I’ve always resisted housework because it cuts into reading and writing time. These days, it would not occur to me to leave an unwashed dish in the sink or crumbs on the counter. My past kitchens and bathrooms have never been so clean as this one.

A couple of years ago I heard the poet Luci Shaw talk about embracing the “slow pleasures.” Washing dishes. Ironing. Using chore time to set the mind free, slow down the self, and make room for contemplation.

Until I find my new job, I spend lots of time cleaning the kitchen, keeping pests at bay, disrupting old habits of haste and carelessness. Accepting a slower pace. Accepting the pride that comes of a task done thoroughly and well.  

We’ve joined the ranks of the newly-married horror-story tellers. When the pests recede, we’ll throw a cocktail party for all our friends and tell our story. And pray they’ll come back for more. Our guests, that is.


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“Things That Go Bump in the Night” was written by Elena Shekleton. Elena lives in Denver with her husband. She is currently working on a book of fairy tale short stories and is learning how to get around in her new city without getting lost.


The stories of things

One winter Monday, 15 or so years ago, I arrived at work to some devastating news: Over the weekend, a coworker had lost her home to a fire.

We all huddled around the coffee pot in the break room, trying to imagine—although we knew we couldn’t—what it would be like to lose almost all of your earthly possessions. A week later, when our colleague Chris returned to work, we began the slow process of bearing witness to her shock and grief. Then, months later, we were her empathic-yet-fascinated audience as she told stories of the new house rising from the ashes—not just being built, but also being populated with new things.

I was only in my late-20s and had accumulated relatively little, yet I couldn’t fathom what it would mean to start completely over. There would be the lack of pillowcases, cake pans, and familiar sweaters waiting for you as fall settles into winter, but also many harder-to-replace things: No rows of books with penciled notes and cardstock bookmarks identifying the shops where the books were bought. No wedding gifts that, each time you use them, bring to mind the great aunt or college friend who bestowed them. No outdated lamps from your childhood, handed down to you as you entered adulthood with so little.

Chris was in her late 50s, so the home she lost had contained decades of memories and treasures. While her new home was being built, Chris told us about the interior decorator, who specialized in “recreating meaning.” I was utterly fascinated by—and skeptical of—the process, which involved interviewing Chris and her husband to gather meaningful family stories and tales of travel adventures—references she would then bring into the new home through new objects.

I never would have dared to ask Chris, but I always wondered: Did it work? Can a home speak in retrospect of a life lived, or must the life be lived into the home?

*   *   *   *   *

I suppose the question needled me because it touched on an area I had dabbled in myself—but in reverse: I, as a newly married 22 year old, had attempted to use objects in my home to speak into my story. I didn’t know what my life would be like, but I knew what I wanted it to look like. If I built the stage, would the life follow?

Garage sales, thrift shops, and odd pieces of loaned and handed-down furniture created the kind of comfortable, quirky, space-with-a-history that I longed for. My husband was a painter, so the walls were filled with art (indicating that we were “creative” and “interesting,” of course!). A set of handmade pottery dishes, given to us as wedding gifts, conveyed that we were “down-to-earth” and “simple”—no fine china for us! And we rushed to buy books to fill the shelves—more books than we could possibly keep up with. It would take us years to actually read and absorb their stories and ideas, but that wasn’t the point. I wanted to be instantly surrounded by these visual symbols of intellect and depth.

In short, I wanted everything in my home to tell a story about us, but I was too impatient to let the stories emerge on their own.

*   *   *   *   *

Now I know the answer to the question I wanted to ask Chris so many years ago: A life must be lived into the things that fill a home—it can’t be put on, like a costume.

My home today (the eighth of my adulthood homes) is filled with evidence of a life that’s been both beautiful and complex. Yes, the books, art, furniture, and dishes each have stories to tell, but they are not all happy stories. They tell stories of a broken marriage as well as stories of wholeness and healing. They bring to mind the struggles and triumphs of single motherhood, as well as the ongoing tales of blending two families into a new one.

My eyes scan the rooms visible from where I sit at my desk. There’s the dining room table—the same table my ex-husband and I sat at four homes ago, a highchair pulled up so we could spoon food into our daughter’s mouth. Now, during dinners at that table, Jason and I navigate the tumble of tales and ideas shared by our three teenage daughters.

photo 1I can also see the vintage sofa I happily snatched up as a single mom about to move into a rented duplex. It’s the same sofa I sat on to read books to my young daughters, but it has since been reupholstered (following an unspeakable incident with the family dog). Behind the sofa is the piano I grew up hearing my grandmother play; she gave it to me when it was time for her to move into assisted living, and time for my daughters to learn to read music.

And beyond the sofa and piano, just inside the front door, is a gallery wall of small artwork and treasures. An olive-wood cross, carved and painted in Santorini where Jason and I honeymooned, hangs just to the left of a painting my ex-husband made of the house he and I lived in when our daughters were born.

photo (7)Suddenly, I can see my home for what it is: not a collection of aesthetic choices I hope will communicate something appealing about me, but vessels holding the real stories that have emerged in my life. And that gallery wall in particular? It also symbolizes my acceptance of those stories—the intentional, beautiful stories as well as the haphazard and heartbreaking ones. Together, they speak truth: Welcome to my home, welcome to my life.