By no stretch of the imagination could this house be considered a home. A home is made up of warm meals, bedtime stories, and family game nights. My house is made up of rotting wood, scurrying rats, and growing mildew. A home is packed with memories of early Christmas mornings, bacon popping and sizzling on the stove, cozy blankets, scary movies. My house is packed with memories of thunderstorms cutting out power, brushing my teeth using bottled water instead of tap, my sixteen year old brothers and very thin walls. One time I remember tottering over to my mom grasping a marijuana seed I found in my brother’s room, asking if we could plant it.
To make matters worse, our house didn’t have A/C. Early August was always brutal. The sun would rise lazily into the air, sucking the moisture out of the trees and the grass and the flowers. By noon there would be none left to take, so the sun would try to take the moisture out of me, leaving my body coated in a thick sheen of sweat. My underarms would sweat, my scalp would sweat. Even my sweat would sweat. My brothers would come home from football camp and carelessly throw their stinking uniforms and shoulder pads all over the living room. Their odor would waft through the house, sticking to the walls and my clothes. On those days, as I waited for the house to air out, I tried to spend most of my time outside, where a singular giant oak tree dominated the yard. The heat wasn’t so stifling under its shade, and if I closed my eyes I would almost say it was peaceful. There was a low buzz of bees’ wings slicing through the air, and a whisper of a butterfly’s gentle response. A light wind ruffled the leaves and loose tendrils of my hair tickled my face. I tried to carve my initials into the tree until nightfall forced me back inside.
At night I couldn’t sleep. One of the first nights I began sleeping in a bed without guardrails, my dad told me a particularly memorable bedtime story. He started by assuring me that no monsters lived in my closet or under my bed. They didn’t exist. Alligators, however, were very real. There was one under my bed right now, in fact. It lurked with its beady yellow eyes poised at the gap between the floor and my bed skirt. It feasted on little fingers that hung over the side during the night. If I dared to try and sneak into the bathroom or my parents’ room, I had better be prepared to run because the alligator was quick. Not only could it smell fear, but it could taste it in the air, bilious and metallic. With that, my dad patted me on head and swiped his lips against my cheek. Sleep tight, princess, he said. Don’t let the alligators bite.
All night I stare wide-eyed at my stark white ceiling. I watch as muted shadows dance across the bloated water marks. I imagine the ceiling sinking lower and lower with the weight of the water, until it eventually caves in and a tsunami of water consumes my room. I use my bed as a boat and try to paddle my way to the door, but when the alligator’s tail whips through the water and crashes against the side, I throw my little body against my headboard and wrap my arms around my legs, burying my head as I wait for it to end. This is how my mom found me the next morning, and this is how I remember that house that was not my home.