Gleanings From Home

            My brother calls me the baby. My sister tells him to stop calling me the baby. I call myself Missy. Kevin is Kebbie and Kristin is Kika. M&Ms are nem-nem-nemsies.
            I’m too small to see the mirror over the counter in the bathroom. I can only see myself if someone else picks me up.
            When I can’t sleep, I count the teddy bears on the border at the top of my walls. Boy bear, girl bear, boy bear, girl bear…. I can never finish counting them.
            Years later, before the men come to take down the border and paint my room mint green, I count all the bears. There are a hundred and one. Then there are none and I can’t remember whether there was one extra boy bear or one extra girl bear.
                                                                        *
            We move the big bookcase from the middle of the family room to the den. That’s okay because I don’t play peek-a-boo through it with Dad anymore.
            We get a bench whose seat opens up so that Kevin and Kristin and I will stop throwing our backpacks on the floor. We throw them on the floor anyway.
            We redo the first floor in hard wood. That’s okay because none of us have used those old wind-up motorcycle toys in years, the ones that went clickclickclickclick-click-click—click over the old red tile in the hallway.
            Later we redo the rest of the house in hard wood too. We spend the summer sleeping on our mattresses in the basement, where daytime and nighttime look the same, where the florescent lights mute away color. Once we move back into our own rooms, I stop closing my blinds; I bask in sunlight.
                                                                        *
            I learn how to skip the last two stairs without smacking into the front door. I learn just how fast to run so that I can slide the exact length of the dining room in my socks. I learn how to avoid bruising myself against the sharp corners of the island in the kitchen. I learn how to put the mugs in the cabinet so that they all fit. I learn which doors to open fast and which doors to open slow to avoid squeaking.
            I learn how to laugh so hard my stomach hurts the next day. I learn secrets and then I learn how to share secrets. I learn how to cry and then I learn how to not cry and then I learn how to not not cry. I learn happiness and disappointment and shame. I learn values and prejudices and doubts. I learn respect. I learn fear. I learn love. I learn the rhythm of alarm clocks and family dinners and bedtimes.
            I learn space, dimension, texture, angle.
            I learn my home as I learn myself.
                                                                        *
            Kevin goes to college. An empty room sits on the other side of my wall. A towel is missing from the towel rack. The sink is clean of discarded stubble. Shrieks of uncontrollable laughter disappear from the house.
            Kristin goes to college. Another empty room. A new layer of quiet.
            For three years, it’s my parents and I. Then I leave, too.
                                                                        *
            I begin to disentangle who I am from where I live.
            The way I keep my footsteps quiet isn’t me; it’s the result of my mother always asking who is going where and why whenever she heard us moving around the house. For years, this meant that silence was the key to privacy. Now, my footsteps become heavy and sure; my heels ache for the first few months away from home.
            My penchant for apologizing constantly peters out, too, because the sort of objective rules that had governed me (home by eleven thirty; you’d better clean your room today; you should be doing your homework now; don’t use that tone with me) disappear and I am left to decide for myself how I should think and act and what I should regret.
But:
            My adoration of sunlight continues regardless of where I am. My first year away, I live in the basement of the biggest dorm on campus. My window is frosted plastic, set high on the wall. There are bars over it. Even at high noon, I can’t see a thing without a lamp on. I hate it. My bonsai tree withers slowly; I stop watering it and wither too. I spend the warm months laid out on a blanket in the quad and the cold months in the library, huddled up against the two-story windows.
            My reverence for trees remains as well. My grandparents planted a maple tree in our backyard when I was a newborn. It’s visible from the bay window in the kitchen, and every morning every autumn Mom squints out into the brightness and sighs, “Look at that beautiful tree again.” I always look—in kindergarten over my bowl of Cheerios, in high school in the half-light before early marching band practice, still every autumn morning I’m home—and I smile because the tree is always beautiful. When I’m away, I climb trees and stay up there, as high as I can get, feeling their branches sway with the breeze. I watch their leaves fall in autumn and watch their flower petals fall in spring. I can’t help but think that trees celebrate their own beauty in their own way. I jump on leaves and let the petals cling to my clothes, celebrating too.
                                                                        *
            When I return home for the summer, my parents say I’ve changed. They say I’m not myself. But no one needs to hold me up to the mirror now: I have grown enough to see myself.
            I know this: I am curious; I am thoughtful; I am independent. I have changed because I am always changing. I am no longer in rhythm with home, and this, I think, is the dissonance they sense. But I am in rhythm with myself.


- Marisa Lastres