twice if you count going from Los Angeles to Tucson when I was three
I was twelve. My big sisters were excited about the new house, but I wasn’t. I liked the house we already lived in, an old adobe building at the edge of a dry riverbed. The property shrank each year as the river bank eroded. The back yard was mostly dirt and tumbleweed, and my sisters and I occasionally found rusty nails, broken glass, and bits of pottery we thought were Native artifacts, but which in hindsight were just fragments of floor tiles. You could look past the river and see the highway, make out the logos printed on semi-trucks, Fry’s and Coke and Target, coming in to the city.
The new house was better, objectively. In the old house, the nearest cross streets held a bank, a jail, and two corner stores. In the old house, two of my sisters shared a room, and my other sister’s room could only be accessed by walking through my room. For all that, I didn’t want to leave, and I packed slowly, jumbling my childhood into cardboard boxes, running my finger through the thick dust on the empty shelves.
I wound up growing to like the new house. I would come to prefer it, with its proximity to a river pathway where I could bike to the mall with my sisters, or train for cross country in the off-season. The new house was in a “better” neighborhood, closer to a grocery store, and with a greater density of coffee shops, which I would come to love. I wonder sometimes what it would be like growing up in the old house, as we called it, but that’s a different
I miss parts of it. Writing now, more and more little details are coming back to me, and I’m rushing to write them all down, knowing I’ll have to edit out the bulk of them for brevity. In the summer monsoons, the toads would dig their way out of the ground and gather outside our garage, munching on bugs that skirled around the pavement, drawn by the light. There were lots of little red-spotted toads, and always a few couch’s spadefoot, as big as both of my hands clasped together. I’ll keep that in — I like toads.
The back yard is still mostly weeds — living weeds in spring and fall, dead weeds in summer and winter — but that’s Tucson for you.
I grew up in the second house and didn’t move again until I was eighteen. Then I moved around a lot, from southern Arizona to Colorado and Oregon, to a live-in internship in Santa Cruz, CA, to hostel-hopping in Europe, where ‘home’ was not the bed I slept in but the backpack that I carried. I returned to Tucson when Covid hit, then during freshman year I lived somewhere different each semester.
I’ve owned the same hairbrush that entire time. By now most of the plastic nubs have fallen off the bristles. I brought many of the same clothes, most notably this pair of black jeans with embroidered birds. Each bed was covered with the same red-striped Mexican blanket my dad bought me when I moved out. I’ve come to think that home for me is not a place, not yet. It is the things I carry, and the way that I walk into spaces I know, and ones I don’t.
This summer I lived in a house with seven other MIT sophomores, all of us working on UROPs or internships. I had my own room, furnished with my own findings from Craigslist and Marketplace. It was a quick walk from Central, not too far from Harvard or Boston, and I spent many hours walking places, drinking up the city. I feel a bit like high-school me, like gap-year me, mostly because I have fallen into the rhythm I used to follow: out most of the day, at home only to change, shower, eat, sleep.
I didn’t want to rent a U-Haul when I moved, so I appropriated a dolly and filled it with my stuff, then hauled it all 1.2 miles from my apartment to East
I took the rose to lab. The man at the covid testing station said, ‘Wow, aren’t you lucky!’, surely thinking I’d been given it by a special someone. ‘Thanks,’ I said, grinning under my mask. ‘I’m going to dip it in liquid nitrogen and shatter it!’ He laughed, and probably thought that yes, this was MIT.
Down the street was a cafe that’s great for writing or studying, if you get there in the morning, before all the seats are taken. There’s another cafe up the street, one which is open late but doesn’t serve caffeine, and has a big, dark basement and cold AC. Then there’s a third cafe, a bit farther, open late and with caffeine, but no AC. Better music, though.
I could go on — the fantasy bookstore, the restaurants, all the places that make up Central Square. I like knowing them, even the ones I’ve only visited them once or twice. It feels like I’ve lived here.
When I left Tucson the first time, I wanted to linger. At the start of my road trip and also the end, and at the end of my internship, I had to wade through a thick nostalgia to get myself in my car, start the ignition, ease onto the gas. Right now, although I like this place, leaving feels natural. It does not feel like pulling off a scab.
In some ways it feels fast. I just finished the first draft of my manuscript a week ago, and I’ll enter college with the edits barely started. But honestly? I’ve been waiting for this — hell, we all have — and it’s finally here, we’re finally on campus. In March of 2020 I was impatient for REX.
right now. There are enormous floating shelves and a bench nailed to the windowsill, just wide enough for sitting sideways, framed in the window. The walls are lime green, the paint job full of mistakes my dad would point to and tell me how to fix (namely to use masking tape on objects on the wall you don’t want painted, which the painter probably knew but didn’t have time for). I want to touch up the paint if I stay, and build a ladder for the loft. The cupboard above my sink (I have a sink!) is broken and I don’t know how to fix it, but maybe one of the wizened upperclassmen will show me the ropes.
I like it here. Here, this room, which is perpetually changing, and bears the marks of previous occupants’ labor and love. Here, East Campus, where they are building a fort in the courtyard, paint murals on the walls. Here in my own mind, still reeling a little from my last writing project; my own body, which I trust to lug furniture up and down the stairs. The red blanket is spread over my mattress, the embroidered black jeans in my suitcase. The bristles of my hairbrush are starting to scratch. MIT is becoming MIT again, or so the upperclassmen say, and I feel like myself as I come to it this time. I’ve been waiting for this. I am ready.