Forty

As I blinked the foggy sleep out of my jet-lagged eyes, I tried to make sense of the image before me. Two black-haired, Sri Lankan boys in stiff collared shirts stood before me, staring awkwardly at the ceiling. I scrubbed my eyes and blinked up at them confusedly. They studied the corner in response, trying politely to avoid staring at my sweaty, drooling, passed out form. This was admirable in a space roughly the size of a cubicle.

These ever polite young men were waiting, as it turned out, for one of my new roommates. I had taken an apartment off campus this semester and, as my room had yet to be vacated, had spent the night on the apartment’s single couch. This “couch” was an island-style, decorative piece with a bamboo frame and flimsy, bright pink and green seat cushions. It was not comfortable. Nor was it private.

I gained consciousness with a dawning sense of social dismay. Then I groggily mumbled something unintelligible, rolled onto my feet and dragged my bag into the bathroom. Except my bag was bigger than both the door to the bathroom (and the bathroom itself) as it proudly announced with a loud “thwack!” as it collided with the door frame. The boys stared at their feet as I sifted through a pile of underwear punctuated by stray tampax in search of a toothbrush.

I located said toothbrush but as I closed my bag, a loose bra strap got tangled in the zipper. In my haste to correct it, I ended up catapulting an extra large overnight maxi pad across the room like a flying saucer. I tripped over a stray sock in my attempt to retrieve it and realized with a glance that the Sri Lankans had now given up on propriety and were now staring at me as one might gaze upon a wild animal trapped in the brush. Retaining the small shed of dignity still left to me, I abandoned my open bag in the hall and sealed myself in the bathroom. I contemplated living there permanently until I heard someone stumble and nose dive over my bag outside.

And so it began.

I had hesitated to return to BYUH again that semester. Gloria had encouraged me to find a new educational avenue but there was no time to apply anywhere except my local, hometown university.

My anger toward Bishop Smith, the church and the system altogether was still burning strong within. It was as if every piece of bleached white paper I had become over the last six months had been lit ablaze. The resulting inferno had fuel enough to burn for decades. I didn’t have to go back. I could just stay home, wrapped in the love of those around me.

I had spent the summer reconnecting with my family. Spending time with my mom, going to art museums, reading and discussing books, and doing yard work and gardening with my step dad was easy and comforting.

I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandparents as well – at my parents’ house, their small abode in the woods, and their sewing machine and vacuum shop down the valley. Grandpa retold me all the great hunting, fishing and backcountry packing stories in his impressively stocked arsenal. Grandma plied me with her homemade pies, candies and fudge, and poured on ample amounts of love at every opportunity. “I pray for you every night,” she always said. And she did.

But I was learning something about myself that I had only intuited before, that had previously only manifested as a generalized existential itching. And that was that I was born with wings on my feet. I couldn’t stay. Not when the tantalizing pull of adventure hovered on the horizon. My soul yearned to go, to venture, to explore. So I did. And in so doing, I was made a little more whole.

There are some things that we come with, woven deep into the fiber of our essential beings. This need – to go, to explore, to discover, to get lost in the mystery of life – was one of mine. And it was strong. It was one of the first individual markers that emerged on my progression to knowing myself. I would say that I uncovered this passion but, in reality, it emerged fully formed of its own accord. I needed to go. Those blossoming wings were far too powerful to be contained … and I wanted to see where they would go.

My new home was a quirky place. It was Suessian in its proportions. Rooms were tacked onto the structure at random in defiance of both regulation and gravity. It looked like the owners had been spontaneously making these additions since Captain Cook first landed on the island. I was pretty sure that at the center of it all was just a grass hut and a fire pit.

To access my new apartment, one had to maneuver along a narrow, debris littered path around the back of the house, push through a dozen or so wild chickens and sidestep an overgrown breadfruit tree. Along the way you had to be careful to sidestep the fallen star fruit that covered the ground like tiny, rotting landmines. Then you would mount a set of rickety, paint-chipped, wooden stairs barely clinging to the exterior of the building and attached mostly with duct tape, one nail, a broken screw and half a ton of chewing gum.

This was all especially treacherous that first day when I accomplished it all lugging two 103 pound suitcases behind me. Somehow I pulled it off. I arrived, my bag wheels littered with chicken feces and rotten fruit and my face shining with the glow of anticipation.

My new room overlooked our neighbor’s roof which was composed mostly of scrap metal, sheets of plywood, old weather-beaten tarps and spare tires. I couldn’t imagine what the interior of the house must have looked like but it really didn’t matter. The owners had seemingly forsaken it long ago. Instead, they had stretched large tarps between their roof and a set of tall stakes planted in the ground along the road, shading the entirety of their front lawn in the process.

Everything that was once inside the house proceeded to migrate out, until the lawn was arranged with couches, chairs, tables, a television set and so on. This furniture formed new “open-air” rooms under the tarp. Here the family spent all their waking hours, at least as far as I could tell. They cooked every meal, ate at their “dining room” table, sat on the couch and watched TV, seemingly oblivious to the rest of the world passing by. The only thing I didn’t see them do out there was using the bathroom. So either the toilet was the only thing still left inside or I just never walked by at the right time.

My new home was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. It was glorious.

 

This is the latest installment in my story. If you haven’t yet read the previous entries, click here to start at the beginning. Then continue to read each post in numerical order.

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