Home is Nowhere
By: Sasha Bonét
To find one has to lose, one finds only by losing…To find is also to lose the self. While advancing, I am playing to find while losing. A thousand poets promise that if we lose ourselves — and we must — there always remains the path. The path leads to nowhere. We have to let the path work. (Marina Tsvetaeva)
My mother now associates home with the tangible. She often demanded gratefulness from my brother and I by presenting a list of no’s and just’s from her childhood…
No lights, no rice, just beans. No toys, no socks, just a mattress on the flo’. No handouts, just hand-me-downs. No hope, no love, just a pop upside the head.
Her mother was poor and they moved around from place to place, shack to shack, and in and out of structures never quite large enough to house them all. Her mother often attributes her moving around less to poverty and more to her desire to never be found by the father of the particular child growing inside of her. It was a sick game of hide and seek, where she would leave the house where the child had been conceived and proclaimed that if he really wanted to be in his child’s life, he would find them, and if he never did, the child would be all hers. “Mine” is how she would refer to them after her victory. She couldn’t have things so she gave birth. She was never found, despite never moving more than a few blocks over at a time. My mother even joined in on the game, when she saw one of her younger sister’s father standing outside of the corner store she yelled to him from the sidewalk, “I bet you don’t know where we stay.” In exchange for the location she hoped to receive monetary compensation, but he countered with a piece of bubblegum, they settled on two. She knew there would be an ass-whooping waiting on her when she got home. Home, for my mother then was placeless. It was a feeling of crowdedness without affection, it was a love that was unspoken and demonstrated only in discipline.
My mother decided that she wanted a place where she could always be found. Her idea of home was constructed brick by brick from American social norms. A house, equipped with a man, a wife, a boy, a girl and a dog called Scruffy. A wide flat house at the end of the cul-de-sac in suburbia. Where there were manicured lawns and man-made lakes and neighbors who often reminded her that they had never had a black neighbor before. Her children would have memories that reflected upon the same backdrop. She wanted our yesterdays and tomorrows to lie flat on top of one another with perfectly aligned edges. Everything would be permanent. She kept her green leather sofa for fifteen years even though it began to sink down in the middle. She kept her husband for twenty years even though he began to belittle her. I’ll never forget the emerald green carpet, routinely shampooed at the beginning of each month to keep out the filth. Just before bed she would sit in the middle of the sinkhole sofa and beckon me over with the slap of the wide tooth comb on her round brown thighs. The carpet would leave prints along my backside as I sat between her legs, directly in front of the television set that was turned down too low for me to hear over her gossiping into the cordless phone folded between her ear and shoulder. Her legs pinching my shoulders together to keep me still as she took the wide tooth comb down the center of my scalp with precision. If I squirmed she’d sting me with the back of the plastic instrument, which was her way of saying, “hold still.” The womanly smell between her legs as I leaned my pulsating temples against her warm skin, the soft strength of her thighs holding me up, the aroma of the cool blue grease she rubbed into my hair before plaiting it and tucking me into bed, these are my most vivid memories of home.
Each morning my brother and I would meet in the bathroom that adjoined our oversized rooms. On weekdays we were awakened by the shouting of our mother, on weekends we would wake to the smell of bacon; both just as loud and equally unpleasant. The extra bedrooms were always occupied by those in need of a place. The heron addicted uncle who called out to his demons from the war at night, the religious aunt who was pregnant by the married minister, the cousin whose father never could and whose mother never would love him, my schoolmate who’s mother would take weekend trips and return months later, the kinfolks, the co-workers, the crippled. She took in everyone. But she would never not let us know that it was her house.
I’m the only one who slams doors in this house, she’d say, don’t you dare raise your voice in my house, she’d say, my house, my rules was the conclusion.
I quickly became aware that my time there was limited. I think all of the guests felt this, including my father who would depart before me. The home as we had come to know it would began to theoretically lean heavily on one side and eventually collapse. But it wasn’t the house’s foundation that began to rot, it was my foundation, my mother. As she became less reliable emotionally.
I retreated to literature as a refuge from our crumbling family. I began looking for a mother in Maya Angelou, Sonia Sanchez, and Audre Lorde. They picked up where my mother left off, when she had nothing left inside of herself to give me. They taught me about the complexities of womanhood. How we can be steel and water at once.
Photographer: Wonuola Lawal
Wardrobe & Creative Director: Adeola Naomi Aderemi
Make Up: Lady J
Text: Sasha Bonét