Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Now and then I like to tally up all the different places I’ve lived. Maybe it’s a pointless exercise, but it’s also interesting to wonder who’s living in those places now, and whether I might have left anything behind that offers a clue to my presence there.
As a kid I lived in seven different homes, one of them twice. The first I don’t remember because I was under three when we left, but I have glimpses of the second one, and clear memories of everything after that. The strange thing as I get older is that what seemed like lengthy periods of time when I was little turn out to have been only a year or two — so short that my parents probably didn’t have time to blink. For instance, the place I lived in twice was in a condo complex where it seemed like we lived for a long time. It was just two and a half years the first stint.
From 18 to 34, if you count two dorm rooms, I lived in another eight places. I made it a full four years in one of those — a record for me at the time. When you add up all the places I’d lived till then, my average stay was just over two years each. Yet I don’t feel like I was all that unstable, life-wise. Or restless. I think it just boiled down to how young people are always looking to upgrade or try something different. Plus they don’t have much stuff to haul around.
Heck, once I had a chance to live on the third floor of a 1900-era mansion on the street where T. S. Eliot grew up — better believe I snatched that one!
After that, things slowed way down. From 35 until this very moment (another 25 years), I’ve kept it down to five places, one of them for almost 16 years. One of those we left only because the owner sold it out from under us — an old farmhouse on 14 Sonoma County acres. The lengthy one we finally ditched because we found the perfect place for us, up here in beautiful downtown Cool, California. We expect to stay where we are for the duration.
Add ‘em all up and I’ve had 20 different roofs over my head. And someone is drinking coffee and watching TV and making love and painting walls and studying algebra and staring at the ceiling in every one of them now. Some of them I’d love to revisit, as you sometimes see people do — go up to the door and tell whoever answers, “I used to live here. Mind if I come in and look around?” And even though I’ve lived in some very old edifices, nobody’s ever done that to me. A man who knew someone who once lived in our house came by one day, so we gave him a picture of the place from the mid-1960s, when his friend might have lived there. A neighbor had given it to us. We don’t know if it ever got into the hands of the grown-up boy, though.
I remember when I was twelve, my father came to town and wanted to see his old stamping grounds in South St. Louis. We drove to the old neighborhood and even sat on his one-time porch, but it was only later that I realized he was just 35 at the time and already had a powerful nostalgic ache going. That seems to me now a little early for powerful nostalgic aches. He must have been working on something big and deep.
But my wife lived in the same house all her young life, and she has only a fraction of the roofs I have. She never wants to drive by her old place anymore. Any powerful nostalgic ache has long been synthesized and put to rest, and that’s probably an enviable spot to be in. I think she’s much more in the moment than I am, because I do get the yen sometimes to go to a place I once lived and look at it for a bit, see behind the windows and imagine the kid-ghosts in there skimming Tonka trucks across the rug or lowering GI Joes on a rope from the second-story sills into the unkempt bush out front.
Sometimes I think time doesn’t move in a straight line at all. It goes out in concentric ripples, and you can still catch up to a particular moment and relive it if you want. And visiting where you once lived is probably the easiest way to do that.
Happiness, of course, makes you less inclined to go time traveling.
[Title from a James Baldwin quote.]