“Home isn’t a place, but a method.”
Cartography in East Durham is always, above all, a record of holy spaces. Which means my neighborhood welcomes me home at the same time that it tells me just how much my home is not mine.
It tells me on quiet weekday afternoons as I walk along Elm Street. If you want to hear it, too, it’s best if you get to Elm by turning left from Main; it’s the street between the chipped paint and barred windows of God First People Second Baptist Church and the banal grandeur of Refiner’s Fire Community Church. Both churches will be silent. If you’ve lived here long enough, you’ll know that Refiner’s Fire is always silent, despite its comparatively impressive size, and that God First People Second is always silent except late at night, when its congregation gathers outside under a makeshift awning with a pot of something to be ladled out. You’ll feel their silence as a fact embedded in the geography, and it’s that feeling that’s essential to this phenomenon, because if you keep walking down Elm, between the churches and across Morning Glory and Worth and Wall Streets, you’ll reach the crest of a hill. It’s not a hill anyone outside of the neighborhood would notice, but it is one that anyone who walks and bikes and drives it regularly can’t help but notice. And there, standing atop it, you’ll hear it, the sound rolling up from the bottom.
It will break the silence.
When I listen to it, I can almost see it, bouncing across the auxiliary government parking lot the hill falls off into and the lone wall of obscure origin standing, a ruin, in a field beside that lot. I can see it shifting through the neighborhood’s familiar valleys. The sound comes up the hill as a bark, a drum beat, an old Baptist sermon filtered through tape hiss and a blown speaker, its rhythms berating, pulsing, anything but soothing; it will overtake you, no matter how faint it is, will roll over you, will thunder and wince and move through these houses without expanding or dissipating into the other noise of the city for as long as you stand here. It will hold out against the voices from the bus stop and the dogs and the police sirens.
That sound is the voice of Dr. T. L. Peaks-Cash humming through the clapboard walls of the New Greater Zion Wall House of Miracles. Despite living in this neighborhood—just at the bottom of this hill, on Taylor Street—I have never met Dr. Peaks-Cash nor entered the New Greater Zion Wall House of Miracles, but I know the source because I can cite it from the sign posted where Taylor runs into Elizabeth Street, the street that marks the end of the neighborhood and the beginning of the rest of Durham.
The sound will recede as you head down the hill toward the church, a victim of some topographical trick. I imagine you’d hear it again as you approached the church, but I’ve never found out, because my house lies the other direction along Taylor. And because it is not a church for me.
But that voice. It is at once welcoming and resistant. I can hear everything about my neighborhood, about its particular warmth, about the lives lived here, about my home and the ways my home rejects me.
I have just heard Dr. Peaks-Cash, and now I am sitting at a teak cafe table in my bedroom. The table was “borrowed” from my partner Adrienne’s parents the way most of the furniture in this house was borrowed from somebody with vague promises of return waved away. I’m looking out the window the table is positioned under at the tree in my backyard that slopes at a near 45 degree angle and a hoopless basketball hoop whose plastic backboard and metal support pole have weathered to nearly the same color. I do not know what kind of tree it is because that is not the kind of thing I have ever known. The other tree, the one I can see in my neighbor’s yard if I look out the other window, is a pecan tree, which I know because a few months back it dropped a crop of rotten pecan pods over my yard that Adrienne identified and that we tried to harvest, only to find out how rotten they were.
Beyond my yard is another cinder block church, the Ecclesia House of Prayer, with a gravel lot that fills with cars and music on Sunday days and less so on Wednesday nights, and beyond the Ecclesia House of Prayer is a run-down apartment complex, all Soviet drab siding, that may or may not be Section 8, like the complex a few blocks to the west, on Elizabeth Street, just past the New Greater Zion Wall House of Miracles.
When I think about things as if they are out there, somewhere beyond where I am when I sit at this table, I think about what I know of Durham: that it’s an old tobacco town made of sanitized grit and tar left over from the factories and warehouses that sprouted up after the Civil War and left sometime in the 80s or 90s; that it’s an old blue collar town that’s proud of that fact; that people say it’s nothing like it was even five years ago, which is always polite code for it’s whiter and richer.
But what I actually see, right now, are three children standing in the culvert between the Soviet apartments and the church. They stand out against the dead winter growth in their neon T-shirts and they wander around and jump the culvert and look down and point at something that I probably wouldn’t be able to see even if I stood in the culvert with them, something from childhood and for children.
I have been searching for this window for a very long time. I have been searching for home, and it is here, amongst unknown trees and pecan trees, dilapidated backyards, and the diurnal scenes and rituals of the few blocks that comprise East Durham’s Golden Belt neighborhood—which I can now recognize, which now constitute the fabric of my life—that I have found it. I don’t need to meet Dr. T. L. Peaks-Cash to feel at home as her voice rolls over me.
And yet what I know about Durham seeps through my window. When I attempt to measure the difference between the out there I see and the in there they see, I find myself in an abyss, and I don’t know if you can build a home on an abyss.
I went to college in Chapel Hill. If you measure door to door, it’s 16.6 miles from my house. I think it was when I graduated, almost six years ago now, that adolescent yearning turned into an actual search for home.
Chapel Hill is the perfect place to be young, poor, educated, and dumb. It’s edenic. It lets your fantasies reign. I lived in a townhouse complex called Colonial Arms whose parking lot sign had been vandalized to say “Colonial Presidents Parking Only.” I found it hilarious.
My parents still helped with rent then and the windfall of graduation cash kept me afloat on shit beer and cheap tacos. Bars ran free beer specials for minimal covers, and I spent enough time there that I had friends who got deals at the other bars too, and I took advantage of all of them. I spent a great deal of time drinking. I played Super Mario Brothers in beat up Soviet-style apartments and I basked in sunlight on the campus quads and I read many books that I didn’t understand and I felt very good about myself, like shiftlessness was essential to learning.
This was very important to me. I thought reading books you didn’t understand was a mark of maturity, of an intellectualism I tried to cultivate and that always came crashing down on me whenever I had to voice an opinion on anything. I went to protests organized by Students for a Democratic Society and Student Action With Workers and I was enthralled with Slavoj Žižek and I fought my way through Foucault. I felt important. I felt like I was doing important things.
And I loved everything about it until suddenly I didn’t anymore.
This is a thing that happens to people. There is a world that contains all and everything, a world we find ourselves awed with, that we wonder at and that we explore, mouths agape with joy, and slowly, assuredly, beneath our notice, the world shifts. It changes us or we change it or we realize that we never were the we we imagined and neither was the world the world we imagined. Then it’s no longer us and this world existing together, but us here and the world there and we suddenly feel like we are individual, alone, not a part of this thing that had once been us.
And that is how I explained what was happening to me in the most grandiose of terms when I got dumped. It was my first real girlfriend and it should have ended long before it did. Maybe it shouldn’t have ever started; neither of us had ever been particularly good to the other. But when it was gone, this thing I had spent so much of my time fretting over, fighting about, drinking to cope with, I realized it was far from the only relationship propped up on boredom and lack of better options. I was suddenly tired of the friends I had grown close to, suddenly aware they were just bodies to fill a room at a party. It was true of some of them; others were just victims of my aimlessness, and I threw away their friendships with little cause. I treated some people with such a callousness I’m still shocked by the memories.
But I couldn’t talk about that because all I could talk about were discursive fields and ideological structures and the meaninglessness of life under late capitalism. It didn’t help that the stock market crashed shortly after. I watched the news tick by with strained voices in a tube TV bolted above the door of a gas station. I’d stopped there to fill up on my way back to my parents’ house, which at that point I would have still called my house. I remember thinking that it was a day I should remember, though I don’t remember much else about it. But it became my excuse, my justification. I sent poorly thought out applications to jobs I didn’t want and I blamed my unemployment on the economy. All my personal turmoil stemmed from a global economic catastrophe; I had read the Communist Manifesto, so I knew it could be nothing else.
This certain mix of learning, experience, and a foolhardy ignorance of how little of either you really have makes it easy to blame big things for little problems. Then, of course, I considered myself insightful. I got it. I understood the world. So I did what all enlightened young adults do: I moved to Brooklyn.
I threw myself a big goodbye party and bragged about my grand plans and I flew up for a week to look for a place to live. My first night, I slept at a Days Inn in Sunset Park and I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the shower and I was too embarrassed to ask the front desk so I splashed myself with water from the tub’s faucet because I didn’t trust the tub to be clean, not really, and I’m not the kind of guy to take a bath anyway. Eventually I found a place in Greenpoint, subletting from a guitarist in a band I had vaguely heard of—a fact that gave me great pleasure.
I spent about a month in the city roaming in the same peripatetic way I roamed Chapel Hill but feeling much more lost and therefore much better about myself. I felt like I was doing exactly what a person in my place—that is to say, progressive, educated, and unemployed—should be doing. I overpaid for a bike and used it to see shows and museums and parks and to listen to the Pavement reunion tour from a rock in Central Park. I tried to counterprotest the protest against the mosque being built across from the World Trade Center, but found nothing, so I went to see the new Freedom Tower but could only see construction site fences. I got a job as an organizer and I quit halfway through my first day for principled reasons that were mostly true. I tried to work on a farm in Vermont owned by a glassblower who had known Warhol in a previous life and who designed the MTV movie awards statue—I went there for a long trial weekend to meet the family and it was quiet and I appreciated the stars I had always been able to see in Chapel Hill but that had been vacant in Brooklyn and it was like no other place I’d ever been and I never went back. I kept a blog that my friends actually read and liked, or so they told me. When my sublease ended I visited my aunt and uncle in suburban Connecticut and I felt loved and welcomed and I realized that I was deeply, deeply unhappy. I wanted to go home, but I didn’t know what that meant.
In retrospect, it seems like the process of growing up is the process of recognizing that your ideas are not your own. Your dreams are adaptations of things you’ve seen and internalized, repainted to trick yourself into imagining their originality, changing them into something you’ve convinced yourself is a part of you and erasing their origins.
I realize this because when my Brooklyn move failed, I doubled down on stereotypical depressed, privileged young white guy activities and decided to wander the country.
After Brooklyn, I stayed briefly at my parents’ house in Columbia, South Carolina, but I found my pride under assault by the very idea, so I quickly found a sublet in downtown. (I worked to forget the fact that my parents had to help with the first month’s rent.) My new roommates both worked at a pizza place and helped me get a job there too. I thought I would save money for my trip, but the place was owned by a man who had spent five years in jail for faking his own death— he dug up the body of a Mexican man four decades his senior and burned it in his car, trying to pass it off as himself— and he ran the pizza place in much the same way, so it wasn’t exactly lucrative. But it supplied me with enough cash, plus more people to know, more bodies to fill a room. My roommates and I threw an eviction party and drank moonshine one of their friend’s made and I met one of their girlfriends, a woman named Adrienne. She threw a machete at my foot. I still kept my blog, but no one read it anymore: travel blogs aren’t worth much when you aren’t traveling.
My plan had been to leave on New Year’s Day. I spent the weeks before applying to more “real” jobs I still didn’t want and to PhD programs with the other disaffected, aimless youth, and then when it came time to leave I couldn’t quite leave my parents and my sister—they were too kind, too loving. But the urge to run won out and a few days after 2011 came into existence, I had breakfast with them and sat down in my car loaded with clothes and a sleeping bag we bought for a family camping trip ten years prior, and I left them waving from the parking lot as I turned onto a road I used to drive for fun, a vague route planned out into the future.
Athens was first. Then Knoxville and Nashville and Greenville and Asheville and Knoxville again and Sevierville. Then Birmingham and New Orleans and Pierre Part and Austin and Wimberley and back to New Orleans and on out west through Texas plains and Arizona deserts and California beauty and up to Portland. I remember so much about that trip. I remember the party at Bella Lugosi’s house in LA and standing alone, intruding in the 9th Ward. I remember the farmhand in Tennessee saying “you have to cut the dead off it” and thinking it was profound even if she was just talking about a blackberry bush. I remember more than I think I can ever recount, but I’m forgetting so much more.
I remember thinking that for once I felt like I had seen America, that I had seen this land that birthed me and the ideas I had stolen, the culture that fostered all the Jack Kerouac jokes people told me and that I hated because that wasn’t me, that wasn’t what I was doing, didn’t they understand?
That voice moving up from down the hill at the New Greater Zion Wall House of Miracles tells me that I’m a gentrifier, whatever its words are. I am not gentrifying for style, nor ease, but for necessity: when I moved into this house I made somewhere near $12,000 a year. I don’t have a car. This is, simply, where I could afford to live. But my income was still 20% higher than the neighborhood’s median and that voice, that sermon Dr. T. L. Peaks-Cash is singing, is not for me, no matter how welcoming that church may be. I am a sign of change, a sign that the home this neighborhood provided when it was built to house the workers at the mill nearby—the mill that’s now luxury lofts—is no longer what it was.
I’ve been told this history of the neighborhood, but as I sit at Adrienne’s parents’ teak table, I watch more children in the culvert while the light dies before us all, quickly now like it’s got someplace to be, and I think for a moment that this neighborhood isn’t so different than the one I grew up in, where I lingered around the collapsed bridge that once crossed the drainage canal for the pond near my elementary school. And yet the glare from the lamp on my bedside table will soon darken the world and I will see nothing but myself reflected in the window, and that seems fitting. My presence haunts those children already.
There are more children out there now. They came from around the apartment building, gathering together on the slope and laughing and talking.
I think I hear gunshots.
That isn’t exactly rare here. People call my neighborhood dangerous, and though I always want to say it isn’t, I think I’ve heard the gunshots that killed six or seven people in the year I’ve lived here. One time it was a teenager. It was just a few blocks away, and he was shot nine times in the chest at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday. This week a woman was found dead in the street about a mile away. The reports said it’s an area known for prostitution; I hadn’t known that.
I guess what I mean to say is that my neighborhood isn’t dangerous for me. My life here is defined by waving to my neighbors and them waving back and talking about the weather with Harold, the guy at the end of the street who walks with his six dogs, Labs and Rottweilers and Shepherds, loping next to him, a delicate chain laid along their backs as though it might be tied to something, though it never is. Harold’s hood is always pulled tight around his face, which is speckled with a grey beard. I sometimes wonder if I should ask him if he ever found a shoe, a left one, in his yard, because I think one of his dogs stole it off my porch one day. Other times I wonder if Harold knows Dr. T. L. Peaks-Cash. He tells me that he walks his dogs down to the creek near there in the summer, the one the culvert drains into, to let them splash around and cool off from the heat.
But that’s just it: I’m always wondering about these picayune details of friendliness, of neighborliness, of whether or not I belong here, and never about getting shot, because that’s not what sparks a shooting. Those kids in the culvert though? For all the childishness they display, a childishness I once shared with them, I have no idea whether their reality is the same as mine, whether they wonder at the same things. And yet they’re just there, outside my window, just beyond the tree whose name I don’t know.
Of course, the fact that I am here, that this tree is my tree, even if just for the length of my lease, is just the problem. Gentrification is a part of Durham. It is everywhere. In downtown, the American Tobacco Campus stands, its central water tower lit up like the small-town version of a skyline. It used to house the largest tobacco company in the world, one of the first targets for the Sherman Antitrust Act. Now its buildings remain with more lofts, restaurants, signs that look old and might actually be, offices for companies that like to call themselves boutiques. Conveyor belts run between the buildings like skeletal remains of a dead economy, the pallbearers of a political economy of place that turned the very heart of the old New South, the heart of robber baron capitalism, into a photo collage of a fairer, organic world that doesn’t exist.
One story from my trip I always remember how to tell is the one from Wimberley.
I had made plans to work on a farm there, had driven hours and hours from New Orleans to get there and had knocked on the door and seen the look of confusion on the owner’s face as I told her about the agreement we made. She had forgotten me. I couldn’t stay, she said. We sat down so she could explain how a young woman had called her and said she needed a place to work and the owner said okay and started telling me about this woman’s boyfriend and the story started to sound familiar, like the plans my roommate from Columbia had made and told me about, but before I could piece it together, I saw her, the answer, Adrienne, walking by the window, like we weren’t 1,200 miles from where we’d seen each other last.
Actually, I tracked the number of miles I drove on that trip, wrote them down with each journal entry I made as markers of time, of age. There’s a gap in my journal between mile 3,363, marked on February 3, 2011, and mile 4,609, marked on February 9, and sometime in there, sometime when I stopped notating distance, was the day I saw Adrienne on a farm in Wimberley, Texas. When I saw her, I knew why I hadn’t been angry when she threw a machete at my foot, but it still took me another 8,000 miles or so to admit exactly what I had seen, to admit to myself who she was to me.
I did, though, eventually. I admitted that I was in love with her. (Adrienne has her own version of this story, and she always adds: finally.)
There were complications, of course. Adrienne moved to a farm in North Carolina and I continued on my trip, then toward home. And somewhere on the circuitous road between Wimberley and Columbia, I got an email telling me I’d been accepted to a master’s program at the University of Chicago. I hadn’t applied to a master’s program at the University of Chicago. The letter started, “I know you must be disappointed to hear that you were denied from the PhD program,” but I was elated. I only second-guessed myself for a few minutes as I was signing the loan paperwork. By the time Adrienne and I started dating, I knew I’d be moving to start the program. Somehow, turning a weeks-old long-distance relationship spread over 232 miles into a long-term relationship spread over 764 miles seemed like the right choice. There were fights and stressful visits, but only one tearful night of hopelessness, and it was gone by morning.
Adrienne was there while I wrote a thesis about the structure of political movements and I read more Marx and more critical theory. She listened to me as I developed more refined political ideas, and we walked past the Occupy protests together, but only once: I saw someone in a rat costume and started thinking the movement had adopted too many of capitalism’s marketing methods to succeed. We talked about the importance of the Arab Spring, and I talked more about it in seminars. I felt less aimless that I had in Chapel Hill, and now I felt like that was a sign of maturity, of a more refined intellectualism.
After nine months, I finished the program and Adrienne moved up to live with me.
I took the first job I could, for SongLyrics.com, but when the CEO fell out with the owner, I left. Adrienne worked at a bar, and then found a temp job that turned into a salaried position. My temp jobs were few and far between, so I started adjuncting at community colleges, but that only left me with increasing debt, $12,000 a year, and little sleep. We had very little money, but we went out to nice dinners that we couldn’t afford on our birthdays and we crowded around a bar table to watch Obama get elected again after months of discussion about economic recovery and universal health insurance and Benghazi. We had friends over for dinner and sat around and drank beer and talked. I appreciated these people. I knew that they weren’t just bodies.
We were making a home.
I didn’t think much about gentrification at the time, not like I do now, but it was true then too. We lived in Humboldt Park, a Puerto Rican neighborhood on Chicago’s Northwest Side. Parades would march through the neighborhood streets with people waving and honking and shouting and we never could figure out what they were for. I googled “Puerto Rican independence day,” but it was the wrong month. The people were nice, though: they waved at us and said hello and we laughed as we walked by the families grilling out and drinking beer, laughed because they were laughing and we wanted to laugh too, though we didn’t know at what.
After a year, Adrienne decided she couldn’t handle the cold and that we were too far from family, and since I still couldn’t get into a PhD program and I knew I wanted to be wherever she was, we decided to move back home.
Suddenly that’s what North Carolina was to me: home. Whenever we were back for holidays, I would drive between Columbia and Chapel Hill, the same route along Highway 1 I took when I was in college. I’d pass through Camden, Cheraw, Rockingham, all the small towns between my two onetime homes, and they were becoming familiar, markers of a land that I knew.
Adrienne’s home, it turns out, is on the same route, in Southern Pines. Now, we would stop there too, and everything about that trip changed, took on new meaning. Highway 1 was a through line traversing my life, the stages I’d gone through, the homes I’d made.
We decided Durham would be a good place for us, that it had the right mix of geography, cost, and culture. We found our house for rent online and we signed the lease as quick as we could. We’d even taken care of other formalities like completing post office change of address forms, clearing out bills, etc.
After a few months, I found a full-time job—it’s my first with a salary and benefits. I’m working for the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau, selling the idea of Durham to the world. I have to write about American Tobacco and the new hotels and luxury condos as though they are idyllic, and I write about Durham’s history, and the tobacco companies and the proud black community, and I never get to say much about how that community is scattered by all the things I praise.
When I left Chapel Hill, I thought I was looking for something new. A new home. I thought something was missing—from Chapel Hill, from my life—and if I could only find it and point to it, I could anchor my life on it. I pictured home as something static. I thought it was the kind of thing you could claim, as if all homes were Plymouth Rock awaiting a declaration of ownership.
But, then, Plymouth Rock is just a myth. And even in the myth, it was plundered.
It’s all too easy for the idea of searching for home to revert back to America’s founding, to images of scouring a landscape in search of a suitable place to mark as your own, with resources for a decent life. The issue isn’t just that claiming resources means others can’t, but that the very idea of demarcating a place as home is impossible, utterly misguided. Home simply isn’t that kind of thing. It consists of too much that is immeasurable. There is no way to account for the ways we make our home in the world, and the ways our homes affect those living around us, other than continually revising our account of what makes a home what it is, of what makes us feel at home. It will always, above all, be a question of what you value, and of what you are able to value.
My window is no longer my window.
Over the two years I’ve been writing this essay, my home has never stopped changing.
First, our landlord forced us out of our house. She told us she had to sell it because she needed money, and that she wanted to sell to a family because it was better for the neighborhood. When I mentioned this to her realtor, I was told she’d sell it to anyone, but a family would pay more than an investor. We packed our stuff and exchanged terse emails about when she could show the house and payments for breaking the lease and whether we could hang dry laundry during a showing, and we agreed to move out the day after Independence Day, as fate would have it.
We found a new place, a smaller one, a duplex on the edge of the rich neighborhood, in a complex that marks the unofficial border between the rich houses with the grand porches and sprawling gardens to the west and the other duplexes to the east, the ones across from the boarded up buildings with mold warnings and the power lines sprawling out from the substation, the ones that spill mariachi music into the night during their cookouts. The ones that are down the block from the Covenant of Grace Divine Holy Church of God, Inc., the only church in our immediate vicinity.
I found our old house listed for $100 more a month than we paid. Our old neighbor told us the new couple that moved in were nice. They reminded her of us. When I asked how, she said they were a young white couple with a dog who came and went and waved and chatted.
A few months after that, America changed. Black activists around the country wouldn’t let us forget about the plunder that founded this country. Because of them, I saw the pictures of Michael Brown’s body in the street, the video of Eric Garner’s last breaths. Adrienne and I went to a protest and listened to speakers, poets, singers explain their experiences. They described their countries, their cities, their neighborhoods. Their homes. “Your presence is oppressing me,” one of them said. We went to another protest and marched past the jail, blocked the highway, circled by the police station. We marched alongside American Tobacco, where riot police lined the roadways, protecting the jewel of Durham. I never chant at protests, but my voice grew hoarse that night, and as I walked amongst my neighbors, followed their route over the city I thought I knew, I felt at home among them.
In the months that followed, I felt worse about my job. At a staff meeting, our CEO read a letter someone had written to the local government saying the crowds from the protests had convinced her Durham was too dangerous, too unruly to visit. The CEO seemed to think this was a point of concern, not pride. The pace of development in downtown seemed to quicken, and I had to write articles about the splendor of Durham’s new downtown hotels, about how great of a city it is for “creatives,” for college graduates, for start-ups.
I proposed to Adrienne. I used my grandmother’s ring and I asked over breakfast in our new dining room. I wanted to pay homage to the way I feel at home with her.
I pitched an essay to Jacobin critiquing what I saw in Durham. It was accepted. It was my first published essay that someone besides my family would read. Someone tweeted the CEO and asked whether I was really the kind of person she wanted to employ. My account of Durham, it seems, was incompatible with their civic pride. I was called into a meeting with my boss and my boss’s boss and my boss’s boss’s boss and the CEO and was told I could never write about Durham again, that I wasn’t allowed to express political opinions that might jeopardize their ability to woo developers.
I spent a great deal of time talking with Adrienne about my job, about my unhappiness there, about my guilt. She told me to quit, and a few months later, I did. I wish I could say it was totally principled, but it wasn’t. The job was frustrating, and I waited until I found other work that came with a salary and benefits.
The person who tweeted the CEO was right, maybe. Maybe I shouldn’t have been working at the visitors bureau. The account they give of this city is not one I can accept.
On March 23, 2011, I wrote a journal entry, marked as mile 12,787 of my road trip. It read, simply, “Home!”
I stopped using an odometer to measure my place in life, but since that day I’ve tried to estimate it with time (it’s now it’s been six years since I left Chapel Hill) and money (I’m making $45,000 a year now) and words with my neighbors (too many to count). All are inadequate.
When I started looking for home I explained away my own life as part of something larger, as though I wasn’t just a person trying to be happy, to find a place I could be happy in. As though I had no control. Now I can’t help but see the problematic running in the other direction: in trying be happy, all of my actions bleed out into other lives, communities I never meant to touch, oppression I never meant to contribute to. Yet, for all my privilege, I don’t have the power to fully control those effects either, not really; my actions are conditioned by landlords, jobs, markets. The measurements that matter to me now are the little ones: a mile to my office, a mile to my brother-in-law’s apartment, two and a half hours to my parents and my sister and a little over an hour to Adrienne’s parents.
I have no idea how to reconcile those with data showing the rising cost of living, racial discrepancies in police stops, statistics about likely sites of gun violence, yet I know these two realms are always connected.
Home isn’t a place, but a method. The lines we use to demarcate it are always inadequate impositions. They must always been redrawn; we must always remember that they are provisional, lest we begin to think they contain us. To be at home is to be responsive to the world, to take responsibility for it and for the lines we’ve drawn over others, the lines we’ve imposed upon them. It is to find, somewhere amongst the mess of claims and injustices and the bankrupt accounts we tell ourselves, a way to find a happiness that we can live with.
I don’t hear a voice from the Covenant of Grace Divine Holy Church of God, Inc. like I did from the New Greater Zion Wall House of Miracles. I don’t see many children playing out of the window over my desk in my new house, either. But sometimes I play soccer with my neighbor’s kid in the communal yard out back, next to another tree whose name I don’t know.