A Homecoming

by Tamuira Reid

The apartment in West Harlem, five buildings down on the left. The apartment just past the pawn shop, across from the Rite-Aid, parallel to the barber’s where all the pretty boys hangout waiting to get a Friday night shave. The apartment past the deli were you get cheese and pickle sandwiches and the all-night liquor store and the ATM machine no one is dumb enough to use.

The apartment at the top of the stairs with the impossibly high ceilings and the blue bathroom door, the door you labor behind for twelve hours before going to the hospital, your body threatening to push another body out. The apartment where you bring him home, his pink baby body covered in muslin and sweat. The apartment with the wide cracked stoop where you rest with his father just long enough to catch your breath, to say holy shit, he’s beautiful.

The apartment you now stand in front of, seven years later, holding onto a box of birthday-wrapped legos and your son’s hand. The apartment at Broadway and 138th. The apartment on the way to the party. The apartment half-way down a steep hill, the hill you lug your grocery bags down, and the hill you climb with your luggage. The apartment with a broken oven but perfect sunlight and enough closets to hide things in. The apartment in an old brownstone next to other old brownstones, framed by planter boxes filled with tulips and beer cans and night club fliers. The apartment owned by an angry old man and his needy young wife, a man who is stretched so thin he could give two fucks when you tell him the heat is out. The apartment where you sleep in a pile for warmth, arms and legs wrapped around one another, the baby squished between across the two of you.

The apartment that you fight in, fuck in, cry in. The apartment that sees a family at its very beginning and its very end. The apartment he left California for. The apartment with you in it.  The apartment where he slowly loses his mind while you watch from a corner. The apartment with a big hole in the wall, the one you cover with a, MTA subway map poster before guests come over. The apartment with a cat somewhere. The apartment full of bionic houseplants that he thinks thrive because he sings Radiohead songs to them and plays Alan Watts audio tapes around them. The apartment with four padlocks and a smoke detector in need of batteries. The apartment where you slap him across the face because you are scared of losing him. To whatever this is. The apartment with bottles and rubber nipples drying on the rack. The apartment with pills that don’t work. The apartment with abandoned teething rings and self-help books and tiny bowls of mashed-up blueberries. The apartment with a leaky roof and sauce pots to catch the water.

The apartment with the 24-hour laundry-mat five blocks away, the one you spend your Sundays in, washing their clothes and smoking cigarettes out front until they dry. Where you fold a thousand t-shirts and toddler socks and swim trunks and mittens. Where you look at your thrift store dresses that you never find a reason to wear. Where it smells like bleach and room spray, good smells trying to hide bad smells. The apartment where you haul this all back to, swearing that if you ever get rich you’ll never do laundry again. The apartment where the baby is asleep but he is up waiting for me. To talk. To figure this out.  But neither of us can or ever will.

The apartment that feels like a lifetime ago, before you got tired at the world, when your city dreams felt doable even though your life was a total shit-show because dreams keep people afloat like that. The apartment that looks different. The apartment that looks like it’s just about had it, too.

The apartment that when three people leave, only two come back. Get better, you tell him at the airport, knowing he won’t, he can’t, not yet. The apartment where his absence feels like its own kind of presence. Your boy stops asking questions and has the luxury of forgetting, the way only a new mind can. The apartment that you eventually outgrow and leave behind, taking nothing but your two year-old strapped to your chest. The cat left when he left and you think maybe they are getting better together.

The apartment that you now stand in front of, seven years later. The apartment with a smooth new stoop and compost bin and double-paned windows to keep the noise out – or in. The apartment on the way to the party. You ask your son to look up, pointing with one hand and shielding your eyes from the sun with the other. Right there, you tell him. We used to live there.