My life has always been transient as far back as I can remember. It started out fairly normally when I was five, with a divorce. My parents split up, and my brother and I split our time with mom and dad, back and forth with a suitcase between houses and apartments in Dallas, TX. Eventually, my dad moved to East Texas to be closer to his parents, and the hours spent traveling from place to place, parent to parent, became longer and more routine.
Then came the night my mother was arrested. I was nine years old and had just started fifth grade; I was excited about joining orchestra and being accepted into my school’s Gifted & Talented program. I didn’t know yet how rough the path was going to become. A cop woke me up in the middle of the night and told me to get dressed. I don’t even remember if I got to pack a bag to take with me when my mom’s friend picked us up and took us to her house to wait on my dad. My brain did the best job it could to protect me from that evening and the years that followed by blocking out the worst details, but I remember learning the comfort of crafting and making that night.
Nowhere ever felt safe or comfortable again after that. My grandparents took us in and gave us a place to live, but it always felt tentative, like it could disappear at any moment. My room in their home was stable, but I always had a bag packed for inevitable trips to other dwellings. My grandparents did the best they could, and I know it was a difficult time for them. None of us expected to bear the burden of my parents’ irresponsibility. I’m incredibly grateful to them for their sacrifice, and the person I have become because of their influence.
The places where I lived reeked of guilt, insecurity, and impermanence. One day I would have a room at my dad’s trailer, the next day he would decide to knock the house down and build a rickety studio cabin where I had to sleep on the floor. Every moment in his house was tempered with wariness and a desire to flee; his abuse felt inescapable and inevitable. I never knew if I was going to end up crying myself to sleep during a barrage of drunken cursing and criticism, running away to a friend’s house, or sleeping in a tent in the yard to get away from him. I had a room at my mom’s, but I shared it with piles of junk and trash she hoarded for years, to the point where I was forced to sleep on the couch most visits instead of my own bed. She would prod and guilt me about moving back in with her, never realizing or caring about the toll it was taking on my fragile teenage mental health.
None of the adults in my life were capable of working in tandem to take care of my needs, so I searched for home in other people. My senior year, I moved in with a friend and her family so I could graduate from the same high school I had always gone to. They were kind to me and I was lucky to have them, but it was never home. At Sixteen, during this time, I met my first husband and immediately moved in with his family the day after graduation. In six years, he and I shared six addresses in two states, a testament to the chaos of that relationship.
Over the following nine years, I lived through: six more houses, three cities across Northwest, Southwest, and Central Arkansas, and a second marriage. When we bought our home, I thought that I had finally found a place to unpack all the boxes; I found a passion for renovating and doing projects to perfect my space. But, life happens, people change, and relationships end. I continued to live with my ex through the split, which was harmful for both of us but the options were limited. I lost that feeling of safety and comfort, and made desperate choices that took me away as much as possible. I got used to living out of suitcases and backpacks again. I hated myself for it.
October of 2018 was a make-or-break turning point for me. I felt the tiredness from years of running and moving and fighting through my deteriorating mental health deep in my bones and I knew I was either going to have to make life shattering choices or I was going to die. I quit my job and officially ended my relationship with my husband. I started embracing my anxiety and loneliness and letting myself breathe through it, instead of constantly running away from it. My friends showed me such grace, love, and support, especially my Rock Town Roller Derby family. In April, I moved into a place by myself for the first time in my entire life, and have experienced a kind of serenity I’ve never known. At the end of July, I’ll be moving back to Northwest Arkansas to teach ceramics at my dream school, and I feel pretty good about the journey.
I’ve started to see the wonderful features of my transient nature; it’s a beautiful thing that I can pack a bag and head anywhere and take care of myself. I’ve built a lifetime of practical skills that make me an asset to other people everywhere I go. I can enter any situation and make a dozen new best friends within minutes. The narrative has changed from “I will never have a home” to “I am my home, so everywhere is my home”. All I want is to continue learning to love and appreciate myself, and have a stable place to create and grow.
This photograph truly embodies the peace I feel about moving forward in my new life. I decided to pack a suitcase with all the treasures and keepsakes I could fit; these items represent the parts of my life that are vital and important to me. As long as I can read my favorite comics, drink coffee from beautiful, handmade mugs, make music on my own instruments, create art in my own voice, and skate endless roads, then I will be okay. No matter where I end up, I will be home wherever I am. Thank you, Don, for putting together this project and giving so many of us a space to reflect and be seen for who we have become in spite of setbacks and adversity. I am honored to be sharing my story thus far in the company of all these strong warrior queens.