So, I was thinking I should update, since it’s been a while and a whole lot has changed, but holy crap. It’s actually been a whole year (as of tomorrow) since last I wrote in this space. And that wasn’t really new writing. It was just writing that reflects a lot of what I was thinking about then, which is something I’m always thinking about: Â home.
Well. I’m currently thinking (and writing) about home while sitting on the couch in the living room in my house in Oakland. A house that I made an offer on, sight unseen, from Texas. A house that is big and rambling and 101 years old and in need of many repairs and breath-taking and frustrating and expensive and on Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, and there’s just something about that last bit–about there always being a Martin Luther King, Jr. Way or Boulevard or Drive. Always it runs through the black neighborhood, past proud brown stones or housing projects or blighted bungalows or despairing Victorians. Always it feels like the cork in the shaken bottle, both reparations for his murder and an easy boundary–a line in the sand.
In the Bay Area–in Oakland, as in many other cities around the country–neighborhoods are being redrawn, boundaries shifting. The irony of my managing to buy this house, on this street. It feels like a reclamation, a reinvestment. I am the first person in my immediate family to own a home since my great grandparents came to Chicago from Missouri sometime around the turn of the last century. My great-grandfather built his family’s house with his own two hands. When it caught fire and burned to the ground, he built it again. I saw that house when I was a child–its floors slanted, rooms in odd order. But it was still standing, 80 years after he built it. It was the greatest token of love he could give his wife and his 13 children: Â a home.
At my kick-ass Realtor‘s suggestion, I wrote a letter to the sellers to tender along with the offer. I dreaded writing it–I didn’t want to write something insincere or cloying. But when I finally made myself sit down with paper and pen, what I wrote was anything but insincere. I mentioned considering buying a house in Austin, but that I couldn’t reconcile it–because Austin isn’t home:
“North Oakland is. West Oakland is. The neighborhoods in which I lived first as a childÂ and then as an adult. The neighborhoods in which I found my dog, Java the Mutt,Â wandering the streets as a puppy in 2002. (Sheâ€™s 11 now.) The neighborhoods inÂ which I went door to door, getting out the vote, as an electoral volunteer in 2008. TheÂ neighborhoods in which my friends and family liveâ€”teachers and body workers andÂ community organizers and programmers and bartenders and filmmakers. Oakland isÂ home.”
So, I guess I’m just writing this to say that it hasn’t really sunken in yet, but I’m finally home. In a way I couldn’t imagine. In a way that means I can take care of my mother when the time comes. In a way that makes me think about raising children very differently. It feels, for the first time, like I’ve answered my own question:
Where is home?Â Here. It’s where I am.
It feels like I’ve given myself and my family the greatest token of love I could.