June 19, 2010

Life In Transit

I spent the first 17 years of my life doing basically nothing, going basically nowhere, living in the same house, sharing a room with the same sister, eating the same foods over and over again, and riding my ten speed along the same streets and within the same perimeter as on my first bicycle with training wheels and blocks on the pedals.

Then, the long-awaited shakeup occurred: I left home, and went away to college.

Before then, I'd rarely ever spent the night anywhere except in my own bed. My sister and I had shared a double bed at our aunt and uncle's house one night when our parents had to be out late, my knuckles constantly slamming into the adjacent wall, and the frame constantly creaking under our shifting bodies as the sound of trains kept us up all night. Other than that, I'd convinced my mother to allow me a couple of nights over at a friend's house, but my return the next day was always so nightmarish and abusive that it almost wasn't worth it to venture out.

After a year in college, things got so bad with my parents that eventually my father sat me down and said, "I think it would be better if you found somewhere else to sleep."

Little did he know, I'd already done that. Too many sobbing, late night phone calls to my friend Nicki had caused her parents to get a room in their attic ready for me, ready for whenever I needed it. I moved in the following summer, after bouncing around from friend-to-friend's house during the fall break, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and spring break that followed my eviction from my childhood home, a prison from which I was more than happy to be released.

Unfortunately, after only two years, I wore out my welcome at Nicki's house, too, and was back on the market, looking for a place to sleep.

Most of my adult life has been spent bouncing from bed to bed, from couch to couch, sometimes catching winks in conference rooms, cars, libraries, and bar banquettes. I slept on the floor of my own first apartment in Brooklyn in 1997 for a month until I was able to retrieve my childhood twin bed from my parents' house. I moved into a new apartment a year later, into another one three years later, into another one a year and a half later, and into my current apartment, where I've slept for nearly six and a half years, my longest run anywhere, ever, since childhood.

But it's not just my sleeping quarters that have changed, allowing me to get some rest relatively peacefully pretty much anywhere except the bathtub. Since March when I let my gym membership expire, I've taken advantage of every guest pass, coupon and trial membership I could find, bouncing me from various dance studios, fitness clubs, and public pools until my pass runs out and I have to move onto the next one. For the last 15 years, nearly every date has been different, rarely making it past the first one and never really getting used to just one person. Every rental car has been different, making nothing more familiar than the initial orientation session of adjusting mirrors and seat and searching for blinker, headlights, hazard lights, emergency brake, and gas tank. And now in the past month, I've ridden three different kinds of bikes, with various seat heights, gear shifts, bells and brake locations.

Somehow, after having been locked in a tower as a child, my life has taken such a dramatic turn in the opposite direction that nothing is more usual or normal than the new, the different, the unfamiliar, the unexpected, the unpredictable. I just expect it to be that way now.

I think all the upheaval in my life has given me an advantage over those who have dated one person longer, pedaled more regularly but always on the same bike, and driven their own car into the ground. The activity itself is just as - if not more - familiar to them, but only in one very specific context. For those people, if the pillow, lighting, or temperature in a hotel room is just slightly off from what they're used to, they're not getting any sleep at all.

As my lease nears its expiration at the end of August, and I still don't have a plan as to where I'm going to live - which borough, city, state, coast? - I wonder if I have to live anywhere at all. Do I have to sign another lease? Do I have to commit myself to another place, to choose where I'm going to be for the next year or ten, limiting my options of jobs to work, people to love, and trails to hike to only those within the immediate vicinity?

Or is my challenge now once that was very familiar to my young adult self: to simply find somewhere else to sleep?

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