First Times and Borrowed Spaces

“Like wildflowers; You must allow yourself to grow in all places people thought you never would.”

E.V.

My first memory of experiencing what I would later describe as melancholy was when I was about five years old. I was sitting on the bottom step of our staircase in front of the front door to our house in Berryville, VA and looking out the window onto our street. My parents had just told me that we would be moving a long way away– to a state called Washington and it meant we had to get on a plane and when we got there we were going to have a new house, a new school, we’d make new friends, and get new bedrooms that we could pick ourselves and it was going to be so exciting.

But as I fogged up the window panes with my breath, I took note of the view that I’d be missing and this adventure with all these new things suddenly didn’t feel so exciting.

I could see my neighbors’ houses from that window; the houses where my best friends Matthew and Katie lived. Our front yard– it reminded me of throwing snowballs at my brother in the winter and the sweltering heat of summer that introduced long days of playing outdoors. I remembered staring out the very same window when Cinderella herself (AKA a life-size cardboard cutout from a Food Lion display that my uncle snagged from work to give to me) rang our doorbell and waltzed into our house. My world was only as big as our street, the Food Lion, my grandma’s house, the preschool I went to, and my bedroom with the enormous waterbed and Ariel sheets. In this house we adopted my beloved cat, Sophie (whom I wanted to name Sleeping Beauty, but was outvoted),  I unwrapped my hot pink Barbie Dream House on what I declared to be “The BEST Christmas ever!”, my brother and I got double chicken pox, and I went to school for the first time ever (I still remember the Meg jumper I wore on the first day). How was there any possible way this weird place with this weird name that I could hardly pronounce could contain as many memories as Berryville? What would happen to those memories? Do they just go away?

It turned out that Duvall, Washington could in fact contain quite a bit and it was breeding ground to a lot of “firsts”. It was my first time being the “new kid” when I started Kindergarten in the middle of the year, but what’s odd is that I don’t remember it taking long to adjust. I liked my new school and I liked my teacher. I met plenty of friends and I joined the Girl Scout troupe. Duvall quickly became my new home– I took ballet and tap classes, I loved our huge forest backyard, and I found another set of neighbor friends. The once foreign and mysterious Washington was where I first learned how to ride a bike without training wheels and first took swimming lessons at the community pool– skills that I have since lost confidence in from infrequent of use.

But, just when Duvall stopped seeming new, suddenly we were packing boxes and dreaming of what life would be like in the next new house…

A year and a half later, we moved across the country to Nashville, TN. What sticks out most prominently in my mind about the move to Nashville was the talk my mom had with me and my brother when we first got to the new house. We were sitting on the couch, this was right before I started 2nd grade, and mom said “This is a fresh start”. The concept of a fresh start didn’t carry much weight to me at the time because I hadn’t lived long enough to have a need for one, but for some reason I held onto it and have heard that phrase echoing in my head at every pivotal point in my life since: “This is a fresh start”

What I loved about Nashville was, first and foremost, being a Granberry Gecko. My school pride rivaled the most obnoxious, diehard college football fans— I had Granberry swag all over my bedroom, we had Granberry bumper stickers on my mom’s van, my parents came to all the family fun events like that one time we had actual green eggs and ham for breakfast in the cafeteria, and I even became obsessed with writing short stories about me and my Granberry friends going on adventures and solving mysteries inside the school. I also loved climbing our neighbor’s tree (even though we weren’t supposed to) and riding my Razor scooter around the manmade pond next to our house. Hammersmith Court was the street we lived on and while I don’t have a single contact in my cell phone memorized,  I can still to this day recite our home phone number from way back then. Nashville was home to firsts such as my first sleepover (cut short because down the street was actually really, really far at 10pm when you’re 9), the first time I read a chapter book (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) and began to fall in love with words (inspired by my brilliant third grade teacher, Mrs. Williams, and the importance she placed on reading time), and the first time I actually loved learning and began to dream about who I would be when I grew up (inspired by Mr. Fagen’s fourth grade class. He even let me teach the class a short lesson on Paul Revere when I told him I wanted to be a teacher– my classmates were just about as interested as my stuffed animals and attentive as my little brother when I forced him to play School).

After a little over two years, when my parents announced that we’d be moving again– this time to Memphis– was when I started to think of the spaces we inhabited as “borrowed” because no matter how deeply the roots seemed to be that I planted, they would inevitably be repotted.

Memphis firsts included my first serious crush (a classmate in my fifth grade class named Trevor), the first time feeling betrayed by a friend (when Lauren told Trevor I liked him at our class Valentine’s Day party), the first time I had an anxiety attack (I was one of the first girls in sixth grade to get a period and Lauren decided it’d be hilarious to tell everyone in the bathroom this fact while I was hidden in a stall… so naturally girls started throwing toilet paper over the stall and beating on the door yelling “Bloody Mary”…. me and Lauren didn’t stay friends long), the first time I experienced rejection when I didn’t make the color guard (Guess who did? …Lauren…). Memphis was also home to the first time I ever worked super hard and got something I wanted (when I religiously took dance classes and worked my butt off to get on the pom squad and then we won the National Championship in Orlando), the first time I awkwardly attended a school dance, first (and last) time I wore Abercrombie and Fitch to try to fit in, my first kiss and my first “boyfriend” (TBT to Jordan and his seventh grade rattail).

Memphis was a borrowed space for about four years and right before I started high school, we moved back to Nashville. This time, Williamson County and this time– I wasn’t melancholy or indifferent, I was mad. It’s strange how those few years between child and teenager can change one’s perspective on a familiar space so drastically. I didn’t want to go back to Nashville. I was too old to care about visiting my favorite tree next to our old house or going out to eat at our favorite restaurants from before. I was tired of borrowing and resented being uprooted, especially when I was about to start high school; being the new kid when you’re 14 is a lot different than when you’re 7. (Besides, I was “in love” with my guitar-shredding, punk rock wannabe boyfriend and being ripped away from him was just unfair.) But, even teenagers at their most stubborn can be malleable and it didn’t take long for Nashville to appear to me in a new light. In Nashville (the second time) was where I first started doing theatre, had my first part time job, failed a class for the first time, snuck out of the house and was subsequently grounded for the first time, met “my people”– friends I actually connected to in a meaningful way for the first time, and learned to drive a car.

I decided to stay in Nashville for college, where I indulged in a series of first “adult experiences that in hindsight I could have absolutely done without. After college I began to get the itch to leave Nashville because something inside of me was screaming “fresh start” and I had the inkling that my time borrowing this space was up. However, I begrudgingly lingered in Nashville living with a boyfriend in a space that was borrowed from his parents and piled high to the sky with remnants of a life not lived. After a narrow escape, I had a brief stay borrowing an apartment with a friend (we were both broken-hearted and undergoing major transitions, so the space never felt permanent and the ties were severely poorly). I blamed my instability on my surroundings and sought new territory by means of acting contracts. My first taste of the professional actor’s life was in Upstate New York. Perks included my very own studio apartment and that much needed, much anticipated fresh start. Aside from stipend work at local theatres, this was my first major professional contract, it was the first time I had ever lived more than 30 minutes away from my parents (the first time I had gone more than 3 days without seeing my parents), the first time I had to manage money on my own, and my first real winter.

After my contract in NY, two things happened: I quickly picked up speed in collecting temporary homes and became obsessed with getting rid of stuff because all of my stuff had to fit into three or less suitcases. Because these events seemed to be happen in rapid succession of each other, I’m going to spare your time by putting them in a bullet point list:

  • I booked a role at a theatre in Lexington, KY. In Kentucky, I experienced having a roommate for the first time (which was lovely) and having to make the tough decision to stand up for myself and leave a contract early for the first time (which was not so lovely).
  • When I left Lexington, I moved back into my parents’ house and borrowed my old bedroom back because I knew I was leaving, but I didn’t know when. This was the first time I felt shame for living at home and for not having “my shit figured out”.
  • I booked a role at a theatre in Damariscotta, Maine and borrowed a magical little lake-view actor housing apartment and the role of a lifetime. It was the first time I witnessed natural beauty beyond the capacity of a photograph. 
  • Not two months later, I borrowed a tiny dorm style room back in upstate New York for a brief summer contract. This was my first time being a “boss”… and my first time realizing that I’m more of a loyal follower than a fearless leader.
  • Five months later, I booked an understudy contract at a theatre in Philadelphia (if you want more on that, read What I’m Doing While I’m Not Acting). My stay in Philadelphia was the first time I lived with essentially zero privacy and the first time I romanticsized about literally every other living situation I had ever had because I realized…

I’m not a live-out-of-a-suitcase-kind-of-girl. When people would say to me, “Wow, I admire your gypsy soul. I definitely couldn’t do that!” I wanted to scream because by this point, I was exhausted. In my heart of hearts, rather than running from “fresh start” to “fresh start” and borrowing spaces, I want a place to hang my coat and take off my shoes, I want a table to set my keys on (so I can at least pretend that I won’t lose them), I want a shelf that my coffee mug sits on, and damnit– I want a bed to make every morning! This epiphany dawned on me repeatedly every time I had to lug those three suitcases anywhere– through the streets of Philly, in and out of Lyfts and trains, to New Jersey (where I upgraded to a blow up mattress), and helplessly up and down the NJ transit station when my Megabus refused to pick me up for my final journey home because of my three suitcases. I had grown to lean on those suitcases as my lifeline and only belongings and at the same time, I loathed them for the nuisance and entrapment they had become. When my contract in Philly ended, I moved back to Nashville and didn’t have the first clue what I was going to do or where I was going to go next. As long as I’ve lived in Nashville, for the first time, when I came back in March I actually saw it as not just another borrowed space, but my hometown. I was sitting at a bar in East Nashville, drinking two for ones with my boyfriend and talking through possibilities— should I go to Tallahassee with my parents? Take a chance and move to a big city? Audition for more out-of-town contracts? Move to Lancaster to be closer to my extended family?— when I admitted to myself for the first time that it’s okay to crave stability and being an artist doesn’t mean that I am required to give up the basic, basic need of knowing where I’m going to sleep and for how long. We live in a culture that loves to glamourize the “suitcase and a dream” mentality. So many stories start with, “I only had ten dollars in my pocket and a bus ticket”. Well you know what? That sounds absolutely TERRIFYING and EXHAUSTING to me and guess what? I’m still just as much of an artist as rest of them. 

After 26 years of living in borrowed spaces, I have learned this: I am a wildflower. I am resilient. I have the ability to bloom wherever I’m planted and a deceivingly dormant ability to evolve to my surrounds because though I sometimes resist, I am more than capable of change.

There is something inherently melconcholy about borrowed spaces because impermanence is scary. There is also something exciting about them because it’s usually the very start of new possibilities, or as my mom likes to say, “a fresh start”. But the important thing to recognize is that your borrowed space doesn’t need to define you. I spent hours gripping over my situation to my best friend while he let me stay with him in New Jersey. I complained until the air mattress I slept on sank to the floor and the whole time my primary woe stayed the same: “I’m sick of everything being so temporary” and his advice (with loving sass and bluntness) never faltered: “Then change it”. Only you can give yourself the permission to plant your roots and rest. And you know what’s awesome? If you don’t like where you’re planted, you can dig yourself up and plant yourself somewhere new whenever you feel like it because you’re the gardener of your own life. It’s up to you to tend and nourish your garden.

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My studio apartment in Auburn, New York

 

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