Susanna-Cole’s Keepsake Home
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Location: Baltimore, Maryland
I was nineteen, in a dead-end job, daydreaming at a desk dusk to midnight – of seeing the world, instead of fluorescent strips of yellowed, artificial light tattooed under my eyelids, as I drifted to sleep. One day, without another thought, for the first time no longer thinking and fretting and worrying and turning over ideas and fears, I walked away from everything that was expected of me, bought a one way plane-ticket to a destination that could have been anywhere for all that it mattered then, applied for a passport, and told no one until it was too late to change my mind, to plant doubts or thwart plans.
I spent a few years, drifting in and out of countries, in and out of continents, in and out of jobs, and it’s not that I regret a moment of it, but eventually that too became empty, unfulfilling. I could no longer romanticize sleeping under rickety staircases, with cockroaches that spanned the breadth of my palm, in a 120 degree heat, but more than that I could no longer justify seeing almost unspeakable depths of suffering and poverty, and do nothing, because every penny I had was barely keeping me afloat, fed, and on the road.
So, I came home again, to the closest thing I knew as home: Baltimore, a city that has too known depths of suffering and poverty. A few hundred thousand have fled it, thousands more take it down a peg every chance they get, but what use is a complaint, if no action, no effort for change is made? I’ve come to the consensus that you should love the city you’re in, not its problems, but love its people, love your neighbors, love the way the sun comes through the trees like a kaleidoscope in late afternoon, and if you don’t love the way it is, change it.
After eight months of looking, I marched my belongings up three flights of stairs, moaning beneath my feet, in a historic 1870s row house that teeters precariously between paradise and lawlessness, until I was jelly-legged and gasping pathetically for breath. I first filled my apartment with what I had: books, mostly, whatever souvenirs I could fold, roll, and squeeze, into my pack, and sling over my shoulders, on my travels, along with a smattering of hand-me-down family furniture.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve become infatuated with history, in preserving—however imperfect and worn, in fact, the more worn and imperfect the better—fragments of the past, in remembering. Leafy palms mottle every room, which I do my best to mist, water, and prune appropriately, but that sometimes still must be relocated to the graveyard of the almost-dead plants on the fire escape. The wide-plank, original oak floors bear both sun fading and the birthmarks of residents past, from civil war poets, to painters, to prostitutes. The custom oak bookcases I had built, watch over me while I sleep, filled with books sleeved in crumbling book jackets, forgotten stories, many plucked from the stacks at the bookstore where every book is free (maybe one of my favorite things about Baltimore). But most of all I love the light, that throws its warmth and radiance through looming windows, that squeezes past drawn window shades late Saturday morning, to remind me that home is a good place to be.
Thanks, Susanna !
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