Miss’shitty

I was speeding down I-10 East in a 2014 Ford Fusion as black as the night around me and blasting Duran Duran. I felt at peace, in my element; a big fish in a small pond. The woman working at Enterprise tried to make small talk with me and I ended up inadvertently elevating it to medium talk; she asked if I was traveling for work and I told her no. She was taken aback by my obvious youth in contrast to the itinerary I have lined up for myself, and we parted ways with me feeling a boost of sorts in the wake of returning back to where days are slow and torturously hot. Welcome back, Sarah. People are still shocked by your rock ‘n roll lifestyle.

I arrived in Hattiesburg around 1am, stopping first at Wal-Mart on the off chance that there were avocados inside that we worth a salt. Some guys in ribbed tank tops and snapbacks with nothing better to do were loitering in the parking lot and all turned to look at me as I walked past them with the strut of a woman who, in a Lacoste dress and carrying Kate Spade handbag full of receipts in other languages, just wanted some guacamole and wasn’t having any of their dim-witted misogyny. As I passed them, I could feel their eyes on me and inside I was hissing, willing them to say something to me (because a woman who carries herself well is an unfortunate rarity in this college town replete with females who mainline Nike tempo shorts, oversized sorority t-shirts and those wretched rubber sandals with Velcro straps from the 90s that are making an unfortunate comeback among the youths of today). And yet, they said nothing, for which I was intrinsically grateful. It wasn’t lost on me, though, that I was notably appreciative at not being objectified in a public parking lot; at automatically believing that this was a successful endeavor out into the world solely because unlike most times that I go out in public while also giving half a consideration as to the way I present myself and am subsequently turned from a person into something purely aesthetic, THIS TIME, it wasn’t the case. I walked into Walmart scowling.

Avocado. Peanut butter. Cilantro. Hummus. Tortilla chips. I took those things in first, unlocking the door to my dad’s place (and I guess mine, too) and feeling a sweet and cool reprieve from the insidious mugginess that clutched me outside. I took a moment to survey the apartment, to feel its forged familiarity, to breathe in the not-quite-lived-in smell of its still-new walls. And then, with a deep breath, I ventured back outside, and wrangled my combined 70lbs of luggage out of the trunk and up the flight of unfeeling metal stairs still wearing my Lacoste tunic dress and j.crew bow flats. It was only after the hurdle of this endeavor which, in the light of day and the restful regeneration of a good night’s sleep might have made more sense to someone else, that I could relax. The apartment seemed different after this chore was complete; less of a hotel room and more of a home. After everything, all the feelings and events and panic and smiles, I was back at the beginning of the cycle of introversion and grateful for my own place, all to myself while my dad was on a business trip in Florida. I made guacamole at 3AM and watched old episodes of How I Met Your Mother, awash in everything that is wrong with the average American lifestyle and literally not caring at all.

The next day, I rolled into Stuckey’s around 11:15 to fill up the rental before returning it just down the street and grabbing a cab back to my apartment. I hadn’t showered yet and my jeans still smelled like Germany, but that didn’t stop some guy in dirty boots and a reflective vest over a dirty white t-shirt from glaring at me lecherously. Welcome back to Miss’shitty. The cab driver met me at Enterprise and when he asked me what I did for a living, making small talk to try to sugarcoat the fact that he was taking the long way home, I told him I was a writer. His demeanor changed from a lackluster day on the job to acutely interested, eyes alight with intrigue. He asked me to take a look at a homemade booklet he pulled from the pocket behind his seat and asked if I could write and publish his story. Leafing through, I could ascertain that he had some difficulty in his immigration from Ghana and overcome his obstacles to achieve that fleeting, beautiful American Dream. I took his business card and told him I would see what I can do. He offered me a Butterfinger bar. I declined.

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We Meet Again, County Road 13.

A little while later, I made the interstate journey to see my family in the fairytale of Fairhope. It had been two months since I saw my sweet nephew last, but by the looks of his growth spurt during that time, it felt more like a year.

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There was wine, there was bruschetta, there were talks after baby went to bed. You know, the sort of situation that I live to have. Everyone else can have their nightclubs and bars; I’ll take a meal at home with loved ones and a bottle of wine (laughs therein included) any day of the week.

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I stayed at my grandmother’s house until a little after 22:00, when I finally departed, the burden of a two-hour drive back to Hattiesburg weighing heavy on my consciousness. The prospect of an early-morning jaunt down to Biloxi to tie up a few loose ends with Uncle Sam didn’t sound too appealing either, but it had to be done. And so it was that for the second consecutive night, I drifted to dreamland at an hour more suitable for the West Coast from which I’d just returned, although this time, my sleep was more of a siesta as three hours later, I was up again and getting a black coffee at Stuckey’s, racing the sun down to the Mississippi coast.

The drive to Keesler AFB took a little over an hour, and when I emerged from my car, I felt sick and grimy, as if I needed to wash my hands. Being on a military installation again made me feel like I was taking a step backwards in life; I could feel the rigors of yesterday dragging me back into their squalid depths. And yet, as I approached the building where I was expected to report, the airmen on base were making their way to work with faces twisted in occupational malaise and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction…a certain victory in that I don’t have to do any of this anymore. I may have been there and it may have been required, but it was going to be the last thing. The very last time the government could take hold of me.

the freewheelin' Sarah Pierce

the freewheelin’ Sarah Pierce

I waited in a lobby for an hour and went to a meeting that lasted about 20 minutes. Then, there was the drive back. Then, there was sleep. Then, there was guacamole. Then, there was the unmatched stress and excitement of needing to tie up all my loose ends: organize my newly-arrived household goods shipment, get rid of my car, and pack my bags. I was on the cusp of leaving for the better part of a year.

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Life as I know it has been boxed up and stored here.

After all the boxes were taken to the storage unit, after the clothes were washed and rolled and stowed in my suitcase, after I bequeathed the keys to good hands, I was at the Hilton Garden Inn across the street from Gulfport International Airport having a glass of pinot grigio and wondering, exactly, how all the things in my life could have happened in such a perfect succession to lead me to this point of prosperity. I have my low points of vicious emotional tumult, of nearly crippling existentialism, but really and truly…it’s such a gift to not only to live, but to feel alive. So many are people are walking corpses.

I tucked myself into bed too late and had another nap of a night’s sleep, but with the foresight that in the morning, I would surely spring up with the adrenaline of wanderlust.

bye, bye miss american pie.

bye, bye miss american pie.

Homelessness: A Journey

This morning, while registering with the AFAR app, I was faced with a question that I found impossible to answer.

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I’m currently holed up in my father’s Hattiesburg, MS apartment. Save for a candle I’ve been burning on the coffee table, the place still smells like the beige paint applied to the walls, like the fresh cut of the wooden cabinets, like cleaning products. He’s lived here less than six months after taking a promotion and leaving behind the place where I grew up; his tiny and quaint apartment in Alabama with a twentieth-century charm that’s a rarity around these parts. The bathroom had a vintage black and white tile scheme reminiscent of the 1920s and the bathtub was actual porcelain. The hardwoord floors–the same floors that held my footprints through years and stages and phases of my life–were beginning to buckle under the stress of eighteen years of watching children and adults grow. The walls were smoke-stained from my father’s (now rectified) propensity to light up. And yet, here I am, in this minimalist, crisp apartment with its amenities and its convenience; a far cry from the captivating little apartment hidden in Mobile: that charming flat that, with its paint-chipped windowsills and baseboards, felt more like a home to me than the actual houses–cold and unfeeling–where I lived with my mother when I wasn’t on my every-other-weekend retreat designed by the divorce courts of Alabama to somehow “enrich” and “stabilize” a child’s life.

I’m only here in Hattiesburg for one more day. Sure, it’s where I receive my mail. It’s where the United States Coast Guard and the Veteran’s Administration places me on a map. It’s where the home-library I began to collect once I made the foray into adulthood resides, waiting for me to return. And yet, Hattiesburg is just a checkmark, really. It’s a vapid answer to a question whose intentions are usually rooted in something just as transparent. If I list my home in Hattiesburg, it’s always for some sort of document, some strip of red tape. It’s not really my home, it’s just the big red pin on a map that satisfies the digital field I’ve got to complete, or the long, lonely blank on an intake form somewhere. It’s a location, it’s a coordinate, it’s a physical building with running water and a couch and food in the fridge.

And yet, home is more than just some position on a globe.

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I’ve been mentally wrestling with the definition of HOME since I separated from my ex-husband in March. My entire life has been spent with a very solid idea of what it means it be both at home and the place where one originates. My home was my apartment in Massachusetts, dressed to the nines in little bits of décor collected through the years, painted in colors that revitalized me every day, little trinkets of significance stashed in various places to remind myself that this was a place I created. A little over a week ago, I was sitting on a couch in that apartment, my art and knickknacks and books still displayed prominently in wait for the government-hired movers to pack it all up and take it away. Mail that needed to be shredded was piling up on the kitchen counter. The little chalkboard key holder next to the front door still retained remnants of a message I wrote to myself in the midst of smudged chalk from notes past.

And now, it’s just a memory.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Currently, I’m sleeping in a spare room of a place that neither my father nor I consider familiar. In a week’s time, I’ll be in Paris…but not before breathing in the air of New Orleans, of Atlanta, of Frankfurt. And after Paris, it’s Porto. And then, only time and fate will tell where I’ll find myself.

The subject of HOME seems to be on repeat in my mind, coming up in seemingly every conversation I have. From the skeptical, “You ain’t from here, are ya?” slur of a Southerner to the uptight and shrill accusations of down-home hillbilly origins, the last four years of my life–the years I’ve spent living outside of the box in which I was raised–have been leading me to redefine what I always knew to be true of the word and all it encompasses.

What is home? Is it a place? Is it a feeling? Is it a person? Is it my mind?

Sitting in a vegan café on the Fourth of July with excellent drinks and even better friends, I began to wax poetic about the personal meaning of home, or lack thereof. I began to feel a sort of lightness, a tingling on my skin that seemed like I had cracked the backbone on an unsolvable riddle. I felt like life was less of an enigma, and that home isn’t just the place where you reside or the letters on a birth certificate, but a place where everything seems right. A place where it all fits, where the grooves of your soul click together in tandem with the world around you.

Driving down from one place I once called home to another in the wake of my discharge from the USCG, my sister and I began to bounce ideas back and forth on what it means to be home. The RAC remix of “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros was playing beneath the baritone of our voices, setting the scene for a heart-to-heart between the two of us that would have made our past selves, entrenched in constant bickering, recoil in horror. “Home is everything inside you,” she said wistfully as we crossed the Staten Island bridge. “Home is everything you already have.” For a 21-year-old, she struck me as incredibly wise at that point. And then, of course, I remembered myself at 21, and gave the world around me a sly smile for setting such a pretentious, smart-ass example.

Speaking face-to-face through the wires and waves of the world wide web to people whom I knew previously only through the opaque walls of Instagram and iMessage, we drifted toward the subject of home. “You don’t seem like a typical American,” one of my new friends said, and it was flattering. I smiled and replied that I’ve worked very hard to create a first impression that is not of where I was raised, and that America’s never felt like my home anyway. I went on to say that I’m still not sure where I am completely at home, or what home actually means to me. In the places I’ve lived and loved in the United States, home has seemed more like the satisfaction of a red tape requirement than a feeling of belonging, I explained. “I’m still searching for that place, that idea, that feeling,” I told my new friends, who seemed to just get it.

In a world of vapid soullessness, of people getting up to go a job they despise in order to pay installments on a loan they acquired for something they thought they needed–something they thought would make them happy–in a world of “if I do x then I will feel y“…it was heartwarming to share a real conversation with real people who saw me in a real way, not just some façade of American contentment finger-painted on my face.

What does home mean to others? What words, what feelings, what memories are conjured up when someone really stops to think about it? I took to my snapchat feed and posed the question via a video: What does home mean to you? What do you think about when you are asked to define “home”?

The results were exhilarating and stirring.

Most of my snapchat friends mirrored my method of messaging, opting to send me a video of them speaking, their voices curving out the words and their faces displaying micro-emotions that they themselves were probably unaware were present. The responses were basked in Saturday morning comfort: women were fresh-faced and glasses trumped contact lenses, pajamas were prevalent and there was an air of raw honesty to each message that is so rare in this day and age of technological overload.

Home is, according to the data collected by my snapchat survey, a place of comfort. It’s a physical place where one can go in which pants are not required. It’s a place of connection, a place of family, a place of passion. It’s the place you share with the one you love. It’s a place where your creativity flourishes. It’s a place where you feel–undoubtedly and unabashedly–you. It’s a state of mind in which you can do whatever you really and truly desire. It’s the eyes, the words, the soul of a person in which you get lost. It’s that special place where you can breathe in the air and know that despite all the negative aspects of our world, in the face of any hardship or adversity, it’s the location or the feeling or the person that can make life worth living.

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I am still searching for it. I’m currently sitting in a sea of clean laundry splayed out around me, waiting to be rolled to maximum tightness and stuffed into a suitcase. I’m clicking a little star on a gold iPhone to save a location across the globe, adding it to a digital itinerary that I’ll more than likely ignore once I’m actually there, soaking in the panache of the place and the presence of the people with whom I’m sharing it. I’m on this mission to find where I truly fit, where all the pieces lock and click into place, where I was made to exist.

Maybe I’ll find it this time. Maybe I’ll walk onto some foreign soil and sigh with relief that yes, I’ve finally found the place where I am, undeniably, at home. Maybe a person will walk into my life and change it forever. Maybe I’ll be able to say, without a doubt, that I belong.

IMG_0080 But until then, here’s to homelessness. The journey is probably the destination on this one.