“Tell us about the home where you lived when you were twelve. Which town, city, or country? Was it a house or an apartment? A boarding school or foster home? An airstream or an RV? Who lived there with you? Today’s twist: pay attention to your sentence lengths and use short, medium, and long sentences as you compose your response about the home you lived in when you were twelve.”
Home during my awkward phase was mom’s place, a large, third floor flat in downtown Marseille, France in a building from the late 17th century that faced a Dominican church across a narrow street.
From my bedroom window I had a continuous view on the Stations of the Cross carved in the façade of the church and a tiny swath of Mediterranean sky over tiled rooftops. My room was small but not too small. It was narrow and accommodated a bunk bed, a futon mattress and a low table on which I kept an old radio. I slept on the bunk bed close to my glow-in-the-dark-stars strewn ceiling, or sometimes on the futon, depending on my mood. Under the bed was my desk, always clean and in order while its drawers were an awful mess of toys, papers, pens and cartoon trading cards. The walls were covered with a white wall paper with black saxophones and music notes and red twirls. I’d covered it across from my bed with large anime posters of Hokuto No Ken. I also had a square mirror by my door. I didn’t use it very often.
Mom’s flat was long, covered in époque small, red, octagonal tiles and had tall windows all the way to the ceiling 15 feet above. The walls were white all around except for a few paintings which made the place feel bright and fresh at all times.
The left part of the apartment was the boy’s quarters and consisted of three bedrooms along a narrow corridor with bathroom and toilet across (these are always different rooms in France, unlike in the US). The hallway had a pull-up bar, rings hanging from the ceiling and two wooden ladders, one vertical next to the rings and bar and one horizontal above the bathroom and toilet doors. We’d always climb up like little monkey and pad that ladder with pillows from the living room couch and make little houses up there. At the end of the hall was the laundry and storage room. We played soccer in that corridor all the time, using the door on each end as the goals, and drove the downstairs neighbors crazy with our stomping. Once the chandelier in their corresponding corridor below even crashed to the floor, because of us, the neighbor complained. Maybe it was us, maybe it was just old and poorly attached.
In the middle part of the flat was the entrance with the shoe and coat-closet in which I once peed when I was five. Half-awake, I somehow mistook it for the toilet. I sat on the shoes and went at it. The room facing the entrance was my sister’s room at that time and later would become my mom’s room. That room has the only large balcony, from which, in the defiance of my youth, I would play death metal tunes when mass was starting or finishing, while my friends shouted nonsense about Satan. Good times; especially since the church and the attached covenant housed the priests that taught at our high school were mom was also an English teacher.
Next to that room was the TV room which consisted of an L-shaped Moroccan couch, a wall of shelves stuffed with books, and, indeed, a small TV. On Wednesdays, we’d watch the Disney Show, the only time we were allowed to watch TV. We’d aggregate on the couch or on the floor like a swarm of bees and still do to this day when we get to be together.
The right side of the apartment were the common rooms. Next to the TV room was the kitchen, a very narrow space where we’d pile up for meals. There was a small fold-out table, and when everyone gathered for a meal there barely was room to fit between the oven and the table. Next to the kitchen was the living room with the chimney and a large, glass coffee table in the middle of an arrangement of couches and chairs. There the ceilings were even taller and decorated with moldings. During winter time, we’d burn the previous year’s Christmas tree and gather around the chimney after diner. That fire still burn warm in my memories. The living room opened on the dining room to the left, a big space full of plants and light and a big table we only used on weekends and special occasions. To the right of the living room was mom’s room. The place we were not supposed to enter lest given permission. It consisted of a large bedroom with an attached bathroom. It all smelled an awful lot of mom’s perfume and when she wasn’t around we’d sneak in just to bask in there. It felt exciting. But it was also boring. There really wasn’t much besides her big bed and a desk of drawer in there.
That was how it was so many years ago anyway. It’s changed a lot since then, but it’s still home despite the time passed and the ocean that has since then found itself between us.