Bitter Roots, Sweet Home

Featured Artwork: Madeline Kate Martinez

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When I was little, I dreamt of living in a house by the water with white picket fences. With a front porch and pots of plants leading the doorway. With a basement to host sleepovers in. With a garage for two cars, central air, an in-unit laundry machine, a kitchen with an island, a refrigerator with filtered water, and an unusual amount of options for ice cubes. Crushed, cubed, or none at all. I dreamt of neighborhood block parties and backyard celebrations.

This was suburbia. This was also not the suburbia I lived in.

Nestled between the grandeur of Jersey Shore summer mansions and middle-class single-family homes were muted yellow and orange brick apartments for low-income families. Neatly structured and thoughtfully separated by square patches of green grass were the one- or two-bedroom buildings stacked on top of each other like thin Legos.

We were the bottom tenants. This meant that we’d hear our upstairs neighbors’ footsteps, guitar tunes, hysterical laughs, and sometimes Spanish news echo through the paper walls.

I’m sure they could hear something similar from us.

For seventeen years and counting, this was home. Home was unstable yet so strong. She carried five rooms in total. Two bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen, and a living room. Sometimes she smelled like mint masala and other times she smelled like burning candle wax.

She creaked and sighed. She wore scars with pride until we healed her with sage green paint. She held our secrets, understood our growing pains, and eventually saw us leave one by one. My father left, but he never came back. My sister left but would visit. The rest of us left but returned from time to time. My mother never left.

Year after year, home was slowly deteriorating from the inside out. She’d house roaches and cobwebs. She’d have no energy for the lights at night. She rarely entertained herself. She let the dust dance in the dark. She cleaned it the next morning. Home was getting old. She was alone.

Home was far from perfect, but she always welcomed us back. Sometimes she smelled like fresh cooked rice and curry. Other times, she smelled like jasmine. She kept us cool in the summer. She kept us warm in the winter. And even when she was falling apart, she kept us together.

Home is rooted in my mother’s heart… as long as she beats, it breathes.