On the cold November night that I trekked out to Tastee Diner in Laurel, I remember feeling an intense pang of anxiety. It was a day of undesired outcomes, academic and personal in nature. The worst had passed, my friend Lucas had agreed to meet up with me in an act of support.
Before the journey, I had spent much of the time dealing with draining obligations after I received news of an “F” on a project. One week to remake it. One week more it stirs in my head. The revenant project hovers, corrupting whatever I anticipate. I do not get to wash my hands of this. “Once more, with feeling,” I told myself.
It was the second month my mind has been in survival mode on a daily basis, and I was exhausted from the events that precipitated it. I was always in a state of low-level dissociation and detachment, a necessary method of coping. Necessary, but imperfect. I did not know when I would be able to dedicate sufficient time to recuperation. Eventually, I promised myself. But I had no definitive answer.
The night drive towards Laurel was remarkable only in its stunning isolation. Perhaps a few vehicles would pass, but I was keenly aware of the absence of cars. There was a certain sense of discomfort in driving down a vacant highway, a space built to accommodate people who are not there with you at that moment.
Soon enough, however, I came upon the familiar signage. Tastee Diner was something of a beacon to us. We would go there when times were good and when times were bad, there was a comfort in its 24-hour availability. Even the grimy floors and cracked mirrors possess their own sort of charm.
The Journalist and the Pizza Delivery Driver
Lucas showed up in casual attire and a beanie hat, though I couldn’t remember for the life of me the specifics. He pulled out his sketchbook and went to work, keeping his hands occupied while we spoke.
Both of us shared a level of unease, though his scenario was far more pressing than mine. His domestic circumstances forced him to find a place to stay at his friend’s house. It would not last forever, of course. We had to find a new place for him…and for me.
For the past several months we had planned and scouted on escapes from the lives we once knew. I wanted to move on from my old life. Lucas, well, he just wanted out. I couldn’t say I blamed him for that, even before things got unsafe he was having trouble coping with his home situation.
I had remarked before about the alienation I felt, the suburban wastelands of Pikesville and Owings Mills elicited no sense of belonging from me. Increasingly, less of my day was spent at home. I looked to afar for my future, because there was nothing for me here.
Being millennials, however, this meant the unenviable task of gathering a group together and picking out a place because our incomes were far too small for living on our own. We would make plans, but they were bungled on a consistent basis. Money troubles, roommate troubles, it was only recently that we finally had a semblance of a plan together.
Yet still, there are tasks that must be done. Things that must be assembled, pay stubs, bank statements, credit scores. All of the work that comes to mind at the mention of the word “adulting.” But at this point, at least there is a direction, someplace where I can put a pin and say that this is what lies at the end of the path.
But something happened over the course of the discussion, as we aired our grievances regarding the lives we lived at home. I said to him, “We are homeless but not houseless.” At the time, I did not know what to think even of that statement, despite the fact that it was I who uttered it.
What A Home Is
I asked myself the question of when I was last home. I was at some point, perhaps in the far-flung past. But the memory was so distant that it was hard to glean what it even felt like. What did it feel like to occupy a space that didn’t cause you almost immediate discomfort?
I’m sure Lucas felt the same way. In that respect, we had shared a bond in our sense of alienation. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that the distinctive alienation we felt was common to us millennials. Especially when a significant chunk of one’s life is devoted to coping with shitty situations because, well, what else can one do?
Much of my adolescence and early adulthood was stuck in the mindset of getting out. I knew that I wanted to leave this part of my life behind, but I always found myself stuck in this process. Not enough money, had to wait for the right time, was there even an end in sight?
Kind of, I suppose. The millennial answer lacked the assurance of previous generations, resulting in vague expressions of remote possibilities without the confidence one needed for these sorts of decisions. There was no going back to that. The pathway to autonomy had been demolished by policy and boomer antipathy, intergenerational volleys by proxy from the old to the young. How does one ascend a ladder when the rungs have been broken?
I had my answer, did Lucas? I hope at some point, he finds it.
Through all of this, however, I wonder when both Lucas and I will ever get to go home. At this point, our anchor points in our lives are common hangout spots like Tastee. Lucas returned to his friend’s, now planning for a better arrangement.
I have come to understand the full psychological extent of the impacts of being without a place to call home. We have the privilege of having sympathetic friends who are willing to help. In my case, I can stay at my parents’ house until I can get on my feet. Lots of people don’t have that.
After we talked that night, I remember going back to my house. The worst had passed, but the gnawing sense of emptiness had not dissipated. That night, Lucas and I acknowledged to ourselves the true nature of the issue. We had no place to go, we had no place where we belonged. Instead, we existed quietly outside of these designated dormitories, left to dream of better lives.
We are homeless, but not houseless.