I pay rent every month to live in a townhouse that I haven't slept in but a handful of times. I have my favorite clothes, my makeup, my hair supplies and my good shoes over at Billy's. I have a dresser full of underwear and bras, jeans and sweaters, all at Billy's. The need for me to even visit the home I pay to live in has dwindled to almost nothing. And, in fact, the only time I'm there is when I'm required to watch my roommate's dog.
When I first started dating Billy, and staying over at his house every night, I felt the need to distinguish "my house" from "his house." When he'd call to tell me he was on his way home, he'd ask where I was. "Your house," I'd say, clicking away at his computer, one of his glasses in my hand, filled with the soda from his refrigerator. But now that distinction has fallen away. He calls at the end of his workday and asks "Are you home?" And I say yes, both of us knowing that when he says it, he doesn't mean the home I pay to live in.
Last week, for one night, I had to stay at my own house. Normally, Billy comes with me, but a difference in work schedules forced us to spend - gasp! - one night apart. While Billy lay nestled into bed, taking in the Olympics, I hustled around the room we share, gathering clothes into the big gorgeous Coach bag he gave me for Christmas for just this reason - shuttling my belongings between his house and mine. Needless to say, I haven't gotten a whole lot of use out of it. I was grouchy, tossing my hair dryer and hairspray into the bag, searching for my makeup and an outfit to wear to work the next day. He asked me why I seemed so mad. "I just hate it," I said, surveying the room for my earrings, "that I have to go there tonight."
"It's just one night," he said, calmly from beneath the sheets.
"Yes, but I," I argued, pointing to myself with a cell phone charger, "am a creature of habit. And this," I swept my arm across the room, "is my habit now. It just fucks up my whole routine."
He laughed at me, then watched as I threw a few more items into the bag. "You sure are packing a lot to spend the night at home." I stopped packing for a second and looked at him. "I mean," he continued, grinning from the King size bed we share, "don't you have clothes there? Do you have to pack so much? Couldn't you just use something you have there?"
I couldn't come up with a sufficient argument. "Well," I stammered, "I like these clothes. And, besides, hair and makeup alone takes up half that bag."
The truth was, I stopped doubling up a long time ago. When I first started dating him, I had two of everything: Two deodorants, two razors, two bags of makeup; It was so I could function completely in either house. It kept me from believing I was even sort of living with my boyfriend. Every day I made the drive from work to my house to pick up clothes for the next day, and then drove to his house to spend the evening. But then he told me, invited me, even, to keep clothes in his house. He gave me some closet space. And dresser space. And counter space. I didn't take any of his space by force, though. I waited until it was offered to me. This is the girl who dated a guy for almost four years without ever leaving clothes at his house, who stayed over maybe once a week. I am not in the business of imposing upon people. I have to be invited. And Billy invited me. So I accepted.
Pretty soon, the need to travel to my own home had all but vanished. Everything I needed could be found in the confines of Billy's house. My own home is basically just a storage unit for my extraneous odds and ends.
So something about the way Billy said I was going "home" struck me as odd. I had sort of come to think of his home as mine.
"Why don't you just move in with him?" My brother asked me over the phone the other night.
"Well, that's not really up to me," I'd replied. Once again, the burden of invitation falls squarely on his shoulders. "Besides, I like having my own place."
Yesterday, my landlord/roommate, Joe, called from Florida. He thought I should know that he's putting the townhouse up on the market. "I'm thinking about buying this penthouse apartment down here," he said. This is the third time now that he's had to drop that particular bomb on me. In the time I've been living with Joe, I've moved three times. Five if you count the time I had to move back into my parents' house for a three-month-in-between-homes stretch, only to move right back out. "I have to sell the townhouse to do it. But it doesn't really matter, right? I mean, you're always at your boyfriend's anyway."
It's true, I am. But I still like having a home where I can go if I need to. If I need to be alone, I can go to the house I actually pay to live in and decompress. I can listen to my music as loud as I want to, and dance around my tiny room if I so choose. Or I can just lay in my bed and watch TV, knowing that no one is going to interrupt my coma-like state. Rarely, though, have I chosen to exploit that option. I feel completely at home in Billy's house.
But, no matter how at home I feel there, I still like the idea of having a house of my own, someplace to go if things get rocky, or if my need for space gets the better of me. I may never use the house that I pay for, but at least I know it's there. And what if Billy and I don't work out? Our relationship is less than a year old...I always knew that, if it fell apart, I'd just cart my belongings back to my house. Now, I'm not so sure where I'd take them.
According to Joe, the real estate agent will be there today, assessing the home and preparing to list it. I will go there this weekend and clean up the room I so rarely use, even though I hate the idea that, if I don't start looking now, it may not be long before I don't have a place to call my own at all.