emma chan

"ANATOMY OF PLACES I CALLED HOME"

The roof of my childhood house was slathered with asphalt shingles. I say this because I don’t remember what color they were and I'm too embarrassed to admit it. I say this because I could have walked through rows and rows of slate-shingled houses and not known which house was mine, which is to say I didn't have a sense of a house being a home until I had lost it, until I was lost, and then it was too late to be sorry.1

Sometimes I think of memory as a fairytale-perfect home, tucked into the neck of a woods, in which my mother and I live happily together. At the end of a worn footpath through the pines, the kitchen teems with smells of sauteed mushroom heads and cedar sachets and library book spines. Both of us move warm and sluggish through our living rooms and neither of us grow up or grow old or start thinking of our bodies in terms of how long they have been decaying. Other times I think of memory as a receptacle for all the things I said but didn't mean, a mouth swelling sinister with the weight of its own teeth. But most times I feel like memory is a foggy windowpane I can press my cheek against, praying softly that in this memory we move out of our bodies and still never let go.2

My mother dreamed of me one day becoming an architect, of me mothering cookie-cutter fairytale houses with asphalt shingles. I did not know the words to tell her that every day I am carving out paper houses with my fists, that every day I am desperately discovering new words for myself in the hollow of my tongue, that every day I am scared of losing homes, of forgetting the ending to this fairy tale, of accidentally erasing it from my tongue, over and over and-- 3

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1This childhood memory should start with my mother’s body but I don't know how, so I'm starting with my throat. Because to cut things off at the root is to pretend that talking about the past can stop the future in its tracks. Read: air moves through the larynx into the trachea and passes into myth, leaving me voiceless every time. Every time I tell this story I imagine rings of cartilage collapsing, splintering into what we once were and could be once again. Read: every fairy tale is constructed in the past tense, speaks of those who have already been lost to the grip of time, serrating itself silently into our throats. So when I say this is how it was I really mean this is what I wish I knew, forgive me.

2 It sounds like a fairy tale: once upon a time, I realized that a body is a home, too. That bodies can grow shingles, too. That some people, like my mother, move out and never return.

3 I know that there will come a day when my hands will wander across my body like daylight breaking across an open road. I know that someday my fingers will be homeless in the same way that I am separated from both the past and future tenses. I am still trying to understand that lost is not a bad thing to be, a word suspended in the space between two open mouths, a pair of lips burning cold against a closed window.

Emma Chan is a high school student who believes in the transformative and healing power of words. She serves as the Editor-In-Chief of The Hearth Magazine, a mental-health focused teen publication. When she's not writing or reading, you can find her wistfully contemplating the meaning of life and what she should have for dinner.

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