Home as a Liminal Space: Reflections on the Sensation of Home / by Alexa Eisner

Home has been a fluid term over the last decade given I have yet to live in a space for more than two years.

If home is the place where you grew up then Fresno, CA is home. It's safe to say the Bay Area is also home. I've spent eight years living throughout the East Bay and San Francisco (there were also two years in Central New York). My parent's moved to Portland, Oregon when I left for college, and with the passing of four grandparents within a couple years our holiday traditions have moved up north. As a result I rarely find myself 'home' in Fresno.

I was called back to Fresno this last weekend to celebrate the engagement of two of my favorite people. I had no expectations about the trip, though I hadn't been back in a couple years. And honestly I was preoccupied by a conversation from the night before which left me in a reflective mood. I did however look forward to the drive. Loud music, cracked windows and straight roads through dried farm land- the perfect liminal space to process and prepare for a trip to my roots.

Alexa Eisner: The drive down to Fresno

Alexa Eisner: The drive down to Fresno

Alexa Eisner: In Fresno, CA

Alexa Eisner: In Fresno, CA

Entering into Fresno I was struck by the enormity of suburban sprawl. Wide streets. Chain restaurants. Big cars. I recognized all the family business names. I was in some sense, home. I decided to take a slight detour and pass by the house I grew up in. Driving down that side street I immediately recalled old neighborhood friends and walking to the corner store to buy candy. As I approached the house I reduced my speed to a slow roll but I hesitated to fully stop. I didn't want to invade on someone else's home. I thought of our old cat that stayed back with the house and wondered if this family loved her like we did- or if she was still alive.

I felt an ownership over a space I haven't lived in for a decade. While I had anticipated a flood of memories, instead I just felt silent. I thought more literally about the layout of the house. Walking the hallway. The cherry tree outside my bedroom window. The garage wall where we noted our height each year- I smiled thinking we had given Abraham Lincoln a pencil mark as well. 

I called my dad and mentioned driving by our old house. He asked if I had noticed they pulled out the pine tree I planted after a field trip to the Christmas tree farm. I hadn't. This made me sad. 

I met up with my god sister and swapped life updates. Her dissatisfaction with living in Fresno worked in juxtaposition to my sentimental mode.

It's distance to the once familiar that tugs heart strings. It puts perspective in the reality of change.

There was supposed to be a ten year high school reunion this year and I found myself surprisingly relieved it was canceled. I respect who I was then, but it seems overwhelming to attempt to share my present self. I had done all the things high school. I thrived on exploring cliches like cheerleading. I was the lucky lady named princess who rode on a horse carriage across a football field. I was the valedictorian in Book Club, French Club and volunteering in my free time. While back in town a friend mentioned to me that I was the cool girl in high school. I don't know that feeling anymore. I'm not sure I ever really did. 

My last night before going off to college I circled up with girlfriends, and as we hugged in a tearful goodbye I realized I couldn't fully cry. I have always trusted the next step. I have always been eager for more experience.

The last few years have been about acknowledging and allowing the expressive part of me to share. I find myself interested in the unseen, the ignored, the unconscious. This more introverted version of myself does not always think of Fresno. But roots are the unseen blood line to tree growth.

I think of my childhood home lined in fruit trees. Diving for picked plums thrown in the swimming pool. Freshly squeezed orange juice and waffles in the morning. Writing poetry under cheery blossoms. When I think of where I come from I taste an abundance of life.

Alexa Eisner: In Fresno, CA

Alexa Eisner: In Fresno, CA

I met with my eccentric uncle late last Thursday evening. He lives in my grandparent's old home. He always has. It's still pretty much the same set up I remember as a kid. There's a scattering of family photos and knick knacks my aunt used to have sprawled around her home before she passed away.

I immediately sat at my grandparent's out of tune piano and played Pachelbel Canon in the key of C. This was my favorite song from childhood lessons. It's a simplified version but at the time it took me an entire summer to learn. I don't remember it in any direct way, but when I sit I let muscle memory play. The disenchanted sound warmed my heart and I felt ease. 

I slept in my Baba and Jedo's old bedroom. I took my time surveying the space. Smelled Baba's perfume in the pink bathroom. Looked at photographs and thought of how handsome Jedo was. The shag carpet padded my step.  

Alexa Eisner: Baba's bathroom

Alexa Eisner: Baba's bathroom

Alexa Eisner: Photo of Jedo

Alexa Eisner: Photo of Jedo

The next morning after a surprisingly thoughtful outdoor brunch prepared by uncle, we went to a retirement center to visit my great uncle and great aunt. We found them in the recreation room. Uncle sat with my great aunt silently whiled she dozed in and out of sleep. Perhaps from medication.

I chatted with my great uncle and though at first I thought he remembered me, as the conversation drifted into nonsense I realized it was best to connect over coloring. I drew with crayons and we talked about shapes. The purity in the way he looked at me reflected complete presence yet it carried melancholy. That kind of openness surpasses history. 

I watched an elderly woman dip her finger into her neighbor's pudding cup. I saw a man conduct to a choir he envisioned within his mind. The staff passed out lyrics for group singing- songs about the depression era- finding fun even in tough times.

The hallways were lined with glass cases where patients can put up a few photographs outside their door. I mostly saw youthful portraits and wedding photos. I was inspired by some Rosie the Riveter imagery. While I felt a weight of history, the elderly seemed to be living in a child-like state. 

Alexa Eisner: Taken in retirement home

Alexa Eisner: Taken in retirement home

Once I made it to my best friend's house things lightened up. We celebrated. I fell into soul family. No matter the shifts there is an understanding. This is a space of home. We created a magical evening filled with twinkling hanging lights, sheep skin and Moroccan rugs, cigars, harmonica blues, candles and vintage port from 1874. We toasted to the engagement, memories and the future to be.

We travel through many spaces, sentiments and people that we call home. While seen or unseen our tree roots run deep- but our branches forever continue to reach--

The afternoon before the party I had taken to a day of riding on the back of a motorcycle. There are no boundaries on a bike- nothing to protect you- nothing to hold you between the rush of wind and passing concrete. I felt at home in this simultaneous joy and discomfort. I held on tightly as speed increased, but overall I just let myself release.

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