The paper route lasted five years. At nine and ten and eleven, I bought teddy bears and chewing gum. I bought small porcelain dishes and thick packages of Mentos, so that polite sweets could always surround me. (Sitting on my dresser, among plastic jewelry. And next to the Crayola alarm clock.) Other porcelain figurines sat on the dresser, too—purchases made after heavy deliberation, from Target, from the department of seasonal decorations. My favorite was a tiny, tall cottage. Cream stucco, pink rose garden, brown shutters. I imagined it to be my future home.
Near the end of the paper route, I marshaled all the money I could: holiday tips not spent on Gameboys, dollars not long ago spent on figurines. I bought a computer. Not just any computer, mind you. The worst one I could find. A beige eMachines contraption; but still, I suppose, it was mine. I bought a MIDI keyboard and too-expensive composition software. And best, a CD-ROM—for designing dream homes, for would-be architects. In three-dimensional stucco; gardens; shutters. The dreams were haphazard. Predictably, they rendered slowly.
And now, I spent a summer moving. First from Cambridge to Seattle, then into this hectic lull. Then it's back again, to Cambridge. Two weeks ago, I stood in the middle of the kitchen. There, a hefty stripe of air between the cabinets and the countertop. And suddenly I could see through to the living room—framed by cardboard boxes full of tea bags, littered with blankets bundled away. Proof. All the detritus of what I thought my summer would be.
There are long-ago blueprints scrawled in felt-tip pen, and so I know I've always longed for dream homes. This is true even now. I construct elaborate plans every summer, tracing the outlines of soon-to-be dorm rooms; do-overs. I believe in them, and then secret them away.
Tim wrote me a postcard last week from the Tetons. He reminded me of memory palaces: the rooms you build in your head. A sewing machine could represent a phone number, a table an address. (Memory palaces are sometimes called memory dwellings, I discovered. But palaces are vast. And so palaces they will be.) These rooms can be mnemonic devices.
But these rooms in my head are not abstractions, or devices. They are palaces. I hope they are palaces.
Because: imaginary future homes cannot be devices, not if you intend them to be real. The sofa cannot represent an aching for comfort. The desk cannot symbolize deep aspirations. These things do not represent anything, actually. They can't, they're not symbolic. They're supposed to come true.
So what is left: a map of best intentions? Or a memory palace, long hallways crowded with reminders. With the invention of who you hoped to be.
* * *
And here: a collection of dream homes I once imagined.