It’s my fourth year at Duke and one thing’s stayed the same: my dorm walls are bare. My dorm has changed three times; my walls have always been bare. And in the corner where two walls kiss, my laundry basket is full—laundry basket as in dirty pile, full as in towering. I’ve never minded, not until recently at least. I’ve never understood the point of domestic work. Why do people make beds? Well, for the same reason people wipe their ass after they shit, is what I’ve been told. But I wipe my ass after I shit because if I don’t, then my asscrack itches. I don’t itch if I don’t make my bed. In fact, I can roll under the mess of crumpled sheets and right into tomorrow without a pause. And I often did.
I’ve also never minded when people treated me bad. That’s not a joke, that’s just the truth. I had a best friend in childhood who used my heart as their punching bag (we’re still friends, by the way); I had a homoromantic queer awakening in high school who frequently seemed to mistake my number for a social worker’s (she ghosted me, actually); I’ve had my fair share of bend-myself-backward on heartbreak avenue (I mean, it’s college). I know it wasn’t my fault, but at one point, I had to ask—am I the problem? Maybe Miss Americana really was onto something with her anti-hero jazz.
All the self-help books I’ve read told me to take a closer look at my childhood—and I’ve read just about a total of three, so I figured there must be some merit to the claim. But I turned up with nothing, so I turned to the next best option: TikTok. And TikTok told me that perhaps I’ve been searching for a way to fulfill my needs through other people, which—to the armchair psychologist’s vindication—only seemed obvious once it was said. Now the question is, of course, which need.
Thank goodness I’m an avid chronicler, in that I word-vomit into my notes app every time I’m overcome by angst. Some quotes from college alone:
“watching the Chinese dance team makes me homesick for a home I’ve never known”
“I think when we’re older, all we search for is the feeling of home.”
“I moved so much I had to find home in other people, because the tangible things always changed. And relative to those things and places, the people stayed longer.”
“I feel exiled and I wish he would let me come home into his arms again, into his heart again”
I’ve never really settled down in any place I’ve lived. Part of it was because I moved a lot, and part of it was because I expected to move a lot. Living in anticipation of my next relocation made it a waste of time to turn the physical space I occupied into my own. My walls have always been bare—not just in college, but in life—or if they were decorated, they were hung with the belongings of others. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I never felt an abstract sense of belonging, either.
There is a relation between the sensual and the spiritual. Of domestic bliss, bell hooks says: “When we intentionally strive to make our homes places where we are ready to give and receive love, every object we place there enhances our well-being.” When I touch my tongue to my teeth in sorry attempts to dislodge the iceberg lettuce stuck between, I can’t deny that I am from a material plane. And when I speak to a person just right and the space between us glimmers, I can’t deny that I must extend beyond it, too. I am the place where material and immaterial meet. I am shaped by things I can touch and things I can not. So it follows that my belongings might contribute to my sense of belonging as deeply as food might contribute to my fulfillment. So it also follows that preparing a space with loving care might equip the space to lovingly care for me, too.
I could roll under the sheets and into tomorrow without a single pause, and maybe that was the problem: that I never paused because I never thought to pause; that I never thought to pause because I never had a space to pause; that I never had a space to pause because there was a feeling of impending alienation lurking in every place that housed me and kept me and cared for me due to reasons beyond anyone’s control; that when a person offered me a place to pause, I rushed to make them my home.
And there it is. Domestic work is more than chores: domestic work is the labor and then the craft and then the art that turns a room into a home. Chores are the acts through which the transformation occurs. Perhaps that’s why some people refer to domestic work as home-making.
The responsibility of home-making has largely fallen onto the shoulders of women. But it is not just women who need a home, nor is it just the people living with women who need a home. Everyone needs a home. Without the ability to create a home for myself, I relied on others for a sense of home—a kind of disorienting co-dependence that carried devastating consequences.
What would independence look like if everyone knew how to make a home, most importantly for themselves? What would interdependence then look like? And what would motherhood entail if mothers were no longer alone in home-making? What would fatherhood entail if fathers knew how to make a home, too?
Recently, I’ve started to make my bed—regularly, every morning, for the first time. Because my bed is my own, and if it’s a mess then it can’t be a loving home. And I must have a home, a place where I can take pause and be still for as long as I desire and as often as I need. I must have a place where I can ground the love that only I can guarantee to myself.
Victoria Wang is a Trinity senior, her columns run on alternative Thursdays.
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