I remember discovering meringues. They're soft and sticky but simultaneously hard. They stick to your tongue whilst breaking into a soft powder in your mouth. My mother told me how hard they are to bake: they require the perfect temperature for the perfect amount of time. If one of these elements goes off they burn or wilt. However, the thing about meringues is that after making them a couple times it becomes easy. Like learning a second language, similar to the paths we learn and walk on auto-pilot without even thinking.
Recently, I've been faced with moving for the sixth time in four and a half years in this city. I'm getting tired of cardboard boxes and filling in seven address boxes on official forms. I realised I've never made the choice to move, it's always been taken out of my hands: leases ending, abusive flatmates, circumstances changing (and the one time my flatmate moved in her aggressive Japanese grandmother without so much as a heads up).
Me and my partner currently live in an unusual flat. Our main attraction was the price tag: it was cheap but getting to the centre of town on foot was still manageable. It's near a bus stop, a supermarket and a train station. It's an odd layout: the bedroom is also the living room... which is also the dining room... which is also the only room with storage. The bed is a loft bed which is too small. It's dusty and damp and freezing in winter, but we couldn't afford the heating. The shower can manage about six minutes a day before giving up the ghost. Panelling and windows and the toilet are broken, things fall over all the time and people can peep in the window.
But it was still a home. I lived with all these things and was happy. It was only when I visited other people I realised our situation was unusual. This was our home: I decorated it our books and with free postcards and photographs of us at the museum. I went on a trip to IKEA and budgeted. We had weekly planners and laundry to do and fresh sheets. We made a more comfortable bed under the loft bed and put up animal shaped lamps. We were nesting.
I looked forward to coming back to a flat in the first time... ever. I used to stay out every night: at poetry slams, at the pub, at the cinema, in the library or the nightclub I never came home and just relaxed. I sofa (or more accurately: floor) surfed at least four nights a week. Now, I was becoming a homebody: looking forward to reading books in bed or clean the kitchen or watch films on the sofa under a blanket. I liked being in my space: I had a place where I could feel safe.
Enter stage left: our neighbour.
At first, it was just knocking on the door quite persistently. Then he caught me off-guard and verbally sexually harassed me. And just like that. The house had been thrown off the perfect language we'd made. We tried to fill it with double-checking the door lock, making sure we came home together, that I was never home alone. But it was downhill from there: he tried to break into the flat one night, throwing his entire body weight at the front door. Then he started playing music all night (literally, a few times it started at 10:30pm and finished twelve hours later).
When I go to flat viewings, I get the thrill of snooping through other people's houses: confirming what the boxes inside the buildings look like. I also, now, question what's the one odd part that could jeopardise the balance. The lack of washing machine? The broken shower? The slow internet? I always try to spot the one weird flaw that will make life slightly off, tallying in my head the difference between something unusual and something unlivable. I can't stand being picky; feel guilty too quickly for trying not to just make do.
In one night of disaster, out of hundreds of happiness, we decided we had to abandon ship. I've got friends who have lived in this city for 2 years, already snug in their homes. I've had friends stay in the same place for six years. I'd like to learn that language of spotting the perfect living home.
I walk into a flat. It's the top floor, away from the noise. It's light and has space and a separate bedroom that isn't the living room. It smells like meringue.