by Cherise Wolas
My New York home is a block from the East River, the sidewalk lined with cemented trees and boxed flowers, in the middle of Manhattan’s everything, halfway between uptown and downtown, discovered and purchased in a lucky deal.
I have created my home from scratch, carefully and over time, bringing the work into being, revising keenly. Eventually, I deleted most traces of the sole prior owner, and the apartment’s birth, forty-odd years before. Chopped down to concrete, I created a new frame for a story that was mine.
Renovated kitchen and bathrooms, reframed closets, refinished floors, new solid doors weighted on their hinges. The living and dining room are painted in wide horizontal stripes now. The painter, a Columbian artist captured at an Upper East Side paint store, would arrive at dawn, and when I awoke, he was hard at work on my ceilings and walls. Daily I poured him fresh-brewed coffee and boiled up eggs, his favorite, for breakfast. The painter and I honed the paint, adding and subtracting, editing repeatedly, and fifteen revisions later, the grey stripes were the palest platinum I desired, the white stripes, true and real, faintly glossed. The study, where I write and edit, is the color of green grapes, a pop of color that spurs my imagination. The master bedroom is restful and soothing. The steel blue walls are lustrous, languorous and sexy, and the bed, king-sized and inviting, is a created contrast, ever virginally dressed, no colored or patterned sheets for me.
I like things stripped down to unique basics that are mine. I am a clean-edged person. I prefer square plates to round; utensils that have poetic heft. My home is gracious and spare; there are no knickknacks, no trinkets from trips, no numerous family photos scattered about, I know where I come from, no tablecloths marring the clean lines of a rectangular dining room table. I allow nothing to hang around that does not serve a purpose, its sole purpose often beauty, the utilitarian selected for harmonious design. There are long lengths of bare walls, shelves, and tabletops. The very spaces I keep bare, most others would fill up with bits and pieces. I am a merciless editor; I like the work I create and the spaces I inhabit to breathe.
When the striped dining room wall needed a rooting addition, a series of mirrors was my initial thought, and I learned of a neighbor a few floors above who was selling several. Those mirrors were not quite right, and not quite never works for me. I always forego rather than settle.
A year later, an invitation to an art opening arrived, the invite, an oversized postcard featuring an enormous photographic image: a mostly empty room in a decrepit Italian palace, a series of long-aged mirrors, cloudy, the gelatin peeling, dimly reflecting the far-reaches of an antiquated ballroom. The mirrors, squares within a square, floated against the wall above a graceful settee, its womanly curves the color of an ancient magical sea. The palace was a mere hint; the frame of that story expressed only by the room, now devoid of glittering people, lit tapers, fluted champagne. Peeled to its basics, the graceful structure of the room, in beautiful simplicity, breathed, the passage of years, of stories told previously inherent, but no longer as relevant.
The gallery installed the photograph on my dining room wall. Milan completed my home, at least for right then, at least for a time. For months afterwards, I worked, wrote, edited, entertained, and Milan became a test of sorts; there were those special few who responded viscerally to what the piece represented, and those who did not so respond; the piece allowed me a way to edit in a different way. Each day my home provided me pleasure as I wandered through what I had created, dreaming of private things.
Not long after Milan entered my home, he entered as well, and my life changed in a hugely unexpected way.
In mid-November, I left my home because of love. Since then, in permanent love, we have been living on the shore of a beautiful lake, in a temporary home that belongs to a stranger. To create our own environment, the two of us revised a work that was not initially ours, and banished nearly everything to closets, inside and out. The rest that remained, though not to our shared taste, we moved around. From those fragments, we drafted our first version of home. The silvery view from our picture windows, serene mountains and endless water, the color changing with the moods of the sky, is, in all weather, miraculous. But our first home, revised from another’s original material, does not fully identify who we are as a couple. Starting from scratch, bringing our own work into being, revising and honing our home, that will come. For now, we have edited a pre-existing work, imbuing the space and place with our united magic.
Several weeks ago, I returned briefly to New York. I returned home alone, without my love. The apartment, so long my retreat from the city’s intensity, felt odd and incomplete without him, without us inhabiting the same space, always aware of and needing the other’s energy. Even after several days on my own, using my things, looking at my art, watering orchids that had survived my absence, sleeping in my bed, home no longer felt as natural, as real, as fully me.
Soon, I will be subletting my home, fully furnished, to strangers who will live among my art, sleep in my bed, pull my books from their shelves, and drink from my wineglasses. I imagine those strangers cooking dinners in my kitchen, lounging on my couch, working at the stone desk in my study, hanging their clothes on the wooden hangars I left naked in the closets.
It was that brief and unexpected return to my carefully created and edited environment that made me realize I was actually leaving, that actually I had already left, and when I returned, I had already been gone for nearly three months, and it was certain that I would be gone longer, for a year or more. I left my home because I said yes to a wondrous love, but the emotional pull of home, the way my creation defined me, and then ensnared me when I returned, was unexpected, intense, and startling.
Late one night, I pulled out random items easily transportable: rarely used spices, kitchen knives, a new set of silverware purchased on sale and still packed in a leather box. In that latest go-round of moving, I filled boxes haphazardly with elements to further our revisionist home in a far-flung place: a blue cashmere blanket, that set of new silverware, those spices, kitchen-drawered for years and easily replaced at the local Wal-Mart in the town in which I now live, a slice of material from my recovered dining room chairs upon which others will now sit, a box of fragrant candles, in scents named Marine, Fresh Linen, Freesia, purchased last summer over a weekend in Delaware, while he was in his small town, not yet mine, and I was in that Delaware shop, the two of us on the phone, and the last soft pillows, the two I had left at home, pillows upon which I dreamed about us while I slept again in New York, for a few weeks alone.
When I returned to my love and to where I live now, I felt lost and unsteady. Generally considered articulate and perceptive, I could not identify my turmoil, the twisting I felt, the roiling inside, and when I finally had a sense of it, I felt triply traitorous: a traitor to the me who has made a home and a life in New York; a traitor to this new rendition of me, still myself, but now living with the one I love in a wholly new environment, miles, in distance and type, from the world I created singularly and singly for myself in New York; and a traitor to us, that elements of my prior creation, the work I brought into being and honed in New York, still called to me.
My New York home no longer feels purely like home, though it houses much of what represents me. New York is a place I still adore but it seemed noisier to me, less romantically appealing, though I have loved the city for years and loved my ability to navigate it easily, at will. My new town is a place I am fond of, far different than what I am used to, but small towns have long held an appeal for me. Charming as it is, it is also missing much of what I am used to. My new home is not yet fully that, though it is home because we live in it, and it is our home because there, together, we love each other.
Home is where the heart is, and he and I agree that wherever we are together, that place is home. I was surprised to discover that I am still adjusting to what I am leaving and have left behind while I move forward in my wonderfully coupled new life, living in a place I had never thought to live but do, happily, because of our love which he says, and we both believe, was written before we were born.
For me, life has been about creating the work, bringing it into being, and with discipline and an absence of undue emotionality, honing it. My kind of honing requires ruthless editing.
I ruthlessly edited back in November, when I first locked the door on the home I created, and stepped into a new life, state and place. I knew then, as I know now, that our being together is forever and ever. But deep in my brain’s recesses, my new home must have seemed temporary because the home I created still existed, and could be easily re-entered with my key.
In this second stage, unexpected return home, potential tenants wandering through my creation, then flights, layovers, a starlit drive through a black canyon back to what is our home, I found it harder to edit as fervently and strictly as I had done when I first arrived in my new world. The emotions unleashed by my visit home have been hard to delete. The taut editing, in my work and, sometimes, in my life, the wholesale elimination of fillips, filigrees, and details, felt violent, and while those details may prove to be extraneous in time, perhaps they are not, for now.
In the weeks since returning to home and to my love, I am learning that the re-creation and revision of one’s life may require soft, careful, and delicate edits while the work of reframing the original continues.
Copyright © 2011 by Cherise Wolas
Cherise Wolas is a writer and a reluctant multi-hyphenate: film producer, lawyer, script development expert, and a principal and co-president of a New York-based film company. Recent publications of her fiction can be found at Lilith (Fall 2010, Vol. 35, No. 3), on Negative Suck (http://www.negativesuck.com), and in Sex Scene: An Anthology (available at http://www.lulu.com). Thunderclap! Press will publish another of her short fictions in Spring 2011. Her work can also be found at cherisewolas.weebly.com. A fiction editor at THIS Literary Magazine (www.thiszine.org), she is working on a novel and a collection of entwined short stories. Leaving behind the bustle of New York City, she has relocated to a small town, with the love of her life.
So many thanks to Cherise Wolas for sharing her words and opening her home for us to read about. I felt as if I was in her apartment, feeling and seeing the space through her eyes. A mark of a fine writer, I tell you.
Although after reading this, I had the unsettling urge to tidy up my house with a bottle of fantastik.
Whether it’s in her writing or moving cross-country for love and life, Cherise is truly a great inspiration and I am glad to have gotten to know her this past year. I once had a dream about Cherise’s name and after that knew she was someone who would stick with me. After bonding over Edgar Allen Poe we both decided that if we ever go drinking at a bar we’re choosing whatever free alcohol there is.
Plainly put, we ain’t buyin’.