I have not had a room of my own for twenty-eight years. More specifically, a place with a door that closes with the expectation of a knock to enter.
In that span, I have lived in two apartments and five homes with my husband, four kids, five dogs, three cats, one hedgehog, and a chameleon.
To compensate, I have taken over corners of shared bedrooms, put my desk in halls and entryways, and stored my treasures in piles on the floor and forgotten boxes in garages.
Currently, I have taken up residence at our dining room table in the middle of our open-plan common living area. I work at the edge of a constant flow of people and pets.
From under a heavy quilt, I watch the pinky-orange, slow blooming, Michigan winter sunrise. It crosses my mind that I am living my remedy.
It begins to snow, exaggerating the quiet, and then I hear my Airbnb host start her morning in the kitchen below my room.
I am in Grand Rapids to tend to a tenant transition. My visits follow the cyclical nature of leases and maintenance projects. Each time, I stay in a different Airbnb room in a home near our two rental properties.
The neighborhood has become popular with tourists, giving rise to a proliferation of Airbnb offerings.
The first room I picked was in a beautifully renovated historic home. My Airbnb hosts were a hyper-meticulous young couple. The week before my stay, they sent me pages of rules to adhere to, many of which concerned their newly adopted 110-pound nervous dog.
My room was on the second floor, and the bathroom was downstairs. On the first night, I walked up and down the stairs as the couple entertained in their living room. They introduced me to their friends as I held my toothbrush in my hand.
My hosts’ new dog had a needy love for everyone and abandonment issues. Upon arrival, it was mentioned that the dog may want to sleep with me, although I was not obligated to do so.
The dog slept in my room both nights.
In contrast, I stayed at another home where I had a private entrance. The back door led to my room through a hall that was most likely the servants’ access during the home’s glory days.
I never met my host in person. However, we had robust text conversations about life and being middle-aged women. When I returned to Austin, she sent me an email inviting me back, along with the suggestion that I join her women’s only hiking group. I attempted to re-book with her twice, but she seldom has vacancies.
More recently, I splurged for one of the best-rated, trendier Airbnb locations. The steeper price came with breakfast. When I arrived, I was greeted by the homeowner. He looked the part of the hip host. We talked about Austin, travel, and the Grand Rapids food scene.
He had grown up in the home, and his wife supervised an exquisite, museum-quality overhaul of the place. I was warned, with a smile, that their two small children have run of the house.
The next morning, I had breakfast with farmers who were in Grand Rapids for an agricultural conference. As we waited for food, we talked about the pros and cons of pest control.
Childish laughter spilled from the kitchen as their mom, our host, burst through the swinging door with a pot of coffee. She was genuinely welcoming but scattered from a morning of kids and cooking breakfast.
She kept forgetting our names and asking us the same questions. Her conversation devolved into happy, breathy blather. It was endearing to me, a person who raised four kids, but it was an unfamiliar state to the childless farmers.
Over the last couple of years, circumstances have required more frequent trips to Grand Rapids, usually by myself. A routine and structure have evolved and taken an anticipated form. I have a favorite bakery, restaurant, and grocery store. There is seldom the need for Google maps, and the front desk person at the YMCA remembers my name.
My visits are spent in the solitude of fixing, painting, and preparing homes for other people. Most of my conversations are with the old men at the hardware store, contractors, and servers at restaurants.
There is relief in my aloneness.
I live in strangers’ homes like a benign ghost. There is an awkwardness in being surrounded by other people’s lives, but also a soothing freedom in the detachment required for the arrangement to work.
Finally, a room of my own, in the most unexpected place, thirteen hundred miles away from home.
For a few days, it is my space, just mine, every square inch.