Hedy Lamarr winked at me from the front porch. She held up her iced tea in salute to my less than subtle drive-by around a 1920’s two story house I hoped to make my own. After years of locational upheaval, landing a bit of security reigned supreme in my heart. I glanced at the wooden floor boards, wanting to add a coat of my own stories to the weathered brown paint peeling from the surface. I waved back at her, blinking away her brown curls from the tendrils of my brain. I have no idea whether or not Hedy spent any time in Kansas City, but the stunning intelligence and cheeky demeanor of the 1940’s actress and inventor added levity to my desperate prayers for address possession.
This is not the first time I have lusted after a beautiful home that could be mine, if only the housing gatekeepers would smile down upon my little caravan.
Three years before, we were living on a 5-square-mile island in the Dutch West Indies, managing a food and supply shortage in the aftermath of surviving the eye of the strongest Atlantic hurricane in recorded history. While my husband chipped away at a grueling first year of international medical school, I was drowning in depression and thought maybe a slightly larger house with a slightly better view would pull me back from the proverbial cliff.
It had all started with pictures. Image after image of cozy nooks with ocean views framed by pink bougainvillea flooded my iPad. It was mid March, 2017, and my husband was on the island, searching for the place we would call home during our time spent in the Dutch Caribbean. “I can really see you thriving here,” my husband had texted while the mystery of Saba began to materialize before my eyes. I imagined myself having a glass of wine in the garden gazebo while the sun set behind the papaya tree, or dipping my fingers in a pot of soup to determine the right ratio of spices in the kitchen where the original stone wall held all the secrets of the mothers who had made meals for their families in the same room for centuries. I could see my children playing on the spacious porch while I woke up to the day with fresh coffee and a leather journal.
“How can we be praying for you?” one of my friends had asked. I knew they were serious, but I also laughed because how does one pray for all of the impending upheaval? How does one simplify the complexity of skipping into potential oblivion? As all of these thoughts somersaulted in my skull, a surprising request surfaced.
“I want a porch with an ocean view.” I thought if I could see the ocean, if I could just inhale the breeze skimming off the foamy blue waves, every day, I would be ok. I believed the porch would create an effective buffer against my own darkness, a hole that grew bigger with each month that passed.
What I didn’t know is that a porch with an ocean view could never create home for a woman who doesn’t love herself.
Everything about this traditional Saban cottage was perfect, but due to budget constraints, we had to settle on a different house, with a much smaller porch, a kitchen boasting the parameters of a queen size bed, and multitudinous concrete steps. This would be the first in a long line of concessions I would make for the betterment of “the cause.”
Languid Caribbean sun crested like a smile over the corpulent blue waves undulating at the moon’s gravitational pull. Sint Maarten loomed like a pair of perfect breasts popping up from an island backstroke. Pulling open the curtains on my way to percolate the coffee had become a gracious morning ritual amidst the uncertainty.
On such a clear day, I purposed to do my workout on the concrete roof stretched over the breakfast nook off the side of the kitchen. I told my hopelessness I was going to live it up today.
I walked outside with a pink, cushioned mat and an ever present anxiety that things would never get better. I flung one last look at the children, securing them in their carefree play, before climbing up the tile steps leading to the landing from which I sometimes greeted the sun.
I sat down, crossed my legs, and wished I was anyone but myself, a paradox I hated while living in such a beautiful environment. Stains from previous hurricanes seeped into the underside of my mat, bleeding into the periphery of my eyesight. Anger, isolation, and disappointment gathered in the sky like rain clouds.
I thought I could contain it all–the lack of time my husband has for me, the weight of caring for three little children practically on my own, the physical distance from my family, and the emotional distance from every sense of normalcy I had experienced up until that point.
As a Christian woman, I felt pressure to be able to make it all beautiful without complaining. Homemaking on a developing island was a sort of Rumpelstiltskin experiment. The proverbial King was expecting gold from all the straw I was handed. But what if my hands are breaking? What if the spinning room is pitch black, cramped, and infested with mold and cockroaches?
What if the mom is beginning to see the people she loves as her enemies?
My senses heightened as my breathing slowed. All at once I heard a rustling beneath the mango tree behind me. The scrappy crawl was too heavy to be a lizard, too slow to be a monkey. Must be the large iguana, back to plunder what little I have left. I look in wonder at this scaly, spiky, black creature sniffing rotten mangos on his way to the overgrown tropical bush at the back of the small property.
Was there no space, external or internal, that predators did not ravage?
I didn’t want to share my mangos, even though the ones that fell to the ground weren’t edible. Nature’s fury had created a very conservative woman; you never knew when you wouldn’t have access to food, electricity, and water. The year had not gone well, and the kids and I were contemplating moving back to the U.S. for counseling and Costco. In a last ditch effort to keep the family together, we began to look for a bigger house that had a few more amenities for our growing family.
We found an exciting option within walking distance from my best friend’s house and the grocery store. It had a fenced in yard, guava trees, lots of windows, huge bedrooms, and an open kitchen. I could hear the sound of friends laughing and eating, finding their smiles again at the parties, playdates, book clubs, and game nights we would host in our beautiful home.
I was in heaven imagining my husband and I, hand in hand, sipping on rum punch while we watched the sunset from the front porch with 280 degree views, every. Single. NIGHT! This was going to be so good for our marriage.
But alas, the landlord was unwilling to concede on her insane rental price.
Every time I drove by this house, fury caught in my throat. Of course it was very visible from the road (because there was only one), and I drove down to The Bottom to pick up my daughter from the government-run Daycare every afternoon. The coveting was inescapable. I threw prayer bombs at it for weeks, hoping to blow up whatever spiritual barricades may have been keeping us from obtaining the property.
I kept thinking we would get a call from the landlord changing her mind, but that call never came. Such goodness was tantalizingly beyond my grasp, and there was nothing I could do to close my fingers around it, and possess it.
That perfect porch, that parcel of peace, would remain just outside of my reach.
The methodical click of the gas stove catching flame is like music mingling with the hum of the coffee grinder. Fresh water baptizes my hands in preparation to fill a steel kettle. An evocative, nutty bloom caresses each cheek as boiling water races through the coarse grounds bundled up in a cone filter. This halcyon, Kansas City morning invites me to sit down and linger over a daydream.
I open the wooden cabinet above the glass carafe and select my mood for the day. I think the yellow mug featuring Belle from Beauty and the Beast, a long ago gift from my younger sister, will suffice for today. Worlds have collided, and it feels a bit like a fairytale.
I make a small cafe con leche for my daughter who joins me out on the front porch. Each creak of the old floorboards flexes with tension and relief as I add my own pressure and hope, making my way to the navy blue adirondack chairs facing the pear tree. Such a shattering and remaking has brought me here. A subtle shift in the branches catches my eye, and I spy a brown squirrel with the fluffiest tail I have ever seen, mowing through a green pear with the precision and speed of a typewriter.
This time, I don’t mind sharing my tree with the locals.
“Eat as much as you like,” I whisper as my daughter giggles.
I smile, leaning back in my chair, then notice a glamorous apparition with soft, glossy curls making her way down the steps from the porch to the stone lined sidewalk. She stops at the corner of arrival and departure, winks at me, and vanishes.
There is nothing more peaceful than a woman who has found home within herself, no matter the view.
Kelsi Folsom is a Texas-born writer whose work is published in The Caribbean Writer, West Texas Literary Review, Grit and Virtue, Motherly, Voice of Eve, and elsewhere. She is the author of Buried in the Margins (Finishing Line Press, 2020) and poetry chapbook Words the Dirt Meant to Share (Desert Willow Press, 2018). She enjoys traveling with her husband and four kids, getting lost in a good novel, occasionally putting her B.M. in Voice Performance to good use, and connecting with her readers on Instagram @kelsifolsom.