Why favor a bed over a mess of hay, empty park bench, railway car gunny sack? The idea of never sleeping in the same space twice jumps my stomach, hollows out my learned home-devotion. For whatever measured tedium afflicts those who know daily of the same place to return, I long to live like a wild horse. Adrift in some misty animal country, by my wits.
At a festival in a remote location, I bathed in a lake and forgot about mirrors. Though I sprouted smells the likes of which I hadn’t realized my body capable, I had a plane to catch. My cell phone was dead, but it was only a matter of time until I’d find an outlet. We festival people had nowhere to actually ramble. We had homes and bills. All these people with my same fantasy, engendered from films, maybe, or fairy tales. Creative types prone to whimsy, make-believe. Adults who played alone a lot as children.
A bare-chested man stood outside my tent at dawn, lathering my bar of ivory soap. He made a bowl with his hands and I filled them with water from my plastic jug. I watched his sunburnt back as he walked away from me, never to be seen again.
Though traveling has led me to the backs of cars, the dreggy carpet of airports, I have never slept an entire night in an alley or on a park bench. I have spent the majority of my adult life living on credit cards and student loans. I have a house, a stove.
Yet my drifting fantasy comes on very strong. At this point in my life it has something to do with a man wearing a hat with a feather, being comfortable going without shoes. Human odor, toothpick-lips. A woman seated at a campfire, breast exposed, feeding her infant. Jutting stream-rocks used as laundry washboards.
Six years ago, Pierrick, an eighteen-year-old blonde, crawled through my window. He handed me roses, my then-boyfriend a baguette, both recently scavenged from dumpsters. My boyfriend was always meeting people in cafes and on the street, though it had gotten even more frequent in Southern France, where people had more time and less fear of strangers. We were eighteen too, on the verge of dropping out of the language class we had spent a year saving up for by working in restaurants. In our hut-like home, my boyfriend cooked pasta with olives while Pierrick sat at our kitchen table sketching in the pad I’d left there. When he got up the plastic seat of his chair was smeared with something sticky. Against the sounds of his gargles and hacks in our bathroom, separated from the one room that comprised our house by a thin shawl, I glanced at the pad where he’d been sketching. “FUCK HUMAN RACE” was written in all caps, surrounded by glyph-like stick figures in various postures of dejection.
Later in the evening, my boyfriend, heady on wine and his expatriatism, contrarian and idealistic, asked Pierrick why he wasn’t doing more with his freedom. Certainly his lifestyle bespoke a rebellion that should be spread beyond the constraints of his single personhood. “What do you know!” Pierrick shouted in his mangled English. “You living in your little castle of stove and bed and petite woman!” “You’re lazy!” my boyfriend shouted in French, as Pierrick raged out the door to meet the unleashed black dog always at his side.
I don’t mean to idealize the legitimately homeless, or displaced populations forced to flee their homelands due to atrocities of famine and war. Fortunately, Pierrick was none of these things. His parents had cut him off, but would bring him back into the fold if he agreed to go to University. A few weeks after he had stormed out, I saw him standing in the shell of a phone booth, shouting heatedly. Something told me it was his mother on the other end of the line, though I have no way to prove it.
Yet it begs the question: drifters still have to eat. Even if I were to find a way to shirk home-space steady, finger-sift free time and space, I’d need cash. Without a job, where would I find the money for the fabric and the needle to make the sheer apron I’d wear as I languidly grazed the unowned earth?
Recently in Denver I watched a band on tour, drifting through the country in an old schoolbus they’d refurbished with loft beds and a sink. One of the musicians, an accordion player, formed a sculpture ship from cardboard while singing a cappella a song about pirates. He wore a long beard, mustache. A red handkerchief wilted from his high-waisted jeans. There was the feathered hat. “These are my people,” I thought. One of the women in the band played a flute, the same instrument I’d played in middle school before dropping out because I cared what people thought of me. Maybe this was where it was all leading. I am twenty-nine and unattached and childless. There’s still time to join a band.
And yet I like a good night’s sleep, showers. I have not yet found a rival to the mystical feeling that sets in on late afternoons in early autumn, the slight chill in the air and leaf-crunch underfoot sending me into some low-lit corner store. I buy apple cider, cinnamon, candles. At home there is a couch, a blanket. What cannot be replicated outside of the home is the particular sensation of looking out a window, watching someone approach.