Five years ago, I sat at my desk in a small room in a rented house. On that desk sat a copy of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, which I kept as a companion and reminder of the importance it inspired, not only for a woman’s financial independence, but also the poetic license to create her own narrative. At the time, I had a small baby and was in a relationship that was struggling to maintain a version of the happily ever after story in which we tell ourselves we must take part. On a page in my journal, I wrote three things:
- Go to grad school
- Get a better job
- Buy a house
My relationship experiment was failing, and I was desperate for my daughter to grow up knowing what real love looks like, even if it meant just the two of us. I worked hard to be able to check off the first two goals, and then a few years later, I signed my name dozens of times, finally purchasing a home of my own.
My house has transformed me. It is the medal I awarded myself for the emotional labor I’ve expressed, the bad decisions I’ve made, and the uphill battles I’ve fought. All this, just to be able to give my daughter a life that shows that the reward for a struggle can be beautiful, even if it isn’t shiny and new.
My house is bowing and bending and settling into the North Carolina soil it was built upon. The crawlspace floods and the foundation has housed more than a few critters who have sustained themselves on the old structure. I can’t say I did everything completely on my own; there have been many people who loved me and offered support in one way or another, and also people who hurt me in ways that added layers of scar tissue that I needed to feel brave enough to create this life for myself. My house serves as a reminder that I am not alone—dear friends came at the ready to repair the swing set outside for my daughter, replace old lighting fixtures, move furniture up the narrow staircase, and fill the inside with their spirits. This house stores energy—after signing the papers and getting the key, I drove over alone and laid on the floors and felt every hand that had ever hammered nails, every footstep traversed, every heartbreak, every joy—all of it. Since then, I’ve watched myself grow more into the woman I’ve always wanted to be in this house. I’ve watched my daughter change and shift into her own unique being. I fell deeply in love with my partner in this house. This house has given me that kind love I wanted to model for my daughter, all by being a place of my own.
I think about Woolf’s urging (almost 90 years ago!) for women to have control of their own lives. I have had more than one rage-induced cry, and owning my home alone is not without its toils. When I find out I’m not as handy as I’d like to think I am, or when I find it difficult to pay my bills because we still live in a world where a one-income home is often a recipe for financial ruin. What would Woolf advise of those of us who still long for financial independence and freedom, even after the deed has been signed? One that isn’t tied to banks that own our homes, and doesn’t require us to beg and plea that utilities stay on, choose groceries today over health care expenses tomorrow, or insist that we call our friends and family to ask for money to help. One that doesn’t require a woman to go “above and beyond” or tug at some invisible bootstraps to be able to live a life that doesn’t necessitate a man. What would she say about a society that still creates and maintains these struggles for women? And if this is the experience of a single middle class white woman, what about the experiences of so many other women who are not afforded the luxuries of accessing better job opportunities or a home loan? Are they any less deserving of a room of one’s own?
I know I will never take this experience for granted, particularly if I ever have to see my home one last time through a rear-view mirror. The opportunity to transform and reflect and grow is one for which I will forever be thankful, even as the literal walls around me age and decay. Every moment lived in this home (by myself and others before me) has lent a hand in helping me create a story that strays from tradition. This space and the beating hearts within it struggle to withstand every external force that tries to weather us. There is something ancestral and sacred in the tandem stories we are creating here, and I am extremely fortunate to be a part of it all.
I opened that journal again recently, and on the pages I had written:
My house is my lover.
and a heartbeat.
It creaks around me and greets me when I come home.
It’s stood for 154 years,
never asking for anything in return.
It misses me when I’m gone
I feel it when I’m away.
I split, stack, and burn wood.
I empty rain barrels and ash.
I close fences, run my hands
over the walls,
cry on the floor.
I’ll work hard for this love.
Photos provided by author
Stevie Alverson is Birmingham, Alabama born and bred but currently lives, works, and loves in Asheville, North Carolina. She spends her life in between the contradictory space of pining over historical items and trying to make amends with the United States’ rocky past (and present). She is a constant crusader for encouraging and supporting social change through early childhood education.