I secretly slept in the high school when I was young and a student there. It was before I learned that if I slept with older men I could sleep in their bed. It was after I learned that if I paint... the rest of the world can, for a time, melt away into fantasies of things like our own world but kinder. All refuge was temporary.
My privilege was to be poor and homeless and young in a place untouched by the violent times happening elsewhere. My advantage was knowing nothing more than the place I was born in. My regret: my face. Mixed race, foreign looking to everyone. An early sign of changing times. An invasion on a country birthed out of invasive practices.
I was rude to the principal once when he came to admire the things that I painted. I was afraid that if he was too interested in me that my secrets would come out and I would be taken away from him and my teachers and the school and the bullies and the friends and the small sliver of world I had that I thought I knew. Wherever you are sir, I’m sure you don’t remember, but still, I am sorry.
I had many hiding places. They were clever and unclever. I knew that the odder I was the more invisible the signs and symptoms of my situation would be. I slept in the creases of my favorite English teacher’s classroom because I liked her and I liked the tilt of her voice. I lurked in my Latin classroom, wishing to absorb new language. In maths, bless them, they could tell I was trying. I can’t remember why I got so many detentions but I liked them and liked being there. It gave me a quiet place to get homework done and it gave me a place to be.
It was a cold land so of course I was drawn to warm places. When the sun disappeared so did I.
- behind the stairs that led to the stage of the auditorium
- in the very back of the storage closet that linked two art rooms
- under teachers’ desks that were large enough that I wouldn’t be noticed if I carefully folded myself under, like a dog
- in the gym between unused mats
- in the basement where light didn’t tend to touch, where the comforting sounds of janitors and fixit-men could be heard at reliable increments (although this was my least favorite sleeping place because of creatures I could sometimes feel scurry over me in the dark)
Places you might assume to be good for hiding are not. Like libraries or the nooks of vacant hallways. People wanting to kiss each other do not appreciate a sleeping body posted in their claimed space.
I never dared to creep into the cafeteria kitchen, besides I wasn’t the type to steal. I worked several jobs and so I had several warm places as well as money. I knew better than to use certain high school facilities at odd hours. I always went to gym class so that after I could enjoy a good shower.
I had breaks from sleeping at the school. Sometimes I went to sleepovers. Sometimes I stayed with friends. Sometimes I went home... but never for long. I still fear nothing more in this world than my mother. When I feel weak or unsure I still have nightmares of her screaming and chasing me through buildings with infinite doors that only lead back inside. Even now thinking of her upsets my stomach and makes me wish to fold so far into myself that I become nothing.