Somebody Else’s Nail

I am nothing but a hand-me-down picture on somebody else’s nail

In every place I’ve lived I have found a nail left behind by the previous inhabitants. In every place I’ve lived, I’ve hung something on that nail. When I’ve left, the nail remained. It became this odd game for me through a period when I moved 9 times in ten years. It was a lot of moving – packing and unpacking. No matter where I went, I found a nail. After a while I started searching for it before I unpacked a single thing. Then would come the adventure of what could hang in that spot.

Sometimes it was a tiny nail that wouldn’t hold much more than a small picture. Occasionally it was a strong nail, ready to hold a shelf all on its own. There was a comfort in not finding an ’empty’ apartment or house when I moved. It was ready for me to personalize it. As if this new space was saying “I’ve been waiting for you.”

I was 13 months old the first time I moved. I did not move again for 14 years. From then until…well, now…I set off on a tour of temporary places to lay my head. Living with a friend in a haunted farmhouse or a few different apartments while in college. In between some new places I ended up back in the house where I grew up for short stints. Then it was off to another space. Marriage took me to a new town and a new house. Changing jobs moved us on again. Divorce pushed me into yet another move. Then a house of my own. That one lasted a few years. It was the first time in over a decade that I’d stayed in one place more than a couple years. The first time I could settle. A couple more moves after I sold my house and eventually I ended up where I am now. Sixteen years I’ve called this place home. The longest I have held one address.

All those places rarely felt like home. Whether I owned or rented the space, it always felt temporary to me. I never expected to stay. I never treated it as if I would stay. They were all somebody else’s home, somebody else’s nails. It was always borrowed space.

I’ve been in my current house for 16 years. My son has known no other home. As I look around I see walls littered with other people’s nails. Except this time they’re all mine and my past self is the ‘other’ person. This house was solid but tired when I purchased it. This meant every surface needed fixing or repairing or updating. Every wall and ceiling was painted, floors were refinished, tile was removed, cupboards were taken down, the list goes on and on. There is little in this house that has not been made new over the years. I filled in nearly every nail hole and got to choose where I wanted to put the new ones. They would be my nails.

At one time I loved arranging my nails. At one time I loved to fill my home with art and pictures and antiques and things of all sorts. Through the years my affinity and taste has changed. Through the years I’ve learned to treasure empty spaces more. Little by little, as I changed from single to wife to mother to single mother, the purpose of the nails has changed.

In anger and in sorrow I removed pieces from my married days. Out of growth and necessity I changed pieces as my child grew. From abundance to minimalism I pared down what lived in my home. But the nails have remained.

I now look at pictures and art that adorn my walls in odd groupings, because that’s where the nails were. I have unbalanced walls and aesthetically challenging spaces because I’m working around the nails that were there. Even after 16 years, I am using what was left behind by the people I used to be. This is not my space. These are my things trying to force themselves into someone else’s space. It’s all simply borrowed.

Perhaps this is why I get the urge to move every few years. As I grow, I see that I no longer fit in the same space, but I am hesitant to change what is there. It was meaningful once and I’m not quite ready to let go of those memories – memories hung upon nails of the past. By moving, I never have to see my memories erased, taken down, spackled over. It’s like leaving a bookmark in a book you’ll likely never finish. Even though you know you won’t pick it up again you still want to remember where you were, how far you got at one time. Leaving your mark, your memory, for someone else to find.

Most of the things that surround me in this house came from another time and space; cast offs from friends and family piled at my door. There is very little in my house that I purchased myself. Many of the things I purchased were from second-hand stores. They come with the history pre-loaded, so I don’t need to worry about adding my own. Now they sit on well-meaning shelves or sadly spaced hooks, waiting to be loved. Hand-me-down pictures on somebody else’s nail, aching to fit in.

Isn’t that what we’re all looking for anyway?

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