Gangster’s Paradise

By Brianna Hobson

What is Home? First Place Winner

Home for me is the slums of the East Bronx. From the outside, my hood looks like paper mache cut-out of a Gordon Parks photograph. When the front door slits ajar, a mouth somewhere opens to yawn. Perhaps out of boredom, out of violence, or something else. In truth, I used to envy friends with two parents because their houses were proper homes. With bills fully paid in, and their living room lights always on. But as a young adult, my small and cluttered apartment gives me solace. Like heroin to a junkie, my home is as meaningless as it is meaningful; it is a gangster’s paradise. 

 If haunted means to be occupied or possessed then I think my home is ghetto otherworldly. Surely possession is a good metaphor for the park that sits adjacent, where cops commonly raid and find pre-decomposed human bodies, mostly of women and dead children, animal carcasses, and other unidentifiable. You can definitely say that about the comatose street that I live on. The block is like my body’s consciousness. Secluded, psychologically avoidant, diasporic, and existing only to be orbited. Like planetary space, things in the Bronx always get lost or displaced. But that’s just because no one ever comes looking. Not even your moms.

When you walk up the stairs to my apartment, the carpet is a proud mix of brown and black in the face of colorism. The thing hasn’t been changed since the last tenant and it sure feels like it. In the underbelly of New York, I’ve learned that landlords always suck. Even when they’re your cousin or your homeboy or homegirl from down the street. Rent is cheap. The selling point is that even with gossamer walls and cellulose floors, the neighbors never seem to hear my keening at 3 o’clock in the morning. Though domestic screams from down the street seldom retreat. 

The first room when you enter the apartment is the kitchen and living room. The damn thing is pretty haunted if you ask me. Jinxed by nervosa and existential eating patterns, by forks and a broken toaster, by moldy bread boxes, and a refrigerator from the 20th century, by empty cabinets, and knives that have been promised to only ever cut food, and by loveless mothers and brokenhearted sisters. It is a room absolute in its deliberate exclusion of fathers. As haunted as it is, my father’s ghost never manifests. Not once in the entire twenty-five years we’ve lived there in ghetto limbo, did he ever show himself or spook.

Next is the bedroom. This room definitely is going to need a priest or exorcist. Ever since I was twelve or thirteen, it’s been the place for me to bleed covertly under bed sheets. Today, as a grown woman who still lives at home, it has metamorphosed into something like, butterfly cocoon. It’s what Virginia Wolf would have called a second skin. What Freud would have given the epithet, subconscious foreskin. I am my truest self here and one day, I’ll finally emerge. Though my bed has a sunken mattress that fucks my back and quadriplegics my neck, I like to lay there in the dark and look at Rorschach spots, and count black sheep including myself. And when I’m feeling particularly anxious and high-strung, I get a kick out of looking out of the curtains to see who is nearest in view. 

The prized possession of most homes is the family that resides there. It’s so chronically Hallmark. But that’s not my home. Nope. My saving grace is my closet. It is where my consciousness brews and resides, in the form of closeted pride. It’s where my amputated femininity swings and pendulum cries, where my asexuality quivers in enigma like the Rubik’s cube, and where if I pull really hard to open, the splintered door boards could suddenly split asunder, vivisecting me wide open at the seams.

From the outside, my home is haunted by le ghetto. But upon further inspection, it’s also haunted by Christ, my mother says saves. Too, it is haunted by police brutality, gunshots, and melancholic indie music. Don’t forget the blackness. Blackness takes the form of post-colonial government checks, no father-having fathers, road bumps that never seem to get fixed around the neighborhood, sneakers hanging suicidally on a line, hundreds of stray cats who like people, can’t seem to find their way home and by demons; collective and otherwise. But most importantly, my home is haunted by painful self-preservation. It is haunted by the poltergeist of pills that sit on my dresser, a bitter reminder that even as a deeply set misanthrope still, I desperately cling to life.

So yes, my home is possessed by the ghetto. Very much so. But it is also selfishly mine in all the ways a home can or could be.  My wax museum home is akin to anthropology. Black history, even. It’s not the prettiest and you’ll never see my hometown on the screen except for the local news but it’s all I’ve got,  in lieu of heirloom and reparations. Not to mention, my home is the one place I truly am — unmasked and unchained, free from everything and everyone. Even gangsters need a place to call home.