When I was seventeen, I was told to hunker down. I was in an acting class and had just spent about fifteen minutes improvising a scene played out on a tightrope between the life I was living and the one I’d just created for my character. Real Life Improv – that’s what my teacher called it, a modern take on Stanislavki’s method. It was life as we knew it with a minor tweak strong enough to flip one’s entire world upside down, the what if questions we could actually wrap our minds around.
Drug addiction, pregnancy, the impulse decision to run away, whatever crisis I’d chosen that week had felt real enough to get my heart racing, hands trembling, and the character screaming in my head, “Don’t leave, stay with me!” as I attempted to break free and focus on critiques from the class. “Hunker down,” my teacher said. “Go to where you need to go.”
I walked into a closet full of costumes, props, and tech equipment. I cleared out a space against the wall, suddenly aware of just how loud the voice in my head was compared to the sound-proofed closet, like laying your head on a pillow after a long night of live music. I sat down, tucked my knees in, closed my eyes, and took myself to my happy place, to the things that are purely me.
Sometimes that place was at the top of a mountain where I’d take a moment to admire my surroundings and scope out the path in front of me before I’d go flying down on my snowboard, but more often than not, I was just back in my room, the room where I grew up, the room where on sunny days after preschool, Mom and I would take a nap on the part of my bed where the sun spilled out through the window, warming up our bodies as my eyes closed heavy, full of youth and bliss.
Sitting in that closet, hunkered down, I opened up the memories file, coming up with any and all moments surrounding that window. The window takes up the majority of one wall. It’s broken up into four sections with the bottom two having the option to open. It faces south and when it comes to the amount of light it lets in, well, no holds barred.
It defines my room. Good vibes is the usual expression people use when first entering my room. It’s the reason I moved back in about a year after my brothers and I swapped rooms when the oldest left for college. While it was cool having a room nearly double the size, I’d often find myself wandering into my old room, just to open the window up real high so the room could smell sweet or to take a nap in the sun on a weekend afternoon. Feeling homesick in college, this is where I’d take myself.
On September 7, 2009, I wrote in my journal, “The leaves are starting to change. This is one of my most favorite times of the year. That crisp smell is in the air. Right now, I’m sitting on my roof in jeans and a sweatshirt listening to Jay-Z’s new song, Forever Young. I’ve had it on repeat for the past hour.”
Hunkered down, I’d take myself to this moment, too, back to those moments of serenity during the apparent turmoil encompassing my teenage life, reminding me that life actually is and will be okay. Perhaps neighbors thought I was reckless breaking the screen out my window so I could sit perched on that greatly slanted bit of rooftop, and maybe I was reckless those nights past midnight when I’d smoke a cigarette or two up there, but it’s those moments I spent with myself, gazing out that window dreaming of bigger things that became something I could think of when I needed to bring myself back to me.
I haven’t felt the need to hunker down in a while, I haven’t smoked a cigarette in a while, and I haven’t taken the screen out of the window in a while, mostly because once I stopped going to acting class, Real Life Improv just became the slightly less dramatic real life and to hunker down would be to escape instead of experiencing and feeling everything for what it is. However, sometimes, when I’m feeling lost and I need to think of home, I come back to my window. I know my quiet suburban street isn’t much to look at, but sometimes that’s just exactly what I need to look at. And sometimes, when I’m home on a weekend afternoon and the sun is spilled out across my bed, I pass out with total abandon like the exhausted three year old I used to be after a long morning of preschool.