Post- Magazine

when a house becomes a home [A&C]

life unfolds in the living room

I have changed. Since the beginning of 2023, I have been stretched out, hammered down, tugged at, and put back together. My face now has small red spots from taking naps under the sun, and I know how to hold contempt in my hands. I like lentils, floss more regularly, learned how to be more emotionally vulnerable even when it is terrifying, and no longer believe 3 am is a passable bedtime. 

Other things have changed too. My nails are painted red. I think I’m getting better with dogs. At school, I now live in a house instead of a dorm. My room has three exit doors: one cannot be fully shut, and the doorknobs on the other two fall off when I close them.


I cried the whole drive up to our new Providence home. Turmoil unexpectedly shoved itself into my family’s face. Rain started to pour almost immediately after I began the drive from New York. Alone for the first time in weeks, everything I had been suppressing—frustration, exhaustion, guilt—came pouring out too, right on cue. By the time I pulled into our treacherously narrow parking lot for the first time, rain was still coming down. But it was Providence rain and no longer New York rain, and I felt like I could breathe again. 

I was the first of the incoming group to move in. The light wind from the rain had left the back door ajar and I entered in the dark, stumbling up a few steps before the lights were motioned on. I knocked on our unit, which creaked wide open by the third knock. Two guys, sitting at the kitchen island eating noodles with chopsticks and watching something on a propped-up phone, greeted me with a "Hey," and a nod and told me the key was on the table around the corner. I walked in, then realized that I would soon be doing this exact thing daily, and wondered if this was the way I would always walk into the house. Where would I set my keys or take off my shoes? (I’d later learn to hang my keys on the left corner pin on the corkboard, next to Naomi and Mai-Thanh’s. And outside or by the door please, thank you.) In the living room, a gray couch with a pronounced dip and a wobbly floor lamp, clearly in need of tightening, were spaced awkwardly far apart. The house looked different from when I had toured the previous year—emptier. It felt different too—smaller, darker, more somber. 

It was not until I moved the rest of my stuff in later that week that I noticed the white brick fireplace and yellow and orange stained-glass window that made the whole living room glow in the afternoon. 

I came to learn the creasing patterns of our house: the drawer that gets hot when the oven is on, the force with which you have to pull the back door so it shuts properly, which light switch combination provides the most ambient light. I would also learn that Mai-Thanh lets the bath faucet get warm before pulling for the overhead shower. I’d come to find out you can put chili crisps on just about anything to make it taste better—something Naomi has known her whole life.

This house is beginning to feel more like home: we have sesame oil in the cabinet, the rice paper I grew up eating in the pantry, and kimchi and gochujang in the fridge. Flavors and warmth grow familiar on my tongue and my heart breaks the way it did in high school. On a Sunday evening, I crack an egg into the boiling soup and swirl it around like Mom showed me, then take the ramen noodles off a little earlier like I learned I love. 


When I’m done, I take the ramen pot to the nesting spot I’ve found in the living room: the outside chair at the brown squeaky wooden table. Mai-Thanh has settled into her preferred spot on the couch, legs on the coffee table and computer in lap. Naomi shuffles out of her bedroom with a book, her slippers softly meeting the floor, and plops herself into the red armchair that swallows her whole as she falls into it. The candles are still lit from earlier when I needed more light to write, now illuminating a romantic dinner for one. I eat and aimlessly browse my computer, Mai-Thanh works, and Naomi reads. The scene almost resembles the start of a sitcom. 


I know every line of every episode of Friends. It happened without me noticing. In high school, I watched the show every day. When I finished it (for the second time), I moved onto New Girl. On the bus ride home from school, I walked straight to the back, plugging my earbuds in as I made my way down. Once settled with the screen resting on my knees, I’d begin the episode where I left off the night before. By the time I arrived home, I was onto the next one. I’d switch to my iPad which would follow me around the house, effortlessly propped up—as I washed my hands (bathroom), peeled off my socks (bedroom), and put a pot over the stove to boil for ramen (kitchen). 

By the time I entered high school, my sister had left for college and my mom had started working again, leaving early and coming back late with my dad. I found myself in an empty house most of the time, so I filled it with Friends who would sit around and chat and live their lives alongside mine. 


In Providence, after my long day on Thursdays, I love coming home. If I’m lucky, my girls are also back. I can always tell by the warm glow of light from outside. I hurry in. Opening the back door with a push of my foot, I spot Naomi pulling sheet pans of sweet potato and tofu out of the oven. She always assembles her bowl without hesitation and has a bounce in her step that falls on beat with the music playing from her speaker. Before I make it around the corner, Mai-Thanh’s cough, muffled under the blanket she and her iPad are wrapped in, gives her away. I swap my day’s clothes for sweats and plop next to Thanh on the couch; she lifts the side of the blanket to invite me in. 

The TV in our living room is hardly ever on. Even when us three girls overlap in the living room, not doing much, we’ll sit there and not do much. Maybe we’ll chat and get excited about the weekend or recap our days with funny stories and reenactments. Otherwise, we will migrate to our nesting spots and ‘parallel play’—what Maddie describes as “indulging in independent activities side-by-side.” Consumed by her book, Naomi will barely realize she is tapping her foot to the same beat I am nodding along to. The kettle will click off in the kitchen, and we’ll refill our cups of tea before resuming our activities. 

With only a few months left of my final year at Brown, I am thinking about change and what it means. Four years ago, I was in high school, my senior year marked by yet another runthrough of Friends, following me from the car ride home until I dozed off in bed. Now in Providence, when evening comes and the house grows still, I seldom have the urge to fill it with Joey and Chandler’s banter or Monica and Rachel’s girl chats. The familiarity that I once sought and created through a screen in front of me has written itself into this very living room. This is it. 

This, I realize, will change. Come June, this house will no longer be ours and we will be moving once again. I will pack its contents—the posters and sauces and plants in the living room—and place it all into another space confined by walls. This home will revert to a house on John Street. 

But tonight, Naomi will close her book with a stretch, sleepily bidding us goodnight, and Mai-Thanh will crawl into bed to finish her work for the day. The speaker turns off and the night quickly silences. In a bit, I’ll blow out the candles, switch the living room lamps off, and draw the blinds. Black screen; cue end credits. 

Things change, sometimes it turns a house into a home.

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