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There’s No Place Like 7-Eleven

Amongst my fellow snack seekers, I feel more at home than I ever have

Photo by Smith Collection/Gado via Getty Images

Gas Pumps

My relationship with my family hasn’t been comfortable for years.

Part of reassessing “home” means wondering why, when I think of my family, I get stressed out; why it makes me want to go to a safe spot to consider comfort. In the wake of the election, like many others in my situation, I reassessed what it was I already knew about the people who raised me. What I had allowed to happen around me for the sake of comfort. I found I could not live with it anymore and could not bear the thought of supporting it.

I stopped showing up for family dinners. Stopped returning calls. Stopped being available. In return, this meant I needed to fill the void with the comfort and safety that I’d been previously lacking. I turned more often than not to the place that always took care of me, the place I always wanted to be whenever I was sad, whenever I was happy.

I went to 7-Eleven on Christmas Day, the first one I’d spent alone. I went there after I found out that I’d sold my first novel — I bought a bottle of champagne, and we toasted together in the store, me and the cashier. I found myself sharing more of my life — not just my time, but actual pieces of myself with the people who worked there. It became a place where I went to feel more like myself. It was a part of me. When I think of what I want to do, who I want to talk to, where I want to go to feel better about myself, I think of that structure and the people it holds.

I think of that store and consider it my family.

Photo by Richard Levine/Corbis via Getty Images

Hot Dog Roller

Take a minute and consider what you mean when you say the word “home,” that word rolling around in your mouth like a prayer. An utterance full of fleshy consonants and round vowels. Home, sounding like om, sounding like the noise you make when you’re trying to meditate, when you’re trying to clear your mind. A house is not a home, but sometimes we tell people, “Let’s make this house a home,” as if by uttering the phrase to another human being, we might transform the space into something that holds us like a mother might cradle a child.

I am speaking, of course, about the ways in which we try to comfort ourselves. I am speaking of the ways I’ve tried to change the shape of the place where I grew up into something that fits my body, but instead I am like Alice, trapped inside the house after eating the cake that makes her grow too large. One foot shoved through a doorway, toes wiggling, airing out for escape that won’t come.

Beer Cooler

Inside the 7-Eleven, I find people and food, people holding food, people paying for gas. There are people who know me, true, but there is always someone new in the building who doesn’t know who I am — who looks through me, past me, as if I were part of the store itself. Part of me loves that idea. That I am part of the home-body, that the store has embraced me and has absorbed me until I have become part of the scenery. Isn’t that what home is? Comfort in knowing that you’re an integral part of place? That it couldn’t exist without you?

The cashiers save me cans of my favorite shitty beer. They save me the wine I like, too—screw-top bottles that got me through the hurricane that ravaged the state last year. It’s not us sharing a meal, but it reminds me of the ways I used to sit at Sunday lunch and eat the same things — the favorites — the meals that had become staples. There is still a big part of me that craves routine. Stability.

The 7-Eleven freezer, much like my parents’ fridge, will forever contain the same ingredients.

Photo by Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Chips

Did you know there are so many different types of chips at this point that you could manufacture an entire meal just out of different crinkly bags? Main course, side dish, dessert. There are chips labeled “prime rib.” There are some that contain honey; pumpkin pie flavor.

I did not go to Thanksgiving with my family this past year, or the year before that, either. I receive texts from my family that I never reply to, phone calls I do not return. Delete, delete. They live less than 10 minutes away and I’m not going to have dinner with them ever again. The house they occupy now is not the house where I grew up, and it can’t be. The 7-Eleven I call my own is not the one I went to as a child, but it could be. Everything feels very much the same. The employees, the customers, the food. Every store has the capacity to feel like home: air redolent with cleanser and overcooked meat, lines of lottery scratch-off tickets, cups spilling sticky onto the floor next to the soda machine.

Candy Aisle

Things I think about when I think about my family: how I would have to hide who I was, what I thought about things, who I loved, curtailing my patterns of speech to fit into a level of comfort that they could withstand. Things didn’t get discussed in my family; they were glossed over. To make their lives comfortable, it was expected that I would sacrifice my own comfort. That in order to let them believe the things they believe, I would have to be quiet and sit in the room, my corner becoming smaller and smaller until I could no longer fit into it without suffocating on my own voice.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Lottery Tickets

What does it mean when your home deserts you? Can you even find another? Part of me had been looking for a while, maybe. Part of me had been seeking a way to give myself the support I’d been lacking, to give myself something to cling onto once I decided I could no longer support a family who didn’t support me.

So, 7-Eleven, with its bevy of helpful employees, food, overall vibe of comfort and stability and SAMENESS, was there so I could let go of the thing that was smothering me to death. It is still close to me; it is still in Florida. But it is also something I can carry around everywhere and know I can find it again and again. The same lights, the same foods, the same smell of the air conditioning and floor-mop cleanser and hum of the Slurpee machine. I know what it feels like to come home with the smell of gasoline on my hands. Come home.

On Christmas Day, when I went over to the 7-Eleven to think about buying some orange juice and some cheap, shitty beer, I pulled into the parking lot and saw the cars and the people and the cashier standing behind the register and felt a sense of wellness. I was not alone. I felt like I was with the people who would care about me no matter what. Even if they would never know me. Even if the people traveling through never see me or spot my name, I know them, and they are embroidered on my heart. They are part of who I am, they make Kristen who she is supposed to be.

And I am the one who decides what to keep. I am the one who makes that decision.

writer, librarian, lesbian willie nelson. author of felt in the jaw (split lip '17) & mostly dead things (tin house '19). columnist for lit hub.

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