I don’t remember when I learned that people were allowed to own houses, but I know it would have come as a surprise to me. I don’t know who I thought my family paid rent to, I guess I thought of the word rent as having a similar meaning as the word live. I do remember when I learned that there were places where one town ended and there wasn’t immediately another town. I was in 3rd or 4th grade. I want it to be 3rd grade because that sounds better, but it was probably 4th because I wasn’t that bright of a kid. We lived in Massachusetts with my grandparents and in Massachusetts, it’s one town after another, when one thing ends another begins, the universe is full, everything has been born. I’m the youngest of three brothers. I’m late to everything. We had to move in with my grandparents after living in Texas, where my dad’s business failed. I learned the thing about there being places where there’s no town one day when one of my older brothers was showing me an atlas of Texas, where I was born.
It was my brother Corey, the middle and the coolest of us, who was always involved in my education when it came to comic books and music, and we were in the back room of the first floor which was always dark even in the day, and I asked Corey to show me where I came from and he got out the atlas and turned on the eagle lamp, the shag carpet embedded with Legos and Lite Brite pegs and Play Doh smears, and he pointed out Houston and Missouri City and explained about the type of calculator dad had invented and explained what the word stockholder meant, and then I pointed to a blank space on the page, to west Texas and asked what was out there.
“Nothing,” he said, crinkling his nose, “there’s nothing out there.”
And the void opened up in my mind, a vast blankness at the edge of a bright red line of boundary, and I didn’t fully understand. I asked Corey how could this be, and he talked about how there were places where towns had just not been built up yet. They were unincorporated he said. He said that there were open places, free places, that didn’t belong to anybody.
It made me nervous and scared thinking about it. There was an itch in the wide flat bone part of my chest. I knew right away that my brother was wrong, and that what he was saying was impossible. Everything everywhere belonged to someone.