Please welcome today’s gust writer, Katie Ulrich. Katie graduated from Calvin in 2018 with a degree in strategic communication and international development studies. She now lives in Tegucigalpa, Honduras and works as a Research and Communication Fellow for the Association for a More Just Society.
I moved into a house on Benjamin Ave because I had nowhere else to go. My summer housing plans had fallen through after I hastily made the decision to stay in Grand Rapids. A friend who would soon be moving into the house offered to arrange for me to stay there, even though it was before she herself would move in. I took her up on the offer without ever seeing the house, knowing who my roommates would be, or realizing it was just two blocks away from the restaurant at which I’d just been hired.
I ended up in the house on Benjamin very much by accident. But I ended up spending three summers and the course of my senior year calling that house home—having moved in and out on various occasions, sharing the house with ten different roommates in total, and surprisingly finding so much joy being there.
We affectionately called our house The Benj, as if we were the only house on Benjamin Avenue. To be fair, we inherited that name from the girls who had previously lived there. Everything about that house was passed on to us, as if it was a cherished family heirloom—although that heirloom happened to be full of a bunch of leftover crap that apparently didn’t belong to anyone. We willingly took on the Benj with all its quirks. Leases were signed, although they felt more like a suggestion than an actual contract.
Somehow, we’d managed to fit five of us into this two-bedroom house for the entirety of my senior year, with one of my friends pulling a Harry Potter and making a closet into her room. (If you’re wondering what our landlord was thinking…let’s just say his chosen lack of concern in the matter says a lot about how attentive of a landlord he was.)
The house was a beige-turning-gray duplex with chipping paint that looked as though it might cave in on itself at any moment. From the front porch a set of brightly colored prayer flags swung back and forth in the wind, there to greet us after we’d made it home from classes, 8:00-5:00 days spent at a desk, night shifts at the hospital, and busy dinner shifts at that restaurant down the street. Without AC or proper insulation, it was freezing cold in the winter and unbearably hot during the summer, and yet for some reason we loved that house.
It was the kind of house that was open to everyone—where visitors turned our couches into makeshift guestrooms, where a constant stream of friends came to find refuge in our endless supply of tea or underneath the warmth of our coveted sweater blanket, and even where a few animal friends decided to make their home (I personally can report that a bat, a gopher, and a number of mice were audacious enough to make a temporary home out of the Benj).
The Benj prided ourselves on many things, including but not limited to: surviving without a microwave, our “wall of women” where we hung pictures of the females we most admired, and our elaborately themed holiday parties (my favorite being our joint celebrate of Chinese New Year and President’s Day where we honored the important role that both Barack Obama and dumplings have played in our lives).
We spent so much of our time huddled around our kitchen island—cooking, “doing homework,” venting, laughing, living. Both new and old friendships were cemented in that house, and together we took on whatever it was life happened to throw our way.
Through all the chaos and quirks, the creaking floors and animal neighbors—through all that, we took on life together and made home for ourselves. I arrived in the Benj by accident, and yet it has been maybe the thing I’ve missed most about moving away from Grand Rapids.
I guess I’ve learned that home can be wherever you end up.