Ari Mejia felt mixed emotions of acceptance and denial the first day of the stay-at-home order.
“I woke up that morning doing all of the usual things,” she said. “I made coffee and I took my vitamins and I just felt the heaviness of ‘OK. In my apartment. Here we are.’”
Mejia’s wife Angela was also home, and it didn’t take long for things in their Humboldt Park apartment to feel crowded. Angela quickly claimed the living room, leaving Mejia to wonder how to find her own personal space within the apartment.
“I just was like, ‘Where can I go?’” she said.
Mejia, a freelance audio producer, youth mentor and artist, turned to a tiny second bedroom that until now had been mostly a storage room “cluttered with boxes and wedding gifts that we haven’t opened yet,” she said.
Mejia envisioned a personal oasis amidst the clutter.
“The idea of a fort came to mind right away, and I just set to it.”
Building the fort
Mejia strung yarn across the room, draped sheets over the scaffolding she had built and crawled inside.
“I acknowledge that I'm 34 years old, and yes, I am building a fort,” she laughed.
She decorated the space with Christmas lights, a lamp, a couple of afghans and some pillows.
“I’ve brought my guitar and my ukulele in here,” she said. “And I made a little shelf out of books that I prop my laptop on top of.”
Mejia said her fort has become a space for both rest and work.
“I have Zoom meetings in here,” she said. “I talk on the phone, I read.”
“A portal to anywhere”
In a time of so much uncertainty and lack of control, Mejia said her fort gives her a sense of freedom and agency — she built something that didn’t exist before and crawled inside it.
“My fort feels like a portal to anywhere I want it to be,” she said. It’s made her think back in time to her childhood, and it’s transported her through space.
“I even imagine like I'm in the woods and I can hear cicadas and rain falling.”
As Mejia’s world was made smaller by being forced to stay at home, she responded by building something smaller still, and found an expanse inside it.
“I’ve built a fort inside the fortress that is my house,” she said. “And you would think I made even a tinier space. But truth be told, it feels even bigger.”
Linda Lutton is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @lindalutton. Joe DeCeault is a senior producer for WBEZ. You can follow him on Twitter at @joedeceault. Katherine Nagasawa is WBEZ's audience engagement producer. You can follow her on Twitter at @Kat_Nagasawa.