My mother used to huff a dress I’d worn once and say, disturbed, “It smells like you!” For years I couldn’t smell that smell, then I smelled it all the time, like growing into your signature.

Once I’ve been somewhere long enough—an apartment, a workplace—it “gets that smell.” Once I’ve been somewhere long enough I can always go back. A place breaks down into impressions, the give of the kitchen tile, the view from the bathroom vanity, which assimilate into me.

I joined bolt.com, a teen social networking site that no longer exists, in our apartment beside the alley next to the fast-food restaurant whose cooks, some of them classmates from my junior high, were expected to sing while they flipped burgers. I read Stephen King’s It and got my first period, looped the Portishead album I’m listening to now, stole Camels from my dad—I’ve quit, but there’s a pack in my bag.

I spent most days and nights on Bolt, making friendships of which no record exists with people whose names I never learned that determined the rest of my life. There’s a moment in almost all of my dreams when I find myself in that apartment; I just slip down from the pile of all that has happened since.

Alexandra Molotkow is a writer and an editor at Real Life magazine