When I was a kid, I loved going on vacation. I would wait for it, wait for it, wait for it… I would look forward to it, ask about when it was coming, be SO EXCITED to go, and then, about a week before it was time to leave, I would balk. I would start dreading it. I didn’t want to go. Vacation meant a change from the routine and, as much as I loved going places and seeing things, I liked the comfort, routine, and ritual of home. Once we were on vacation, I was fine. But I loved the feeling of coming home. I could not wait to pull into our long gravel driveway, to run up to my bedroom, to find my cat and hug her and squeeze her until she was totally pissed off and looked like she wished I had been pulled away by the undertow of the ocean that left salt in my hair and sand in my shoes.
Some things, I’ve learned, change as you get older and others don’t. This pattern of both wanting and dreading change is something that remains constant. I look forward to changes. I love the excitement of going places, of changing things up, of seeing something new, of doing something different. But afterwards, I love the feeling of coming home. I love the settling into the routine, the calm comfort that brings. I love the ritual of returning to what I know. I think it is a good place to be, this loving both sides of this coin.
If you count college, which I do, then in the past 9 years, I have moved 8 times. Considering I just turned 26, that means I have moved almost every year since I was 17. That, my friends, is a lot of moving.
When I was a freshman in college, I remember talking to a friend who was getting ready to graduate. “It doesn’t seem like you’re home here yet,” she said. I was in the middle of what we’ll call “Bad Roommate Experience Numbers 1 and 2” so she was correct, but I asked her how she knew. I was happy—except for the roommate stuff—how did she know I wasn’t really home? “Because,” she told me, “you still call your dorm room ‘your room.’ You don’t yet call your room ‘home.’”
And I didn’t. Not for the first year, because it wasn’t home. Home was home—home was where my parents and sisters and cats and dogs lived. My dorm room was ‘my room’ where I happened to stay for 9 months of the year with 2 very different, very—shall we say interesting—roommates. Roommates, however, are a story for another time. My roommate stories have nothing to do with home.
My next two years at college, however, my dorm room became “home.” I loved those little rooms. They were mine. They were safe, and quiet, and they expressed me and who I was. College was a safe place with my own rituals and routines and community. Home was still home—the place with my sisters and my parents and my cat that looked pissed every time I showed up. I had two homes then: the home of my childhood, and my home with my friends and my community. I may not have always loved college or known quite what to make of it, but the space I lived in was mine: the community was a part of me and I was a part of it, and that very fact brought me home.
In Ohio, the first year was hard. I had what we’ll call my “Roommates from Hell” experiences that I can only just laugh about now and, although I lived in a large apartment, I had only one small room I stayed in 98% of the time. This room was smaller than any of my dorm rooms and had only enough room for my bed, my desk, and a very small path to walk between them. That space, though, belonged to me. It was my haven away from the insanity of grad school, from the chaos of living 9 hours away from everything I knew, and from the craziness that often occurred outside of my door. As I settled more and more into my life in Ohio, it became home. I had no choice—I was there, and I was in it for the long haul. The home I pictured in my mind was my home. My space. At times, I was homesick for my family and for the scenery of the East coast. There were times I wanted to see “my mountains” so badly it hurt, but in my soul, I was also home. The home I grew up in slowly became “my parents’ house,” and whichever apartment I was living in was where I wanted to be when I craved going home.
There were times, of course, when it didn’t feel like home: the three months I lived out of garbage bags because the apartment was infested with bedbugs. The time the police searched my apartment for drugs because they smelled incense and assumed I was smoking pot. The time I felt I had lost the safety and community grounding me and I couldn’t find a place in the world or in myself that felt even remotely like “home.”
When it came time to apply for internships last year, I seriously considered not applying. My life felt like it had fallen apart and was only just starting to be pieced back together: how could I leave when I had only just found home? How could I voluntarily pack up and leave the place that had both torn me apart and also handed me back the pieces? How could I dare to start over in a new physical home when my own internal home was missing? I wanted to pull down the metaphorical gravel driveway of my soul and throw myself onto the bed I knew was mine that would welcome me with open arms, as if it had known I was missing and had been waiting for me to come along. I consoled myself with the fact that I would be going back to Maryland—my original home. I would be, I told myself, going home. Home. I would be going back to a place I once called home.
Perhaps it is because the 8th time one moves in nearly as many years, it takes you longer to claim the place as home. Perhaps moving 9 hours away, even if it is to the same side of the country you were raised in, is always difficult. Perhaps I am just not in the right place. Maybe it’s because I haven’t given it enough time, or maybe the events of my past few years have led me just to be a little less trusting. A little less likely to open my heart. A little less likely to believe I can safely claim a physical, interpersonal, or emotional space as “home.”
All I know is this: this house is not mine. It doesn’t make sense to me—the house that is--and I still, 4 months later, feel that I am walking into someone else’s space. No matter how I clean it, it still feels dirty. The light switches are perpetually in the wrong place. The shelves are too high, the ants continue to march through my kitchen, and the heat sounds like someone let loose preschoolers with a combination of hammers and tap shoes into my pipes. There is a distinct sense of not belonging that is pervading my time here. As I work to continually reaffirm my belief that I am worthy of safety, worthy of community, and worthy of respect and friendship, this feeling of not belonging brings an uneasiness that is hard to overcome. It is easier, almost, to sit with the not belonging than to challenge it. It is easier to believe this not belonging stems from the unworthiness I’ve known for the past year and a half. This sense of not belonging in my body, not belonging in community, not belonging in relationship.
I know I am not alone in my struggle to find home. From Dorothy clicking her heels three times, to country singers singing about country roads, to old adages claiming that home is where the heart is and Robert Frost claiming that home is where “when you have to go there, they have to take you in,” it seems this struggle to find and define home is universal. Ideally, of course, home would not be a physical place. Ideally, I could walk around knowing that I am home in my soul, in my body, in my heart. When I have a secure base to go from—when I have a strong physical sense of home—perhaps I can get there, but I would be lying if I said I could find home that easily. It is wrong to want that physical haven? That safe place that belongs to me? The community surrounding me that lets me know, in spite of my sense of unworthiness and non-belonging, that I actually belong?
What is home for you? Where is home? Have you found it? What would it take for you to get there?