Sometimes, I realize that I have gone my entire life thinking that something is solid, immutable, incontrovertible.
Then I get proven wrong.
As a kid it was little things. It turned out, I liked spaghetti sauce. And teachers exist outside of school. And the tooth fairy was not the one swapping my tiny teeth for money.
Part of growing up accepting that things are less fixed than they may seem. As a college student who attends school far away from where I grew up, a big part of this fixed/not fixed problem is the idea of “home.” How do you decide when one place starts becoming your home and another place stops?
I just got back from spring break in CA, staying in the house in which I grew up—to me, this has always meant “home.” I’ve lived in the same place since I was just about three years old, so there was really only ever one place to think of when I thought “home.” There was only one place to go home to after school, one place with my bed and my clothes and my books, one place to invite my friends over to for sleepovers.
Making a New Home
Going to school in Chicago, it changed a little bit, as I would refer to walking back to my dorm as “going home.” But, especially as a new student, when the people around me referred to “home” we all were usually referring to where we came from, not where we were now. Even once I settled in, got to know the city better, and came back as a second-year student, the line wasn’t blurred too much.
This year has been different—I’m a third year (UChicago doesn’t use the usual “sophomore,” “junior,” etc.) and I live off campus in an apartment with four of my friends. While I probably can’t call this having my own place because (luckily for me) my parents still pay my rent, it’s the closest I’ve ever come to having my own place. In the dorms, I had to contain my life within one 8×14 room and everything else was public space. Now I have a kitchen, and a washing machine, and a living room. I cook and clean for myself. Instead of being surrounded by hundreds of other college students in the building, my apartment is my private domain.
(…Well, as private as it can be with four roommates.)
No That’s My Home
Over spring break, whenever I referred to my apartment I found myself instinctually calling it “home”—even though I was sitting in the house in which I grew up.
“No I left that shirt at home when I packed.”
“Yeah, at home we…”
“When I go back home…”
But when I’m at school, I use these exact same phrases to talk about my parents’ house. Wherever I was, “going home” or “back home” automatically meant, in my mind, someplace I was…not.
If I’m always using the word “home” to mean somewhere I’m not, does that mean I’m never really home? If I clicked my heels three times, where would I wake up?
With graduation less than three months away, and the job search having begun, I’m also thinking a lot about where I will consider home this time a year from now, or a year after that.
I’m (hopefully) going to live at my parents’ house after graduating to save on rent and transition to my new life as a postgrad, but what about after that? I worked in LA last summer, and know that the city is so sprawling and endless that I’m sure I could find some place to call home. During this past break, I was in San Diego for a race; the hills, ocean breeze, and laid-back-but-still-urban environment had me walking around thinking that I could definitely call this place home at some point. But I’m not just some chameleon who imagines herself living anywhere she goes. I have had the opposite experience, too: as a kid I dreamt of living in New York, but when I finally visited in high school and college, I did not feel like it could really feel like “home” for me. It just wasn’t right.
I don’t know where I will be referring to when I say “home” in a couple of years, and that’s an uncertainty I need to accept. However, I think what I’ve learned from this experience is that, for me, the reason I can have multiple homes is because home is about people. Chicago is my home because some of my best friends in the world are here, and I live with several of them. California is my home because some of my best friends in the world are there too, and my family—and even when the setting around me changes, or they move away, those homes never really stop being homes.
I may not be the kind of person who feels at home everywhere, but I’ve got more than one home and I think they’re only growing from here.