Home is a concept I have been obsessed with since I was a child. I would listen to John Mellencamp songs and feel a swelling of pride that I, too, came from the Midwest. The land, the people, the lifestyle were all so…me. I was also born in a small town, and I figured I would die in one, too. Probably the same small town I was born in. And that was just fine. They understood me there. I belonged there. I had everything I needed.
Then we moved.
To say that I faltered in the face of this event is an understatement. I drowned.
I did not fit in, nor did I want to, in my new locale. The land, the people, the values were so very different from where I was from. And I couldn’t wait to leave. I spent every holiday, every vacation, returning to my hometown. In between visits were long phone calls and letters to my friends back home. I trudged through my days in one place while living out a parallel life in my head. What would I be doing, had we never left? What would my day be like? I was certain I knew, and certain that everything would be better.
Each time we drove up to visit, I would drink it all in — the miles and miles of farmland. The landmarks of my childhood. The smell of the water, the taste of the air. It isn’t much, my hometown. But it was home. Each time we left, I looked out the rear window until the last familiar curve was out of sight. And inside I would die a little for the loss.
If you’ve never done the long-distance thing, it’s half a life. Your body is going through the motions in one place while your heart resides in another. Even when you get to visit, or get a phone call or a letter from someone back home, your happiness is finite. Visits, letters, calls…all end. And you’re alone again, until the next time.
One visit, I didn’t look back. Something had changed — I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what. I didn’t feel any more at home where I lived, but my hometown wasn’t home anymore either. I was spiritually homeless. And I remained that way for roughly 20 years.
Not that I didn’t still enjoy visits to my hometown; I did. And not that I didn’t dream of moving somewhere else — I was constantly applying for jobs far away, looking into grad schools, researching housing and weather patterns and local amenities. Oregon. Vermont. Maine. Wisconsin. Iowa. Hawaii. England. New Zealand. The Netherlands. Scotland. Canada. Somewhere (though not just anywhere) else. Somewhere I might fit in. Somewhere I could belong. Somewhere that could be home.
In the meantime, I had created a sanctuary of sorts. My apartment was me — the space itself, and everything in it. Together we had survived new loves, faltering loves, dying loves. Illness and death and despair and divorce. I loved the neighborhood I lived in, the apartment I rented in it. I didn’t feel completely settled or satisfied, but it would do for the time being. In time, I ended up staying in that apartment longer than I lived in what I consider to be my childhood home.
And then, once again, I moved.
We moved. My fiancé, my newborn daughter, and I.
Into a rental house next door to my parents. The same house they bought when we moved down here all those years before. The yard upon which my new house sits used to be part of my parents’ yard. Talk about coming full circle.
It felt like a failure, though. Yes, I had all sorts of good reasons for opting to move when and where I did. The bigger space, the cheaper rent, the proximity to grandparents. It was the right move for the time. Didn’t mean I had to like it. The house hasn’t been kept up well. The yard is swiftly eroding. The deck is on the verge of collapse. The air conditioner keeps dying and half the outlets don’t work and we get wolf spiders the size of teacups if we don’t have pest control come out 6 times a year. Everything smells of mildew. I traded my bright and airy southwest-facing apartment in a swanky part of town for a cramped, shadowy north-facing house with peeling paint and moss growing on the sidewalk in the small hick town that I’d left ten years prior without a backwards glance.
So I began to look at house listings, and dream. If we couldn’t move away, and we really aren’t in a position to move away right now, then we could at least move up. Bigger, nicer house. Better neighborhood. First I tried to move us back to the town we’d been living in before we had Anya. Then I was just trying to get us into a better area of the town we’re in now. But two maternity leaves plus a move plus both of us getting laid off in a 5-year time period — and don’t forget the wedding! — means no, not now, and not for a while.
However, I can no longer tolerate living half a life. I have children. This is their childhood. This house, for better or worse, is their childhood home. And I’m tired of the future. I want to live in the right now, and be happy there.
So I’ve made some changes. I found a park where I like to walk. Found places the kids like to play. We’ve explored local festivals, visited gardens and museums, started annual rituals of zoo visits and drive-in movies and trips to the farmer’s market.
We’ve started living here.
The other day, I realized that home wasn’t someplace I had yet to find. Home has been within me this whole time. Wherever I am, I can make home. For me, for them. For us. Should we move someday, we will make home somewhere else. Should we stay, home will be here.
Home is where you make it, how you make it. Because home is who you make it for.
The walls, the town, the sky are irrelevant. Home is where you love, and who you love.
It feels good to be home.