I have been thinking a lot about home. About what we mean—what we feel, really—when we talk about home. About going home, being home, staying home. Leaving home. Missing, creating, remembering, moving past, adjusting our understanding of home.
It’s is an enormous word—a weighted one, thick with individualized meaning, heavy with comfort and safety and, sometimes, pain.
The older I get, the more I love just being home. This is a change back to the youngest me, the child, the little girl who loved being home. I didn’t need to be anywhere else. Of course I went out and about in the world and did the things people do to turn into grownups, but I felt my best when I was just home. Before I was 18, I lived in one place—one little house on one little country road outside of one little town.
But after high school, by my own choices and circumstances, I lived in ten different places from age 18 until 28. A move a year, roughly. I lived alone and I lived with roommates. I lived in dorms, apartments, houses, and—my favorite—a rented mobile home on a rough, unkempt lot with six other mobile homes ($215 a month, thank you very much). I even spent a few months on a ratty, smoke-scented couch, crashing the apartment of two high school buddies who had become regulars in the pub where I was a bartender. They offered their couch, and I took it. When I arrived the first day and knocked on their door, a black garbage bag full of clothes in my hand, I knew instantly it was a mistake. The guys greeted me enthusiastically, albeit a bit slurred and red-eyed, and I swallowed the lump in my throat that was asking me, How did this happen? How did your path lead to this? I did everything I could to avoid the place, only going there to sleep, but sleep was largely elusive because of the ongoing reel of country music videos on the television and the constant smell of Budweiser and Marlboros in the air. When I did sleep, it was only because I’d cried myself to a place of complete exhaustion.
There. That story just happened, didn’t it?
Here’s the thing about home, for me: Each home has its own story, and they all come together to tell my story. Each “home” defines a place in my life. A mindset, really: where my head was, and how I was figuring out my path. Each home was a specific mark on my own timeline. Maybe a place of a stumble, or victory, or stability. A place of clarity; maybe a place of confusion. I could go on and on about each of those places I’ve lived, give specific details about each front door— and how I felt each time I walked through it.
I think most people have a complicated story to tell about home.
I started thinking about home because I have noticed the deep meaning behind some of the most common ways we talk about home. We have all said or heard one of these things:
I just stayed home.
I couldn’t bear to be at home.
I really want to go home.
It just feels like home.
It never felt like home.
I’m never home.
S/he’s never home.
S/he’s always home.
It will be good to be home.
My first home.
Our first home.
Our next home.
And so on. Think about it. When people use the word home, they really mean something. They’re saying something important. Something that should really make us stop and listen.
Next time, I’ll tell the story of one of my students, and how his request to go home stopped me cold.