When Home Is Hard to Define

November 17, 2017

Up until I left for Georgetown, it was simple to define “home.” Home was the house in Los Angeles where grew up. It was the place where I learned to swim with my twin sister Katharine and my preschool best friends Charlie and Evren, endlessly doing mermaid kicks as we clutched the side of our pool for dear life. Home was the place where every Sunday morning throughout high school I would crawl into my parents’ bed and read the New York Times, my mom and I racing to grab the Style section. She would look at Bill Cunningham’s photos in “On the Street.” I would flip straight back to the “Vows” section. Home was my bedroom at the back of the house where my best friend Scarlet and I would sprawl out on the scratchy carpet and talk about every nuance of teenage life.

When I’m at school, and I’m cold, or I can’t possibly look at another page of history reading, or I feel lonely as we all inevitably do sometimes, I yearn to go home. Because home is comfort. My dog is at home. There aren’t Spanish presentations at home. My mom will make me a turkey sandwich if I ask nicely. I spend time with my high school friends who I have known for years. I get to sleep in my bed with its ridiculously comfy mattress topper that is indented from my habit of sleeping exclusively on the right side. At home I find comfort in the predictability of being in a place I have known my whole life.

But the reality I’ve had to wrap my head around is that home is harder to define than it used to be. I haven’t slept in my bed in Los Angeles for more than eight consecutive nights this year. I’m not going home for Thanksgiving; my family is instead meeting me in New York. Home has become less of a place and more of a feeling.

Home now comes in small doses of comfort. I feel home when I’m on the phone with Katharine trying to describe our new, separate lives to each other. I feel home when my parents come to visit and we recreate an adapted version of the routines I know so well. Quiet time reading and puttering around our house before dinner becomes relaxing, squished together on the queen bed in my parents’ hotel room before getting ready to go out to dinner. Daily recaps during the car ride home from school have become efforts to catch each other up on the important developments in our lives in the few face-to-face moments we have together.

Further complicating my definition of home is my realization that I now have two. I was once quick to deny that Georgetown was one. So I surprised myself when I was having coffee with my high school English teacher this summer and the phrase, “when I go home” slipped out of my mouth as I talked about flying back to D.C. the next week. I had believed that Los Angeles would be the only place that ever felt like home to me. It was only when I opened the door of my Village A apartment for the first time this year that I felt differently.

As I grew up, my parents created a home for me, and now I’m creating my own — the first of many. This home is different. It takes some trial and error. I have to build it by figuring out who the people are who make me feel good, how to spend my time, and what I need to do to take care of myself. This home is not as comfortable, and at times, it’s scarier. But it’s mine. And that excites me. I feel home when I cook bolognese sauce with my mom’s recipe, but experimenting each time, adding some rosemary one day, cumin another, to make it my own. I feel home when I invite friends over for dinner. I feel home when I wake up early to go for a run because I discovered I love the stillness of the morning, something I never got the chance to find in my first home.

“Home” is now a word I can’t solely define by the house where I grew up. It carries more nuance now. My childhood house will always be my home. But I’ve had to accept it is a place I only visit now. Now, my home is my apartment, with the table where I sit and watch people walking by as I eat my dinner, and the bed where I read before falling asleep as I’ve done since kindergarten. Home is the ever-expanding list of places where I am building my own life.

Julia Pinney
Host of Fresh Voices. Former Voices Editor. AMST major. Mediocre yet enthusiastic dancer. Will beat you at Scrabble. Ask me what I'm reading.

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