moving away from home

There’s No Place Like Home-If Only You Can Find It

I am 3 years old and Home is a duplex I share with my mom and my brother. I love because it has an upstairs and a laundry chute that goes straight from the floor of the upstairs bathroom into the laundry room below. Before this there were other homes, but I only remember them in singular, faded images. A rocking horse. A brown basket full of books. But this home I remember in its entirety. My brother’s hamster Conan, and the witches I knew lived inside the air condition vent. This is my mom’s home, but not my dad’s, which is a little confusing for me. Sometimes my brother drops me down the laundry chute for fun.

I am 5 and Home is a long brick house with an eggplant-shaped pool in the back yard. I don’t like it as much as the duplex because there are no stairs, but I do love that pool. And I like that this home has more family in it. My mom and my brother, but also my pop and the new baby. My imaginary friend, Sammy the Squirrel, lives in the backyard and my maybe-boyfriend Christopher lives next door. This is the home we board ourselves up in for my first major hurricane. I’m confused because the hurricane is named Andrew, like one of my cousins, and I can’t figure out what they have to do with each other. One night at dinner, my spaghetti is too hot, so my pop takes it outside and runs around the pool with it to cool it off. Then it’s just right. I’m sitting on the tile floor in the kitchen eating my milk and cookies (because we aren’t allowed to eat on the carpet in the living room, but from here I can still see the TV) when my mom and pop tell us that we are going to have yet another baby. “I guess the new baby will be the old baby now,” I think, and they tell us that we will move to a bigger house before the new baby comes. I am devastated to leave my true love, Christopher, but am consoled when I consider that the new house might have a window seat.

I am 7 and the new house does not have a window seat or any stairs either, but it does have a two-story wooden playhouse in the backyard and a neighborhood full of kids my age. Now we are six: my mom and my dad (because I realized nobody else has a pop and I didn’t want one either), my brother and my two little sisters. I was confused by the arrival of the second sister. I’d been certain she would be a boy to even things out demographically. I even pre-filled out the book my parents gave me about being a big sister with these details. “I have a baby brother. His  name is Gus.” I wasn’t so sure about another girl, but she grew on me. Home is the place for dress-up and fairy tales. The place where I live out a hundred storylines in my imagination and read books out loud with my dad before bed each night. It’s the place where I start growing up – where I have my first sleepovers and learn how to shave my legs and wear a training bra.

I am 11 and Home is shifting again. We are moving to a new place with lots of land. A place where we can breathe, my mom says. There’s a spiral staircase in the living room that leads to the second floor. When we first move in, my brother lives upstairs, but after a few years he moves out and the tower is mine. I spend many hours reading in my tower room, listening to the sound of rain on the tin roof, wondering what it’s like to fall in love. I am Home when 9/11 happens and we watch the towers fall over and over again on the TV in the living room. Home is the place where I chronicle my first serious crush and where I cry when my brother is deployed to Iraq.    In those volatile teenage years, Home is a place full of internal turmoil – a refuge from the daily torture of high school, but also a place where I feel I can’t do anything quite right. Where I fear I’m always in the way. In those years it is a place where I haven’t quite grown into myself. Where I am a child, but I no longer want to be.

I am 18 and my concept of Home has been ripped in two. Home is Louisiana. It’s a white house with a tin roof and oak trees all around. But it’s also a dorm room in a little town in Illinois. It’s the girls that I live with who are helping me become me. It’s a triple set of bunk beds I always have to be on the bottom of because I’m afraid of falling off. It’s the commuter train to Chicago and the little parks dotting neighborhoods full of dear old houses full of stories. It’s the college itself, alive with new ideas that challenge me and with laughter and with love. And lately it’s also becoming a red-headed boy from Indiana.

I am 22 and in the space of a few sacred moments at an altar what was Home is now “my parent’s house” and my Home is wherever this red-headed man is. But, of course, it isn’t quite as clean a break as that. It takes a while to break the habit. To stop thinking of my childhood house as Home. Our first apartment together in Illinois is small and sweet. In the winter the bedroom window leaks so badly we sleep in layers of sweatshirts covered by a pile of blankets so thick, the weight of them makes it hard to breathe. It’s here that our family grows to include two cats – animals I’d always believed I hated until those two darlings stole my heart and changed my mind. For a year we live here and we learn so much about love. But Illinois never feels like it could be a forever home to me. And after a year we know it is time to move on.

I am 24 and Home is Raleigh, North Carolina. For the first time I feel my heart is tied to a place itself instead of just the people who live there. My heart belongs to North Carolina. Its lush green hills, the trees everywhere, the lakes and the creeks and the impossibly glorious fall. The bluegrass music and the hipsters with their micro-breweries and the sweet clean air in my lungs. This is Home. This is where I learn to run. Mile after mile along the winding greenways. This is Home  – the place where I both land and quit my first real job. The place where I learn to take control – where I become strong and healthy and focused.  The place where so many people I love are close enough to visit and where my best friend lives just around the corner. This is Home. This is where I want to grow old. But I’m not ready to grow old just yet.

I am 26 and Home is a fragmented thing. Sometimes Home means an apartment in South Korea, covered in bright floral wallpapers and growing mold in spite of aggressive attempts to keep it at bay.  This Home is full of love and adventure and a willingness to try new things, to change and to grow. But in many ways it doesn’t feel like Home at all.  Home is also America. All of it. The sights and smells and tastes and people that mean comfort and joy and love and belonging. Home is each other, just the two of us, wherever we may be. But home is also the family, the friends, and the pets we’ve left behind. The places we have lived and loved. The places that have shaped us.

Sometimes Home is a dorm-room, an apartment, a house, a city, a state, an entire country. Home seems to be an ever-changing creature. But always it is a feeling. It is the place where love is given and received. It is the place where you are free to be and to become yourself.  It is the place where you are known.

When You Feel You Don’t Belong

I moved out of my parents home when I was 18-years old. I left my life in Louisiana and headed off to college outside of Chicago. Other than for a few months the summer after my freshman year, I never lived at home again.

When I left home my sisters were 13 and 11. My parents were in their mid-40’s, and known for being the strictest parents among the other students in my graduating class. My grandparents were building a house next door to my family’s house. My brother was 25, still newly-returned from deployment in Iraq.

I started college and I grew and changed at an almost alarming rate, absorbing everything around me, then cracking off the shell of myself like an insect shedding its exoskeleton again and again, crawling out of my old self, growing into something new that seemed to have only just solidified when I burst through it again. Through the end of my teens and the beginning of my twenties my opinions on almost everything changed. Sometimes more than once. I learned different ways of thinking and acting. Different ways of handling conflict and disagreement. Ways that I could love better and more truly. And ways that I was deeply flawed and broken. I am still learning these things, but at the time all of this was accelerated by my environment. I was surrounded by good people who were different than me, challenging my mind and my heart in a million ways.

I lived far away from my family during all this change, but I was still tethered to them. I grew into adulthood and falteringly learned to have respectful disagreements with my parents. I learned to give words to feelings I hadn’t been able to express in my silent and submissive teenage years. I tried to know my sisters even as they became unknowable to us all, draping themselves in this or that garment of adolescence. Trying on identities the same way we tried on ball gowns together in the JC Penney’s dressing room when I came home each Christmas. I felt tethered to them when my grandparents moved into the house next door and became an everyday part of their lives. I felt tethered when we lost my brother to shadows for a time, flying home from school, waking my mom up to surprise her and crawling into bed with her so we could cry together.

And then I was in love and there was a glow around everything, and my sisters didn’t understand what was so special about this, why I was so serious about him, why I wanted to get married so young, how I could possibly know he was “the one.” My parents were cautious, but kind, and my heart broke open to let in a new love and I started the halting process of bringing someone new into our family.

All of these changes came and yet, to me, my family was constant. Seeing me change and accepting who I was now. And now. And now. But in these last few years since I’ve taken this bearded man’s name as my own and tried to learn how to build a home big enough for just him and me – and also, all of his family and all of mine (because we never truly go into marriage alone)- these last few years I’ve felt my family changing too- becoming people I no longer know.

I visited my parent’s house last spring for my youngest sister’s high school graduation. I felt like I was in a house full of strangers. My parents’ bodies are fit and strong, toned from the hard workouts and clean diets of people I don’t recognize. My sisters are women now – something that, to me, has happened breathtakingly fast, in the mere month’s worth of days I’ve spent with them over the past few years. My brother is 32. He owns a gym that my parents go to every day and has a kindergartner who runs around catching frogs and calling him, ‘Dad.’ My grandfather has somehow begun to look frail inside of his large frame, and though my grandmother is as beautiful as ever, I can see that the death of her sister last year has marked her, made her more aware of life’s fragility. Both of my sisters and my mother are in college now. My mother is chasing a dream she gave up for us long ago. And my father has relaxed into life – without the responsibility of raising children, he has found less use for his stern face and loud voice and has more time for laughing. He has mellowed, less concerned with being right and more concerned with loving well.

My family is beautiful and yet, it’s a family I can no longer find my place in. They have changed and I have changed, but they have changed together, in each others’ presence, and in some of the same ways. They have grown together. And I have grown apart. They speak a language I can’t understand. My parents aren’t the people I grew up knowing. In many ways, they are better people. I don’t begrudge them that, but they still feel like strangers to me walking around inside my parents’ skin.

Somehow, I failed to understand that my family, particularly my parents, could change too -that I wasn’t the only one. I was unprepared and, oh, how this has hurt me. Awakening to find myself outside of the one place I always felt I belonged. But they are still my family. They are the ones who loved me when I dressed up like Laura Ingalls Wilder ever day for a year or more. They are the ones who reserved judgment when I totaled my mom’s car 3 days after I got my license. They are the ones who didn’t laugh when I accidentally dyed my hair green. The ones who cheered for me when I graduated from college and danced with me at my wedding. The ones who send me care packages in South Korea, even though it costs a fortune to mail them.

They are my family. For years, they shifted around me, making room for me in all my various forms. Maybe now I am the one who needs to shift. To get to know who they are now, and find out if there’s still a place for me. If there’s somewhere I might fit. If I can still belong.


Sorry that this is a picture of a picture, but I didn’t have anything recent and digital where we were all together.