What is Home?
Updated: Feb 7, 2019
What is “home?” Where is it? When will I find it? Will I find it?
All good questions— and by good I mean obviously answerable to people living outside of their own head, away from prolonged amateur philosophy. I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, and it has been the bane of my existence (although ever so slightly on the backburner as I plowed through university) for some years now.
I feel elders in the far-off distance shaking their heads and brushing off my curious, albeit cynical ponderings as overthought, highfalutin mumbo-jumbo that should be self-evident. But, if my anthropological and interdisciplinary degree taught me anything above all else, it was to question everything relentlessly. Often to the point where seemingly benign things like commercials, dreams, or a person's actions consume your every thought until you understand them fully. It’s a feeling akin to leaving a light on in the back of your brain, or having an airhorn hijack your favorite song in the middle of the chorus. It may lessen after a few minutes of distraction, but it inevitably returns.
I’ve found myself plagued by these questions for a long time and after several long conversations with friends and classmates, a visit to a pop-up museum exhibit, and a few quasi-epiphanies, find myself no closer to a definite answer. Is there one?
I’ve been lying in bed today after a long day of job hunting, thinking about reclaiming the hard-earned independence of my college dorm days. I want an apartment — my own, personal, overpriced studio — a home. Knowing me I will celebrate eventually moving out of my dad’s house as a two-fold victory and momentarily forget that physical space alone cannot define “home” thus finding myself with that same gnawing feeling, but in a cheap Pinterest-y French Provincial backdrop. "If the space looks and feels like me and contains all my stuff, why doesn’t it feel like home?" I’ve lived this reality in cities and abodes across the state and have become perturbed at why I never feel “at home” anywhere or with anyone.
Why? Why? Why?
Oddly enough—or maybe predictably if you are a psychoanalyst guru—I found it briefly while I was a student at Central Washington University (Go Wildcats!) after a rough first few weeks. My home took the form of a decent-sized room, decorated with my cheap Monet knock-offs and stereotypical fairy lights, which I shared with a series of roommates. I had shower shoes for the shared bathroom, a turbulent relationships with the dancing elephants that lived above me, and a bizarre on-and-off rental commitment every 9 months. How did that feel like home? I have a few ideas, but am largely stumped. Maybe it was because I felt stable there? I had a roof, a clean room, a semi-set schedule, regular food, working bathrooms, and nice neighbors, in a comfortable community on a safe campus that I belonged at. After losing my childhood home to foreclosure, briefly staying with my grandmother who lived next door (a reality that left me oscillating between scenic normality and cruel sadness), and a stint living with my best friend, I felt genuinely lost. I moved to Tacoma to join my mom with two months to go before I moved into my aforementioned dorm. Whether it was the fast-paced and radical change or the feel of the city itself, I took a dislike to Tacoma that has stuck with me ever since.
The dorm provided everything I felt I lost. Friends, personal space, control, stability, safety, and confidence. On top of that I took to Ellensburg quickly and found my stride and new friends within a month. Over those first 9 months I created memories with people I love which were only compounded over the next three years living in the same dorm. Each time I left for break I would cry and each time I returned the waterworks turned to joy. Just thinking about it now the feelings are physical—I’m tearing up. But then, as I moved closer to graduation (or as it loomed—I’ve yet to decide) something changed. I ignored it thinking, “you can’t dwell on everything”: pick a direction, take a step, and move forward. So I did. I signed a lease, an ill-advised two-year lease, much to the chagrin of my warning parents, on a house in Ellensburg.
Onlooker: “Shyann, why the hell would you do that?”
Onlooker: “That wasn’t very forward thinking of you. What about your future?"
Hindsight: Agreed. Hopefully only slightly stunted.
Onlooker: “You could live at home for free.”
Hindsight: There’s that nasty logic-defying word hiding in common parlance again.
Onlooker: “How will you afford it?”
Hindsight: With thoroughly drained hard-earned savings.
Onlooker: “Won’t you regret this?”
That's how I would respond to all those valid questions and statements now. Some were from family, some from older, wiser friends, some from the recesses of my brain frantically trying to override emotional impulse with infallible logic. I had ineffable reasons that I knew were hinky, based in sentiment and fear, and a plan which was shoddy to all onlookers with an interest in my future (shout out to all my prophetic professors, advisers, and my parents), but it was a plan from the mind of a determined, independent woman and thus, immune to sound criticism.
So I graduated, had a crazy week full of interviews, got a job, left that job for a better-paying job at an unidentified chain store that left me dead inside, and contemplated the gravity of my decisions before realizing three months in that I had made a terrible mistake. A mistake that will repeatedly kick me in the teeth for the foreseeable future at that.
*gasps from unencumbered youths across the internet *
*pursed-lip head nodding from older, wiser humans*
You see, it is all well and good to have a plan, an Excel budget spreadsheet, and a go-get-em attitude from the safety of a town you love, until you realize that everything that once qualified this town as home had changed. And paired with that change, you were living outside your means in a college town on a minimum-wage job with your expensive degree becoming increasingly dusty. You had changed. Your working knowledge of life and the world had changed. And — on top of that — your non-descript, no longer distant future awaited somewhere through an alternatingly dark, scary tunnel and/or blinding channel of opportunity.
Suddenly, the magic was lost. I hadn’t moved an inch outside the city limits and had lost my home.
Once the discontent and logic hit you, you feel it every second of every day. So I picked up the phone on a Wednesday, swallowed my pride, and asked to move in with my dad. He graciously said "yes" and I was moved in by that Saturday. But, still I can’t answer these fundamental questions.
I will be 23 this December, living in a house I barely know with no inkling of a “home.” Yes, this house is nice, safe, and clean but there are no memories, no family friends or familiar neighbors— no roots here. Maybe I don’t feel at home because my mind knows this is temporary, another liminal stage in my life. Maybe it’s because I haven’t found my purpose yet, a lack of fulfillment polluting the neighborhood. Maybe it’s because I’m still on the hunt for jobs, remembering what it is to be financially unstable—co-dependent. Or maybe this just isn’t the place for me either.
Part of what made Ellensburg my home was that I chose it. I felt connected to it the day I visited campus. I will always feel connected to it, the way I was before all this.
Home has got to be more than a list of adjectives. In the past 1,369 words, I have qualified “home” but have been unable to adequately convey what home feels like as such. I’ve felt it twice and will probably only be able to sense it again when I’ve truly found it through trial and error. Will it be after my life settles around a certain city? Will it be after I step off a plane in another country? Will it be when I find the right person? Will I find it, or am I meant to backpack my way through life?
I guess only time will tell. But at least for tonight I will be able to shut off this burning light in the back of my head.