Home Is Not A Place
By Ruth Tam
To anyone who’s had to leave a city they love, to anyone who’s had to stomach an unwelcome goodbye, to anyone whose dissatisfaction with the present has nothing to do with selfishness but everything to do with longing, and to anyone who’s unfortunate and lucky enough to know the truth behind these clichés:
I know what it’s like to leave, come back, and have your body betray your loathing of the present. When presented with a map, your eyes dart to where you’d rather be. Your feet point in the direction you’d rather be walking. Your mouth emits sentences tinged with nostalgia.
I haven’t known many homes, but I’ve lived in enough places to know it always sucks to leave — to build a life in a city only to leave it behind knowing if you ever go back it will never be the same. And I haven’t known many loves, but I’ve gotten close to enough people to know it still always sucks to leave — to care until you don’t, care until you can’t, or care so much that you just have to stop altogether.
I know because although globalization says the world is small, I want it to remain big. The chasm of distance between me and the place I left shouldn’t be remedied by a single plane ride or a simple phone call. It shouldn’t be that easy. For the pain that expanse has caused me, that trip should take a lifetime.
Because making a home out of all the places I’ve lived has been simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. Some days I delight in the fact that my soul is deposited in several pockets of the world. Other days it makes me feel empty. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to retrieve those parts of myself, or if they were meant to stay there, unbeknownst to all those who come after me.
In the end, I left to go home. Because that’s what people do during the holidays. We retrace our paths by following the string of yarn we have tethered to our backs. We trail the mess we’ve woven to find the knot that keeps us anchored. When I returned, the house I grew up in no longer felt like my home. I had pulled too hard. I hadn’t noticed, but my cord had broken off and when I finally cared to look, I was left tangled in yarn with places to turn to but no discernable dwelling.
I realized that home is not a place. It cannot possibly be a place because if I really had one refuge I could name by a set of coordinates or a three-line address, you can bet I’d be there. I’d be there to kiss you when you wake, push your hair back after you shower, and slice the bananas for our breakfast. I’d be there to argue when you come home, swear when the moment calls for it, and give in when it strikes my fancy. All those things and more if I only knew where to go. Instead I’m left with one long list of destinations and two empty hands. Because my life is in flux and home cannot possibly be a place.
But home might be an amalgamation of people I have grown to trust, despite my best efforts to keep a distance.
Home might be the moment my raveled yarn got intertwined with yours and I couldn’t look back without seeing all our entanglements.
In the past year, the idea of one residence for my soul has become more and more impractical. But if home has to be a physical space, its area isn’t something I could map out if I tried. Any sense of belonging I have oscillates between being too big and too small to comprehend. For though my home spans oceans, it is no smaller than the gap between our bodies at night and no wider than the periphery of your embrace.
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