When I was five, home was a simple word. It was my comfy bed and my mother’s hands on my forehead when I had a fever. It was a warm dinner and 50 SPF slathered on my face before the beach. I didn’t always love it, but after a long day, or a family trip, it was all I wanted.
Now the word home is a bit more complicated than that. Dinner stopped meaning home in college when I was funneled into a dining hall and I don’t remember the last time I put sun tan lotion on.
I don’t live in the place I did when I was five. I live in Los Angeles, in a bed much more comfortable, but somehow a mattress doesn’t translate to home as effortlessly as it did before I paid the bills. I don’t live with a mother to put me in a timeout or make me dinner, and I don’t wish I did. But I do wish I had that feeling of craving something, whether I loved it all the time or not. Something more than a comfortable bed, something that feels perfect even with its flaws, something no one but I can define.
Over Christmas I went “home” to Darien, Connecticut, to my parents, and the place I spent eighteen years in the same house. The place I once craved after sport camps, long plane rides, or a hungry belly. The place with a bulletin board documenting my childhood, photos of exes, of friends I don’t talk to anymore, cousins I lost touch with.
Walking through the changed town, I ran into the boy who taught me how to shotgun a Keystone Light freshman year of high school. I didn’t have many classes with him, I didn’t know his parents well, but when we saw each other, we hugged. He hugged me the way every girl wants to be hugged. But really, he was hugging memories he lost somewhere in college, in the daily commute to Manhattan and Wall Street Journals he read and threw out. He hugged me, and for a short breath, I was the girl he once knew, the jock whose raspy voice carried down the hall. With that hug, came my reputation, whether it carried onto my present or not.
The only connection we had was growing up in the same geographical coordinates, and liking to drink before we were legal, but it was the best hug I’ve had in six months.
No one hugs me like that in LA.
No one knows I brought a journal to parties for people to document their feelings during their haze of new found liquor, no one knows that journal was stolen at this boy’s house party.
The hug was comfortable. He was comfortable, holding my favorite deli sandwich. And for that moment, that hug, I wondered if I should call Darien home.
But he let go, and I realized I should too.
I can’t eat that deli sandwich he was holding, I’m gluten free. I have a new journal, and I don’t bring it to cocktail parties or clubs I forget the names of.
He was comfortable, he knew everything about me without having to explain, and for most that’s home. Comfort. But it was comfort in my past, in the girl I once was.
If home is where the heart is, it might not be our past; I’m not that high schooler stealing alcohol from my parent’s liquor cabinet for his party, I’ve learned to speak quieter, though my voice is still raspy. And my room will always have a place in my heart, but I’ve moved on.
I’ve moved on to a fake Temperpedic in a city I don’t quite understand. And it’s okay if that’s not home either.
Home doesn’t have to have a longitude and latitude. It doesn’t have to be the place where we have a reputation or the place we don’t.
I have cities and towns with people who care about me. People who will give me a hug like I’m a celebrity. Friends who will wheel my suitcase ten blocks to a diner with jalapenos, just because they know I like them.
Maybe for now, it’s okay that I don’t have a place I call home.
Home is the rings my mother gave me that I wear every day, the phone numbers in my contact lists, the pictures I hold close. Home is my Sunday call to my best friend. It’s not a bed, or a place and that’s okay, someday it might be — I’m twenty-three, it will come.