I left home in 2012 to escape a number of things. I was running from my old habits, I was running from my father’s tyranny, I was running from my hometown regrets, I was running from the friendships I had ruined, and I was running from the fear that I would be idle—that I would let a small town swallow me up and that I would never see what the rest of the world had to offer. At 17, I didn’t realize that I wasn’t really running from any of the above. I was running from the person I had become, the person I had let the aforementioned pieces of my life build and then obliterate.
Many of us go “Home for the Holidays.” Because of this cultural expectation to go home, I’ve been thinking a lot about what “home” actually means. Both the town where I’m from and the house that I grew up in are associated with memories I hope to forget. When we leave home during young adulthood, we begin new lives and we abandon the places where we lived and the people whom we once were. We let the lives we lived stand as disparaged figures in our rearview mirrors, and our former selves are evermore distant with each passing mile.
I look around the room at my parents’ house that was once mine and I see traces of the people whom I used to be. I see pictures of friends who have betrayed me. A lamp hangs a graduation tassel from a school to which I will never reenter. There are hundreds of silly books stacked in a corner from a time when I trusted novelists and classic writers more than the people in my nonfiction life. There are magazine clips all over my walls of musicians and artists and actors who inspired me—some of whom I cannot even recognize now.
But there are also uncomfortable objects that remind me about how time has passed and how we have all grown older. I sit in new sheets on a bed that guests sleep in more often than I do. I open an empty dresser that carries boxes collected between moves. I lived out of a suitcase that sits indolently on the carpet that my injured mother now pays a stranger to clean. I see a shelf holding a harmonica that I never learned to play.
When we come home in December, we are expected to put on this jubilant mask with cheeks radiating cheer and eyes sparkling like snowflakes. All the while, we’re situated in this town that feels unfamiliar and this house that feels equally foreign.
During a lecture at my university last semester, my professor spoke about how physical spaces can dictate the way that we behave—the way that we perform our identities. He said that during college, we are often performing even when we go back to our parents’ place. We are behaving in a way that will show the adults in our lives that we are adults now too. I learned that home is supposed to be our “backstage,” but in our early twenties, we merely behave to impress our parents and to satisfy our roommates.
So where is home really? I am not convinced that the place of “home” exists. I think we largely lack home’s “backstage;” we continually play the part—we incessantly act to suit the expectations of others. We are all adults playing make-believe. We are playing house in a place that isn’t home.
Then what is one to do in this situation? Our youth is supposed to be a time of self-exploration and self-discovery, but how the hell does one even set out to reach actualization while knowingly playing a character?
To survive this paradox, I suggest submitting your own lines into all of your roles. Be a student, but say something that raises the instructor’s eyebrows. Be a daughter or a son, but debate with your parents about climate change and feminism. Be a friend, but don’t only speak the words that your friends want to hear. Be an alumnus, but don’t let some high school principal with a power trip give you shit. Write endlessly, but refuse to study English. Say “Happy Holidays” but wear leggings and a chambray to a Roman Catholic mass on Christmas Eve. Contradict the person you were yesterday, because growth necessitates change. And always give life’s scripts a glance. Then improvise like hell.
Look for the feeling of home within yourself if you cannot find it without. Finally, if you can remember nothing else, remember this: don’t allow external pressures to turn you into someone you have to escape, because sometimes you are all you have.