Home Is Not A Place

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.

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. TC mark

image – Per Foreby

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  • Diana

    so good i had to read it twice. i don’t think i’ve ever related to a TC article more

    • Jessica

      what she said. absolutely beautiful.

  • http://twitter.com/justme_CC Ms Chanel

    beautifully written…poetic.

  • http://twitter.com/faktorii Mike T.

    Read this with The Cinematic Orchestra lodged in your head. I caved in at the fifth paragraph.

    So beautiful, but all the more because it’s so true.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1672472627 Amrita Tapadia

    Only those who leave it behind, truly know the importance of home..

    the topic that you chose to write on is really close to my heart as there were two places I came close to calling home, only to find myself moving again. Both the places have changed drastically, people who made these places home  have moved or are not in my life anymore ….  only memories . Good memories :) 

  • sorry i'm a geographer

    you mean home is not a location.  

    “by a set of coordinates or a three-line address” <– this is location; not space, not place. 

    home is definitely a place. 

    that's the beauty about place! place is the interpretation of space, it is the contextual norms and culture, and it isn't bounded by some unchanging entity the way absolute space is, and isn't x,y the way location is. it's fluid, it's changing. it's…home???

    • emily haines

      just like love is a place.

    • Serena

       Why do thought catalog readers always feel the need to point out small inadequacies even though it’s clear they knew what the writer meant?

      • Nandikesha Jungwirth

        You could take it like that, I suppose. Or you could jump off the conceptual cliff s/he presents. The idea of Place is clearly dear to Geographer, and it seems worth it to take some time and work out for ourselves the differences between location, space and place. For myself, the experience of Place is something like the outwardly flowering whole of my sense impressions, emotions, associations, yearnings connected to a particular space. All of it filling me, all of it filling the space I find myself in. The contrast between inner and outer lacks its usually stark distinction. That’s how I recognize Place. That’s how I recognize Home. That’s how I recognize Love.  

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for making me cry in class. Beautiful, beautiful. All the more heartbreaking and wonderful because it’s true.

  • Sophia

    “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.” This quote is perfect. Actually, this whole article is perfect. Thank you.

    • mar

      that’s my favorite quote as well. 

      i love this, every word of it. 

      keep at it girl, anyone who can translate the disaster of emotions surrounding the word ‘home’ has undeniable talent.

  • http://profiles.google.com/nhusain09 Nahid Husain

    This is beautiful. I still remember (approximately) the time of my life in which I realized I was probably destined to leave pieces of my soul in various places around the world. It continues until today when I’m currently in Dallas doing research, but studying my course in London and my parents’ house is in Chicago (where much of my “stuff” still resides). It’s tough, but it’s a nice feeling knowing I have so many places to call “home.”

  • LV

    Fuck this is great. Everything I’ve felt after returning ‘home’ after studying abroad and traveling for a year, you wrote words straight from my soul. Awesome.

  • wandering

    This spoke my heart. 

  • guest

    exactly what i needed to read, thanks

  • guest

    Thank you for writing out so eloquently the words and feelings in my heart. I’ve felt like I haven’t known where home is for over a year now and it’s been difficult, but I’ll be alright. 

  • Daria

    I think my physical and metaphorical soul just sighed reading this. Like everyone before me has said, thank you, most genuinely and passionately, for expressing a feeling that I have grown to live with, and questioned, for the better portion of my life. 

    Thank you, and please, continue to write. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=13003781 Jacqueline Rae Shuman

    Chills.  SO well written.  

  • Domino

    Fantastic article. I’ve traveled around so much and lived in so many places that when people ask me “so where is home for you?” I never know what to answer. This just related so, so well.

  • Cecily

    Ruth…. I don’t even know what to say. I have tears running down my face because my soul remembered feelings my mind had tried to forget. Thank you for sharing. 

  • Asdf

    This was a fantastic. I really loved the opening paragraph, and I loved the accompanying photo. All around wonderful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=575964335 Scotty Tran

    This. Oh my gosh. Feelings everywhere. I’m finding this to be so true for me. Thank you for putting my thoughts on paper.

  • Guest

    This is quite literally one of the best things I’ve ever read

  • Crystal

    This is so well-written. Brilliant piece!

  • madride

    ahh i just started crying. Im living abroad in Europe for a year and missing my home, boyfriend, and pets in Chicago so much.  This is exactly how I’m feeling.

  • anyone?

    you use your tongue prettier than a 20 dollar whore

  • guest

    I came to realize this: home isn’t a place (like you said) but home is a feeling. It’s wherever you go, it’s wherever people you care about are at. You can have more than one home, and home is always an evolving thing. I like to think that the road is my home, and home can change any day, like it has before. I can relate to this article so much, because I am often confused, having lived in 3 different countries, what is home, and where do I truly belong? I feel like home is a constantly evolving thing like the journey of happiness and life, it’s always changing. Thank you. 

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