“How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.” –William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying
I have lived in many places. Not as many as a military brat, but it takes two hands to count all the places that I’ve called home. I was born in California, spent my childhood in Ohio, went to high school in Illinois, attended university in Wisconsin, studied abroad in England, completed graduate school in Scotland, and now I live in western Connecticut, soon to move again more north and east to work on my PhD.
I’ve never thought of moving around as a bad thing—quite the opposite, in fact. Going from place to place has opened me up to so many new experiences, and I’ve met so many people who have made my life better and more interesting. I have friends all over the world, and I wouldn’t change a single thing. Probably.
Because I’ve lived in so many places and spent significant amounts of time in almost all of them, sinking my teeth into their landscapes, and curling up into familiar haunts, only to leave just after finally feeling truly comfortable, I have often found myself wondering what exactly “home” means, if it’s possible to have more than one, and how to properly answer the question “So where are you from?”
I have long answers and short answers. Right now my short answer is “Chicago,” which isn’t even true. I’m actually from Geneva, a suburb about forty-five minutes west of Chicago. But how long will I live in Connecticut before I tell people that that’s where I’m from? Or maybe I never will.
My long answer is: “A suburb of Chicago but I’ve been in Scotland for the past year and now I live in Connecticut. I don’t know where I’m from.” But that’s usually more information than people actually want from small talk.
I’ve found that “home” has a lot of definitions. Home can be where you’re sleeping for an extended period of time, where you put your stuff and settle back into yourself. Just after moving house, home is usually the place you’ve left, and you will cling to that as your home until it is either too exhausting to do so or you warm enough to a new place that it becomes more home than the place before. Sometimes a place might not feel like it was home until after you’ve left it after you realize what you left behind, when you realize parts of yourself are missing.
Home can be people. I’ve always found a version of home wherever my family is, whether my parents are living in Illinois or Connecticut. Home is where your parents are especially when you’re a kid, but when you grow up the idea of home becomes so much more complicated. Home can be where your friends are; home can be your friends; home can be where you find love; home can be love. Home can be the person or place that fills in the parts of you that went missing from before.
Home, I think, is wherever or whomever with you’ve left a chunk of your heart. For that reason, I have so many homes and, subsequently, a fair amount of heartache. Returning to those places is never the same after you’ve left them because home is the product of circumstance and personal experience.
As the result of necessity and firecrackeriness, I’ve become a living embodiment of “bloom where you’re planted” like a perennial flower that keeps getting repotted. As much as home is what you make it, home is also the product of where you’ve been before and the experiences you bring with you. Home is a state of being as much as it is a place or a person. In any case, I think I’m still searching for mine.