In my 23 years I’ve lived in 5 different houses, three apartments, a mobile home, and I’ve slept so many nights in the backseat of a Buick that it may as well count as a home too. I’ve had at least five different zip codes, lived a significant amount of time in two different states and what you could call an insignificant time in a handful of others. Two months from this very moment I will be gone, out of Columbus and out of Ohio and in another zip code, another state and another transient home to add to the list. I don’t know what home really means anymore.
In the past my concept of home has always been a physical incarnation of family put into vessel form, an architectural display of memory; covered in dark wood paneling with old wood floors and a chain link fence surrounding the yard. A giant wisteria bush and a mimosa tree in the backyard, little painted chickens in the kitchen, and an old airstream in the back next to the big blue tractor. The most important thing about a home is the stuff that it catches, the good stuff and the bad stuff and the daily mundane and boring stuff. The walls that soak up Christmas morning laughter and late night giggles and the floors absorb the sounds of little feet slapping against the floor as they’re being chased into bed, and the vibrations of mud covered rubber boots stomping their way in after a few long days spent turkey hunting in the swamps at Fool River. The thing about a home is that it’s only about 50% physical stuff and the rest of it is all of those things, those thoughts and feelings and conversations that fly out of us and land on everything- just like the dust you can see coming through the living room window in the early morning sunlight. All of these particles flying around and landing on the kitchen cabinets, the old sewing machine, under the bed and in the coffee pot just to be inhaled and then thrown back out into the mist. This is how a home makes the transition from simple vessel to an innate part of the family, and it breathes with the family and grieves with the family and feels all the same stuff we feel the only difference is that it remains standing even when we hit our knees. Home endures when human can’t, in a sense it is the ultimate family member, sheltering and standing and comforting in ways that humans often fail at doing.
But my vision of home as a child that was once so firm at 6 now doesn’t exist at 23 years old. So what is home now? When you move every year and your space is shared not with a biological family but a scattering of roommates, friends and significant others. When home becomes a blur of green bathroom tile and broken ceiling fans, shabby stained carpet and drafty windows, two little cats that turn into two big cats, being the big spoon, sleeping alone, expanding and collapsing my belongings as I move from tiny apartment to giant townhouse. I’ve moved every year since I came to college, had several roommates and spent a year alone. I’ve had to learn how to be my own home, how to carry all of the pieces of life with me that might ordinarily be left behind in the structure that is home. And it gets heavy, carrying all of that around on your back, collecting all of your memories day by day and storing them not in your surroundings but within yourself, so that one day all of your years will only be stories for younger generations. You’ll tell them about the year that you lived in a shabby apartment that didn’t have a heater, and how you ate every meal that winter in your bathtub with the hot water running just to stay warm. You have to become the keeper of all of your memories without relying on the architecture to remind you.
I guess that what I’m getting at is that no one ever tells you when you’re growing up that home will become a transient idea, that the place you grew up with cannot remain yours forever and eventually you have to go out into the world and find your own. And eventually you’ll get there but for now you’re surrounded by so much fleeting architecture that you don’t know what to do with.