How to leave home and then come back

I’ve spent too many years desperately trying to turn anything remotely familiar into a home. My first dorm room: overdecorated with things I thought other people wanted me to be interested in. My first apartment: three white cubes and two grody bathrooms. Not the cozy, comfortable home I lived in all summer, or all my life for that matter.

But I did try. I know that new spaces inevitably take some getting used to. When we would go on family vacations when I was little, we would call our hotel rooms ‘home’. My mom would say, “ready to go home?” and I would say, “yes”, and we would take a taxi or a bus or walk back to the hotel. Was that our home? No, but it was where we settled for that moment.

I have tried to make these dorm rooms and white cubes and places of settlement familiar and comfortable, but found time and time again that the unfamiliar would creep so closely that I would hardly notice it was there at all. First, excitement. Next, decorations. Next, cooking supplies. Next, hopelessness. But how? And at what point did this stop being my home? Or was it ever my home at all?

And what did I do? Like so many others, I left. For an indefinite amount of time to an unfamiliar location, looking for something that resembled anything remotely comforting. I could be found on new couches to sleep on and new cafes to study in. I took everything that was remotely familiar in my head and dispersed them all over the bay area. In people, places, way up high in climbing trees, at sea level, and with internet friends. I loved finding the simple solace in these places, but time and time again I would find that the story would repeat. That every time I traveled to these places, I would return home to my white-cubed bedroom and my grody bathroom just the same. At some point, we have to travel home.

But that’s the thing that I never knew I knew about going home. Homes give and give and give and that’s all they do. They don’t expect anything in return. They let you live life in full color. They let you leave and come back any time you need. You could be gone for days and your door will still be there, protecting your things, waiting humbly for the insertion of your keys to fill that familiar shape, twist right, push, and greet your face hello. All you have to do is allow that place to be your home. Your breath of fresh air. Your place to return at any hour of the day. You have to want to return to it at some point.

And I know that sometimes you simply don’t want to return, for whatever reason that may be. But what I’ve found is that each time I leave and each time I come back, I’m a fuller person. I’ve discovered new tribes, new food, new faces, new familiarities. Familiarities that burn so badly that I would end up right where I started. In that white cube that I pay way too much for.

Until I leave again. Only to find the most spectacular journeys. Only to capture more poignant stories, more toy cameras, to take in one more voice, an openness, compassion, a willingness to learn just one more lesson. To experience our world slowly, the way humans were intended to. To collect more moments that I’ll revisit when I’m finally planted in the only chair in the living room. Each screenshotted snapchat in my phone, each scuff on my shoe, and each shower that I so desperately need is a reminder of where I’ve been, and that I’m back.

And the point is that this is an experiment. When I go home, how will I return. When I leave, where will I settle. At what points do shelter become solace, caution become comfort, and language become leisure. It’s complicated when you have multiple homes. It’s even more complicated when you feel like you have none.

So, this is where we’ve landed. Writing about a place, but also a concept, and how the two can exist intermittently. My hope is that being at home this holiday season will be a source of freshness when you’re spent, fortitude when you crave it, inspiration when you’re empty, and connection when you’re tired of white cubes and just need something that feels like home.