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Home used to be a place. It used to be Houston, back when I lived in Bellaire with my mom and my twin brother and even after I went off to college and spent four years pretending like I knew what I wanted to do when they were over. Freshman year was the first time in my life I started answering “where are you from?” with “Houston” instead of “South Korea,” and I’ve stuck with it since. Even towards the end of my four years, I felt uncomfortable telling my friends I was “going home” after classes or on my way out of the library at 2 am. In my mind, I was going back to my dorm; I went “home” on holidays, before and during and after the school year. I equated home with 713, with the way the humidity fogged up my glasses when I stepped outside to the slow burn of a summer night.
Over those four years, I missed Houston more than I ever thought I would. I wanted to tell her that someday I would come back, that I would come back to stay, because Houston as a home was worth everything I could give her and more. But as graduation started looming nearer and I began considering my transition out of school and into the Real World, I realized that the future I had in mind wasn’t in Houston. I always thought you could love a place just for what is is and what it used to be, miss it but at the same time feel no pressure to make it a lasting part of some distant future. And I wanted forward and fresh and something I hadn’t tried before, something besides Houston or my four years in Philadelphia. I wanted whatever new experiences I could muster as a recent college grad with a liberal arts degree. I thought I wanted a job in flashy New York, a city where I and everyone I knew would be working the same trying hours in the short-term for the promise (or the hope) of the inevitable long-term gain.
It wasn’t much of a plan, and I didn’t do a great job of following through, because I didn’t even make it to New York. In a turn of events that neither of us could have predicted, I moved to San Francisco with my twin brother, and having him in a new city helped immeasurably with a transition that was more difficult than I had anticipated. We were inseparable growing up, but we had grown enough as individuals in college to start learning from each other through the experiences we hadn’t shared and the memories we were actively creating. I was spending more and more time at work instead of at home, but in some of the quieter moments spent in our aging apartment at the edge of the Castro, I started realizing that my idea of home was no longer in my mind a singular, static physical location. I thought about how home might not be a place but a collection of comforting, hazy memories, the kind I was hoping to recreate here in my new life. Home was warm. Home was the dinners my family had every night around a massive table that took up our entire dining room but felt, shared with my mom and my twin brother like the laughter and free-form conversation that formed over it, intimate and made for the three of us alone.
It took me a few weeks of quietly eating lunch and sometimes dinner by myself at my desk at work and the recognition that my mom and my brother were often doing the same thing to conclude that the routine I had taken for granted growing up was now a privilege I no longer had and may never consistently have again. Tying my idea of home to either a single place or to past memories made it, I realized, much harder to fully experience the feeling of actually being home. I remembered its embrace clearly; I just wasn’t sure when I would fully experience it again.
And then my mom came to visit us in October, a couple of months after we moved in, the three of us together for the first time as adults with responsibilities and rent payments and real jobs. We ate and drank coffee and went to small bookstores and I felt, like I always do with the family that has given me everything, inspiration without the pressure of expectation, comfortable but not complacent. So for now, I think home is not a place or a memory but a certain emotion, and if I had to put a specific detail to it, the exact emotion I feel and the one I see in my mom’s face whenever my brother and I fly in to visit her or whenever she flies out to visit us and the three of us lock eyes in the baggage claim of the airport. Home feels like the want of permanence and comfort and stability and the fear of not having them again the way we used to being entirely overwritten by the thrill of the now and the few days we have in each other’s company. I may not live in Houston anymore, and I may not be able to spend every evening at a shared dinner table, but I don’t want emotions as pure as the one I see and feel in that moment to be tied to a specific city or to a specific series of memories or to anything other than the belief that places and thoughts and even memories can change, but some feelings absolutely never will.