My year has been full of change, full of responsibilities, full of writing, full of caregiving. 2022 marked a big transition for me. I moved several states away from my hometown and worked to cultivate a life for myself in Louisville, Kentucky. There are many things to like about my new “home.” I live in the hipster neighborhood known as the Highlands, which is walkable to most anything that I need or desire. One can easily walk to vegan restaurants and local coffee shops, bars, comedy clubs, local markets, yoga studios, and a beautiful 400-acre nature preserve. While I live alone (with my animals), I do not feel lonely. People run wild across these streets. Sometimes, I can hear drunk folks singing karaoke as I fall asleep.
And yet, I am compelled to put “home” in quotations. Perhaps because I am not convinced that I will stay here. Or, maybe because I am not sure what “home” means, or should mean.
My first break of this year, from both academic and professional responsibilities, spans July 26th through August 22nd. I planned two trips: one to go back from whence I came for a few days, the other to explore the East Coast.
My hometown is a blue dot in a red state. (To be sure, my new home is as well.) While I only have a few people there to see, they are among the closest to me in my life. Nonetheless, I had to leave. I wanted warmth, I wanted to experience a new way of life and to grow. We cannot live our lives for other people, can we?
But then, what makes a home a home if not for the people there?
I indulged in all my favorite things while visiting my hometown. My favorite restaurants, my all-time favorite cocktail bar. The hidden gem that is a quaint swimming beach at the town lake and the 150-acre forested off-leash dog park. I loved my time back and I left wishing I had more time there.
And I decided that was preferable. I want to miss it. Because then I will want to go back again.
Then, less than a week later I was off to the East Coast. I am not as well-traveled as many here at PD, so this was new to me. I wandered two novel cities, comparable to the size of where I currently live, yet quite different. And I explored NYC for the first time in my life.
When I returned “home,” I spoke with my world-traveling friend about what I liked best about my travels. I admitted that one of my favorite areas was St. Marks Place in NYC. It seemed to have it all; local retailers, vegan food, yoga, culture. Sure, the bustling touristy areas are cool. But when I walked the East Village, I contemplated occupying that space daily.
The people I watched fascinated me. I saw solo women walk confidently down the streets with their dogs. I studied young service providers, wondering if their lives were as polished as the countertops they sterilized. I imagined a life there for myself and my animals. Would my dog be happy here? Can we enjoy peaceful walks? I told my friend that I don’t want to be exploited for over-priced and low-quality tourist attractions; I want to see how other people live.
My friend smiled kindly and said, “You are not wrong, I used to feel that way. But really, seeing how other people live is sad.”
Perhaps so. Maybe I am chasing a fever dream of sorts. A feeling of home that I cannot articulate and may not even recognize should I stumble upon it. Is home comfort and contentment? Is home sharing space with loved ones? How do we decide, and how do we know when we have it?
Apparently, I have been operating under the idea that location matters. That location is what makes a place home. And hell, maybe it is. But here, reunited with my animals and settling back in to my routine, I am anxious. Rather than return rejuvenated, I return discontent.
Worth noting, summer is my love; even seeing the word summer typed out makes me chest flutter. It is possible I am anxious because I know the summer will end soon. And so too will my break.
It is similarly possible that I am coming down from the novelty I experienced during my travels. Although, I usually come home from traveling more confident and less anxious than when I left. But I cannot deny it is possible.
Or, it could be that my search for “home” is borne of “growing up too fast,” or my limited experiences traveling. I mean, I have never traveled internationally. How much can I know until I see more? At any rate, I do not have the answers now. But I do know that I am not ready to buy a home and lay down real roots. A nagging part of me wants to try a few more cities after this one. And I feel guilty about that, as an animal-caregiver. But there is no utility in judging where I am at. Feelings are always valid, even inconvenient ones.
As I settle back into the life I built here, I am wrestling with what “home” is. I do not know if it is here or a space I have yet to set foot on. Maybe home is under the desert sun or off the bustling streets of NYC. Maybe it is a person I will meet tomorrow, or in 10 years. Or maybe home transcends both location and humans, and can be found when listening to my animal’s snore.
It is my hope that as I continue to grow and experience new things, “home” becomes less of an idea and more of a tangible goal. And in the meantime, I’m going to sit with this discomfort and explore every inch of these liminal spaces in hopes of figuring it out.
What does home mean to you?
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Photo: R. Coker, Alexander Rotker via Unsplash