When I was a kid, even though we'd moved around a bunch when I was very young, home was Atlanta, GA. We lived in a house and knew our neighbors and it felt, to me, both like we'd always lived there and would always live there in the future.
My dad had made a swing for me out on this huge branch on a massive tree we had. The tree was at the corner of our yard and was at the top of a fairly sharp drop off to the street below. I could sit on the swing and kick back and forth and watch the neighborhood in action.
Every summer I went to Florida and I stayed with my great-grandmother or my grandparents and I said I hated Florida -- but what I hated was staying in a room that wasn't mine, that didn't give me any sense of really belonging, for a couple of months. It always made me super aware that my inclusion in things was short term so I had better not get too attached to the way things were done. (That didn't exactly work out since I think my great-grandmother has been the greatest single influence on my life but, heh, I can be both influenced and awkward.)
There was a wonderful, comfortable routine to returning to my own bedroom at the end of the summer, even when everything else was awful. And, at the time, I thought that was what home meant: my books and my Barbies and my miniature tea set collection that my other grandparents added to when they traveled.
But then we moved to Thailand -- all of that stuff got packed up and we took large duffel bags full of clothes and sheets with us because my dad, who had gone over ahead of us, said sheets were a pricey commodity. We left most of our personal stuff behind because moving halfway across the world in a couple of duffel bags didn't give us a lot of spare room for, you know, my favorite doll.
When we got there and got settled though (not at the apartment in Bangkok that we lived in for a little but down in Jomtien), I started to get that home could be a place that you loved instead of just the place you grew up or where your family/stuff was; home could be the Beach Road and all of the little streets coming off of it that I wandered by myself.
That's where I got my first real taste of independence as a 12- and 13-year-old. I'd stayed by myself for years in the house in Atlanta but in Thailand I was catching baht buses to run into town and hanging out with a slightly older friend who had her own favorite food carts.
I went back to the States for school after a certain point, but every trip back to Thailand for the summer -- that was what felt like going home.
Now I live in Orlando, FL. I've been here, pretty steadily, since 1997. It was never supposed to be home. I was just finishing up school, following a couple of friends and taking advantage of in-state tuition because I was so burnt-out and empty and uncertain.
When you feel like that, Orlando isn't a bad place to be. There are a lot of people coming and going here and there's been a general trend toward new development. Orlando wants to be a big city, yearns towards that even as it has the sort of small town connections that I occasionally miss about living with my grandparents. (There's something to be said for everyone knowing everyone every now and then.)
But it means that, especially if you're new in town, you can decide who you are and what home means and how you're going to build it for yourself. That snuck up on me in Orlando until I realized, maybe 9 years ago, that I didn't actually particularly want to leave.
(Of course I've spent the last 9 years thinking maybe I SHOULD move but that's because I can't let myself just enjoy being happy here. And I say that with wry amusement.)
On November 21st, I got back to New Orleans at about 10pm. The train sat on the Huey P. Long Bridge for quite a while and the drunk guy in the roomette next to me had yelled for most of that time, about how he could walk faster than this, about how the cafe car was closed, about how it was all bs, about how he'd paid too much money for his ticket to put up with this.
I closed my roomette door to block him out and I thought about my options: I could stay another night in New Orleans -- who wouldn't want a weekend there? Or I could catch the Megabus leaving at 11:59pm.
The train finally pulled in and it was a beautiful, cool night. I could call the place I'd stayed in when I started my journey, head over there and then walk to the French Quarter -- really enjoy New Orleans this time. But instead I called a cab -- and caught that midnight bus back home.
This Thanksgiving, I was helping my grandmother set some stuff out. And she was laughing at me -- said between Thailand and trips like this train thing, I just wasn't very domestic. She meant I wasn't much for staying at home, I think. But I'm learning a finer appreciation for it, for this space full of Ed and our pets and our friends both near and far. This is home, and we've made it for ourselves.
What's home to you? How did you find it?