Essays

A house is not a home

It is so very quiet.

It is nice to visit my family… I guess? I’m here, in the house that I still technically own, in the room that was technically “mine” when I lived here, but so much has changed. My sister has turned it into a permanent guest room, so it’s sort of like a stripped down AirBnB: everything is nice and well-appointed, but perhaps a little empty?

But then again, while she has changed certain things around the rest of the house – put up a shelf or two here and there, moved items around, made it more functional for her taste – there are things that haven’t changed.

It’s still quiet. Too quiet. A little bit… impersonal?

I always felt like a visitor while growing up. Sure, in my parents’ house, I had a room that was technically “mine” and a bed that was technically “mine” and things that actually were mine, but it still felt like a put on. Perhaps I was reminded one time too many that nothing there, truly, legally, belonged to me. Or perhaps it was the clear knowledge that while I love and respect my family, and I am sure they feel the same for me, our lives, our world views, how we live those lives, are different and not reconcilable.

I’m pretty sure I’ve always known that.

So, I’m here, and this is a house that is still technically “mine” and I know all the nooks and crannies, and I know what goes in which cabinet, where the utensils are versus the cooking spoons and the knives, and how to use the washer, dryer, and dishwasher, and I “know” all about it–

But, I am a visitor. I am a guest. A familiar one, yes, but not a permanent one.

This is my house, but this is not my home.

You can never go home again
When I left in April, I found myself struggling on how to refer to NYC. Hometown? Home? The place where I’m from? The place where I’ll end up back? Nothing seemed to fit right. When I was headed back for a weekend, one of my coworkers said: “Hey, you’re going home for how long?” And I probably took a few seconds too long to respond because my first thought was to snap back: “Not my home!”

But that felt like a betrayal, so I didn’t say what I wanted to say and instead mumbled some sort of blah statement and left the conversation.

It felt true, that thought of “not my home” but still it felt like betraying my family for not considering the space and place they raised me in as “home.” That’s how it’s supposed to be, right? You go off out into the world, you travel, maybe live some place else for a spell, but you always come back home. Right?

But there is this alternative theory of the crime, too, that “you can never go home again.” That once you leave, you change, and the world you left behind in your mind it is static, but in reality it also changes, and now you two have gone along a different path.

As I came to the last two miles on the parkway near my family’s houses, I was struck by this sensation of here / not there, of familiar / strange, because I know every curve of that road, I know how the trees bend over and shade traffic, I know the ridged bumps along the exit lane, I know how to slide over at the right time to avoid a jam up with those entering the parkway, and yet–

It felt alien and uninviting and “not home.”

I made the same right turn that I’ve done hundreds, thousands of times, and it led me down the same hill that floods at the bottom whenever it rains hard like it is this morning, and then the strange dip in the road that is never fixed, and around the sewer drain that will damage your rims, and back properly into the right lane to make the light to make another right turn, and then a quick left, and down one and a half blocks to pull over and back into my driveway.

I could do this in my sleep. I could do this drunk. I most certainly have done both.

And yet, as easy as that was, as automatic a set of actions as that was, there were changes to it. The buses which were going by? All of them are the new ones. When I was last back in June, a majority of the lines that service the main street were still on the old buses. Now those are gone.

There are some new buildings going up: they will block the sun and crowd the neighborhood. Some rental, some condo, probably condos with renters, and it will add transients to the neighborhood, most with great energy, some more interesting than others.

It is still a home here, a neighborhood, just not my home, and not my neighborhood. Time is moving on, it is moving quickly, and things are happening here that I am not part of, and if I am brutally honest, things that I don’t want to be part of.

This address on the house may still be on my license, but this is not where I live.

Little things
Speaking of licenses and addresses, my original plan was to keep my license since my car lease doesn’t expire until 2019. There is only one DMV in the place I live now, and it is an absolute pain to get the titles sent over and everything neatly registered so that I can officially become a denizen of my new town, but I was putting it off.

It felt like a betrayal, right? To change my addresses. To change all my credit cards. To move my life from “home.”

But, it isn’t home anymore, is it? It is a house, a nice one, but it is just a nice house, in a nice neighborhood, and both house and neighborhood are full of very nice people, some of whom I know very well, some not as much, but they are living very different lives than the one I am and maybe it is time to make that official and true.

For me, the alternative theory of the crime is ringing true: you never can go home again. You need to make a new one wherever you go because home is you, it is with you, it travels inside of you, and you need to find the place that resonates with that thing inside of you, and that is where you want to be.

I want to go home.

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