Today’s post was inspired by Kvetchmom’s blog, where she writes:
“Traveling always challenges my idea of home. Where is home? Am I in the right place? Please share what home means to you.”
Sweeping green leaves shade our play. As summer’s blaze sinks beneath the horizon, tiny fireflies flash and drift across the lawn. They float within arm’s reach, and we run to catch and place them in glass jars. From down the street a few scattered shouts from teenage lifeguards are heard when they close the swimming pool. The savory aroma of grilled food fills the air. Day melts into night. I am home.
Holidays invite colored lights and Christmas carols. It is cold. The chance of snow is ever present, and anticipating a Snow Day gives us a thrill. A vast pot of spaghetti sauce simmers on the stove while a live tree brings its memories of the forest in to our living room. Secrets are tucked into dreams and corners and closets. A few snowflakes drift in the wind. I am home.
I move into a hot, unadorned double suite dorm room with three other 18-year-old women. We share one bathroom and a lounge down the hall. Boxes are emptied of clothes, books, hangers, microwaveable dishes, and rolls of quarters for laundry. The beds are small and transform into sofa-like objects, tucked away until we sleep on crisp new sheets. Photos are taped onto the walls. It doesn’t feel like home.
My suitcase sits in the corner of the unlit room where a spinning ceiling fan is the only sound. My new family is comprised of two beautiful Mexican women with whom I share a house in the Yucatan. They are mother and daughter, and when the weather becomes oppressively hot, I follow their example and rest in a hammock at night. Our bodies remain in gentle motion through the night, and in the morning we eat sweet bread and drink coffee. I am happy in this faraway home encircled by sagebrush and rock, where tiny lizards perch silently outside my window.
The bus rattles along long pot marked roads and the ocean sparkles to the west. It navigates heavily traveled streets filled with noise and heat that contribute to a sweet laziness in the Caribbean. This sense of this all-day siesta is deceptive. On every corner taxi drivers and vendors wait, hover, and angle to be the first to successfully hustle the next person who walks by and force their hand for a few measly pesos. I am thirsty, and purchase a few small plastic bags filled with water that I hope is purified. I smile at children who admire the foreigner in the neighborhood. For more than two years I live in a land of stolen kisses, flip-flops, mangos and merengue.
Not ready to come home yet, I become a part of we. Passports still in hand together we greet a small dusty town in Chiapas to make our home in a rural community where indigenous uprisings are not a thing of the past. Military vehicles captained by dark eyed men move slowly around the bustling town square with its vendors, lovers and travelers. We live in a one room house with a tiny patio, a latrine, a macadamia nut grove and a peek at an ancient ruin glimpsed through the forest. The ranch was home to the unrepressed addiction of a few angry ex-pats, and home to the soul-shaking goodness of our neighbors to the south, men and women whose humanity is draped in indigenous solitude and dependent on survival skills lost to many. Every day we light fires, drink freshly roasted coffee, serve and participate in amazing communal meals, and true friendship brings us through this particular journey.
Afterwards I slip into high heels and sleek black pants, and I blow dry my hair so that the curls go away. In our Nation’s Capitol after nearly three years away, I remember the choices we are faced with as middle class Americans – among them, the overwhelming quantity of toothpaste, cereal, snacks, shoes. I get a job. I rise early. I go to work. I go home alone. I push past men and women in suits and sneakers hustling to and from a cubicle on public transit.
I am home, but not home.
September 11 happens.
And I pack my bags again.
Welcomed by California, I land in a place that is more fog than sun, where sea lions play on rocks by the shore and ancient redwood trees grow ever grander. We build fires in the fireplace, and shop for our very first bed. I claim one side of the closet; he takes the other. We make sushi for Christmas Eve dinner. Our friends fill our home with laughter and shouts. We are home.
Three thousand miles and two years later, we are back in the city that once was a swamp. We move into the second floor of an old rowhouse on NW 13th Street. The studio is renovated, spacious, and curiously designed for urban living. We frequently dine out, and run and ride bikes in the metropolitan jungle. A suburban experience accosts us on weekend visits to family, and I return to the home I knew as a child.
Again, three thousand miles and two plus years return to us to the West Coast.
We drop anchor in the Pacific Northwest, where we begin a different kind of urbanish life that takes place in the midst of mountains and rivers and parks filled with old growth trees and mossy shade. Our children are born here. We are warm in our raincoats and fleece as we stomp through puddles and trails, and we linger on the days of late summer when we, too, can strip to our lightest clothing and lean back into melting sunsets and sweet summertime life.
Home is my family. Home is here. Home is now.