“Home is where the heart is” likely has a really profound, comforting message, but by now it’s become too Hallmark for me to really put much to it. But I do agree that home is not always a place. It’s not necessarily tied to a location, although we tend to associate the two. As a child of parents who divorced when I was only four years old, constantly moving and traveling between houses left me feeling…uprooted. I learned quickly that, sure, a house is not necessarily a home; but I also struggled to feel like I had one.
I don’t blame my parents for any of this, by the way. They fell out of love, they weren’t the people they were when they first met–things change, I get it. I am glad they divorced, in the name of and for the integrity of love and relationships. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t experience some of the negative consequences of being a child between worlds.
I’ve moved residences roughly 13 times in my life, that I’m aware of. I traded houses every other week (my parents’ had a 50/50 custody split). I used to never fully unpack my bag because it seemed like too much of a hassle just to repack it a week later. Now, I’m a pretty solid packer, but back then I was not. I would cram anything and everything that I thought I might need and carry around this massive duffel bag, to which an elementary school teacher once laughed and commented that I looked homeless. In hindsight, that’s not a very appropriate thing to say to an 11-year-old, but if I think about it, she wasn’t totally wrong. I felt very displaced, never as though a place was my home, a place where I truly and fully belonged. That was really hard for me. I started nesting, a term that describes filling in a place and developing it to make it a little sanctuary, much like what birds do. Cue the first time I moved everything into one place, I learned I had about two of everything. It was bad.
So if my house wasn’t my home, where or what was my home? Beginning of high school, I thought, well maybe I can find home in people. And I think that can be true, but I went about it all wrong. I began to hyper-romanticize my first boyfriend (who was also a very toxic individual) and almost force seeing a home in him. Needless to say, it went pretty horribly. I instead ended up emotionally tying myself to him, which kept me in that relationship about three months longer than I should have been. I’d started to see it in the comfort of some of my best friends, but then I lost two of those friendships within a year of each other because it just didn’t work out. What was I doing wrong?
I figured it out, dear readers. I was trying too hard. I was wanting it a little too much. The second half of high school through my second year of college (now) I got distracted by a lot of negative thinking. I was floating aimlessly in a dark bubble of self-doubt, of not feeling like I knew who I was, of feeling like a failure and a disappointment. I carried a lot of those feelings alone because I didn’t feel allowed to “burden” others with them. When I hit a breaking point and slowly started sharing my feelings with my family, I got a response that sounds pretty expected but that I hadn’t anticipated because I hadn’t felt deserving enough. My sisters looked at me like I was ridiculous, that of course I wasn’t a failure. “Anna, just look at all the things you’re doing.” My mom helped me start the process of seeing a therapist for a little while. My dad began to vocalize, “I’m proud of you.” And I hadn’t realized how much I needed to hear that. That’s when I started to feel like I had a home. I found it amidst my pain. I’d been holding myself to such high expectations while feeling like I couldn’t meet them. I was crippling myself under the weight of shame of not being enough. But I was. I was and am enough, and my family sees that. I just couldn’t.
What does this have to do with finding home? Well, I’ll tell you. Home is a place where you find comfort. It’s a place where you know love is waiting for you, where you know you can go in and feel a little stronger in the battles you face. It’s the place you rush to to get a breath of fresh air. Home is the warmth of my dad’s chest when I hug him. Home is the way my older sister makes herself shorter while she hugs me because she likes to assume a really wide stance for a super stable hug. Home is my family sitting around a table, laughing endlessly wherever we are, sometimes obnoxiously so. Sure, home is where the heart is, but I want to take it a step further and say that home is where your heart feels full. Because home is also my best friend’s bed while her cats trap us in, it’s my non-boyfriend’s way of calling me everything but my name, it’s my mother’s willingness to help, always. Home will survive a move across town or across the country, a natural disaster, or the devastation of poverty, because home is found in each other.