The thing about moving away from home is that when you need to run away, just for the feel of running, just for the crust of mud on your boots, sometimes there’s only skyscrapers and city lights and a grid you can’t get lost in. So you lose yourself. You let go, bit by bit, just to see what it’s like—what they all said it would be like—to struggle. I hang on to things that don’t matter with my pinky finger, and I’m not sure why I do it. I never really ran away, but sometimes, back home, I would feel like there was this cage closing in around me, and I had to get out before its door locked shut. There were a lot of times when I would just walk out the door, walk down one street, then another, and down a third street lined with corn fields until I got to my grandparents’ house. Sometimes I drove there, but at those times I would turn the three minute drive into a thirty minute one, testing the limits of the roads I knew. I needed to see new things.
I needed to be somewhere else. Home wasn’t good enough. I wanted to find myself a new home, create a little camp for myself in the wilderness, with dark trees hanging over me and coyotes stealing my food. I sped past all of it, and cold wind billowed through the barely open windows. I could only get so far away before I felt myself longing for the warmth of my bed, my cat, and my brother’s hugs.
There’s not all that much to do back home in Indiana, but there’s no lack of things to be done in Chicago. Even so, I run into the same problem. The cage. The buildings are too tall. The grass is too short. The lake, where I feel most at home, is too cold to go near for any length of time. I look for new things. New beautiful things. I look for any opportunity to take a break, get away, take a vacation from the vibrant, pulsing place that has now become boring in its familiarity.
Vacation, for me, is a place on the water. Not a warm place or a cold place, but a place in the middle. A place where the world is so expansive that I feel small and humble in its presence. It’s the gentle tilt, back and forth, of my grandpa’s boat, as he points to an eagle gliding with its broad, dark wings outstretched.
The funny thing is, that same sort of vacation happens to also be the place where I feel most at home.
Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the term at home as, “relaxed and comfortable: at ease; at harmony with the surroundings; on familiar ground.” I think it’s interesting that no part of this particular definition includes the actual building that one considers as “home.”
Being in college, people always ask me, “Where’s home? Where are you from?” I feel like I give a different answer every time, even though my zip code has never changed.
Growing up, I had four homes. There was the place where I lived, and the place where my grandparents lived with my dog and a swimming pool and the woods I grew up exploring. There was the more-shack-than-cabin we stayed in for a week every year in Michigan, and there was the resort in Minnesota where we stayed in each cabin at least once. In all of these places, I felt like there was a part of me that belonged there, that would always be there, and a part of those places would always stay with me.
Taking vacations for weddings, family time, or fun has always given me a stronger sense of what home actually is. It makes me miss the familiar. It reminds me of the people I love. It builds a sense of community and connectedness. When I find a person from Minneapolis who knows where my hometown is, I feel important, like I’m part of something bigger and in some way connected to all the other people in the world. Traveling has a normalizing effect.
But there’s no greater community than discovering your own home. Maybe it’s not a building. Maybe it’s not even a place. But “home,” as defined by Merriam Webster, could simply mean a group of people who make you feel welcome or comfortable or loved. It could even be one person. It could be a pet. But without that “home” to support us and reel us back, it would be much harder to scramble out of the cages that sometimes threaten to close us in.