The Search for Home

“& now back to massachusetts,” I captioned an Instagram post of myself and friends in New York in late June 2022. While scrolling through the comments, one stuck out to me. Someone had commented, “Where we all definitely live,” to which I replied, “home?” 

“Home?” is the way I still feel about Massachusetts. Not Medford/Somerville, MA, but Western Massachusetts, where my family relocated during our cross-country move from Los Angeles in June 2021. It’s been over a year now since the city I grew up in has no longer technically been home, yet even after all that time, my search for a feeling of home remains. 

Since June 2021, I’ve been able to visit California three times. In theory, I wouldn’t have visited Los Angeles much more than that given I’m in college, but the action of going home over breaks to somewhere that was never “home” creates a big difference. I knew my family would move someday, but I hadn’t expected my world to shift locations immediately after high school. There were three days between donning a cap and gown and getting on a plane to North Carolina to be a sleepaway camp counselor. Could three days have ever been enough?

In only three days, I hugged my best friends goodbye, drove circles around the streets I called home, and laid in my twin bed, just as I had since I was two years old. It was my goal to memorize the pressure of my friends in my arms, glue the sights of Los Angeles in my brain, and suck in the air of my bedroom in hopes I could remember these things forever while fighting the knowledge they would never be the same again. It is one of my greatest blessings that I left California prior to my childhood home being packed into boxes; I remember it just as it was all my life. I lived 92 percent of my life in that home. How could it be possible to replace that in the 8 percent of my life, only 18 months out of 227 total, I’ve lived since then? 

It has been 18 months of self-discovery in many ways, but at the top of the list comes the answer of where to call home. Well, an in-progress answer, but one that is much clearer now than a year ago. In November 2021, if asked, I would have said my home was in Western Massachusetts where I have a physical house. Today, I’m no longer sure that home requires physicality. In the past year and a half, each day has come with a new question of home. Questions like: What does the physicality of home mean? Is it only one place? Does the amount of time you’ve spent in a place affect its classification as home? Can home be people? Can it be a thing? An idea? 

Part of my process of moving on from losing a place so important to me is pondering the answers to these questions. Home, of course, doesn’t have to be a place, but sometimes it is. I smiled over my Tufts admissions email while sitting on my living room couch, I cried about the death of my first dog on the hardwood hallway floor, and I whispered my deepest secrets during sleepovers in the guest room bed that got smaller each year I grew up. And sometimes it’s not. Looking back, there was no place that I felt mentally safe and free in Los Angeles. There was always the worry of expectation and conformity—who my parents wanted me to be, who others in LA were, and who I thought I should be. 

Home is a feeling of safety—a place where I don’t have to hide my emotions—which I found in my car, where blasting music drowned out the world. Home is where I can be unabashedly myself and not have to try to fit in. Like in the theatre where I can hide in the shadows of someone else’s story. On the T, where I am a stranger to everyone for just a few minutes. Home is with like-minded people. People like my friends and roommates at Tufts that allow me to be my messiest, just-woken-up self and love me anyway. There is a sense of belonging one should feel when they arrive at the end of the day. I felt a semblance of this for the first time in my lumpy bed at summer camp right after I moved, and then again as I returned to the halls of Metcalf after classes. Home allows you to experience life without worrying about perfection. Something I get to experience with my girlfriend who wipes away my tears when I cry. Home takes each moment of life and stores it, sans judgment, to remember at another time. Just like my memories tucked away in books and in music. Home is a manifestation of your heart, found in a million little moments and meaningful people. 

While seeking a singular replacement for home, I found it in a jumble of people, places, and ideas. Though these experiences may not be forever,  they’ve all been places of comfort for the moment. Home is not just one place—something I knew long before moving, but didn’t comprehend until the discovery of my (potentially infinite and still in-progress) mixture of residences and residential feelings. 

It’s funny, when I applied to Tufts, I wrote about all of the places that made me, me. If I were to rewrite that essay now, I would write about the activities I’ve done and the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had. I would write about how my home is within me, not built of walls and furniture, but a feeling that I seek to find in what I do. I would say my home comes from the places that have made me, but it is not one of those places. Looking at my application essay, written in 2020, my home isn’t Los Angeles where “spring birds chirp when the sun shines through my curtains, and the cars speeding up and down Laurel Canyon put me to sleep.” It isn’t my familial roots in Oklahoma, characterized by “dominoes and dirt roads with no street lights to guide your path,” it isn’t New York City which I stated I would one day call home, and it isn’t North Carolina where I found that “I could succeed when I put my mind to a task, no matter how physically or mentally painful.” No, home is none of these places, and though at one point and time in my life they have all been home, these locations aren’t what allows me to feel that sense of heartwarming love that is home. 

And so, yes, it hurts to not be able to make more memories in a place that gave me so many, but it’s a gorgeous sentiment to know that I can find home within myself. It is, in a sense, the greatest form of safety, to know that when all else fails, I can find the (supposed) loving nature of home within my own body. 

I don’t think I’ll ever have an answer to the question of “home?” that I’ve joked about for months. I believe one day I will find a residence I get to call home, but for now, every day brings new emotional understandings of the things that allow me to feel at home. My current search allows me to see home in more ways than ever. I get to find home in the loving arms of a Yankees fan, in the basement of Aidekman, and when laying in the sun, laughing with friends, on Prez Lawn. I know the sense of displacement and confusion about a home’s location is not a foreign concept to college students. I urge those struggling to discover their true home to seek it within people, activities, and experiences. Doing so is the only way I’ve been able to heal the hole left by the loss of my childhood home. And with that, I am conquering my goal of seeking an emotional home in each of my endeavors and crafting a beautiful, perfect mixture of the parts of life that gift me joy and belonging.