I’ve never been legally homeless but I would say I’ve been metaphorically without a home for most of my life.
The first time my family moved was when I was in 4th grade. We were building a much nicer house and we got to design everything. I was so excited! That is, until I saw how miserable my parents were. Crammed in our temporary condo while the house was being built was the first time I really saw how angry my father was and how fearful my mother was. But when we moved into our new house we got a puppy and I got a huge room that I got to decorate so I guess things were mostly ok.
When I was in 8th grade my parents got divorced (about 4 years after they probably should have) and my mom moved into a drab apartment while she looked for a house. Our time and my stuff was split in half. I remember hating going over to her place. It was obvious she had done her best to recreate our home and make it feel cozy but the whole place was accessorized with sadness and her feelings of guilt and fear were palpable. It didn’t feel like a home. I still feel the punch in my gut when I look at the picture of my brother and me on my first day of high school taken in that apartment.
I wanted to get away for college so I went to Indiana University which was about 3 hours from my home town of Ft. Wayne Indiana. All my friends went to the rival schools Purdue or Ball State but I always longed for places and people that were unfamiliar. Something about the fantasy of the unknown seemed much better than anything I ever knew and that was appealing to me.
After college, I was ready to get even furrrther away. I got into ASU for grad school and I moved out to Phoenix- sight unseen- in August of 08. All of my college friends moved to Chicago many of whom lived together. I envied their sense of belonging and desire to stay where they were with people they knew. But I told myself I’m different than them, more independent, braver maybe, or something like that.
But as I stayed home most nights feeling lonely in a huge city where I knew no one, I wondered if there was something wrong with me. Why did I do this to myself? Why did I feel I had to get away to be happy and then I’m still dissatisfied? After a couple of stressful years in grad school and a couple bad breakups with underwhelming guys, I felt like I was at one of my lowest points: in a city I didn’t really like and couldn’t connect to, without many local friends or much of a community at all. But sadly, it didn’t make me homesick for the Midwest. It just made me feel further from “home” in any sense of the word.
As I’m looking back I realize, I’ve moved around A LOT. Even if I didn’t leave a city, I always wanted a new place to rent or if I couldn’t move, I’d have to completely rearrange my furniture or fill my house with all new stuff from goodwill. I bought a bunch of plastic storage bins and became exceptionally adept at packing and unpacking my shit quickly. I even bought a car with a big trunk so I can more junk in it when I move. I was always looking seeking novelty, the next best place, my next escape. I would think maybe this city has people that I can resonate with, maybe if I move to that neighborhood I’d be happy because I can walk to that cute little coffee shop and meet another tortured soul who’s flaws perfectly complement mine. I’d have these elaborate fantasies about the people I would meet and eventually love, the future dinner parties me and all my cool socially conscious friends would have.
In 2012, at 28, fresh out of another breakup, I felt like I wanted more roots. So I bought a house in downtown Phoenix in a vibrant neighborhood where all the cool people seemed to be living. There were hip restaurants I could walk to and I could actually bumped into people with faces I started to recognize. I thought, fiiiinally, a place of my own but after closing, I felt surprisingly disappointed. The house was literally falling apart and I never felt so alone. I remember I cried when my plumber offered to move a couple heavy things in the house for me and hook up my dryer because I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I read about how I need to improve my energetic relationship with the house and I learned a lot about surrendering. But not all the sage and perfectly placed crystals in the world could fill the void I was still sensing.
6 months later I met one of my current partners on okcupid. He was living in Tucson and I had only visited here once and to be honest wasn’t that impressed. (Though I never went further south than Ina). We started spending every other weekend here and I quickly fell in love with him and this city. I made more friends here in a month than the entire 5 years I spent in Phoenix. I decided to move here and for the first time in my life I felt some semblance of “home.” I felt so lucky. I had this amazing person who wanted to build a life with me. I started meeting all of these awesome, polyamorous, kinky, witchy, queer, radical people and would bump into them all the time around town. He bought a house and we started nesting. We imagined all the amazing get togethers we’d have at our cozy little home with all these friends I’d always imagined having, and then we did that, a lot, for 4 wonderful years.
Now things are shifting and transitioning with me and that beautiful man that brought me down here to Tucson. Fortunately, we don’t subscribe to the mononormative model of you’re either everything to each other or your “just friends” but it’s hard to define all of the relationship models in between those two extremes. We are starting to wonder if we can see each other as primary, nesting partners for the next year let alone the rest of our lives. We live together well, I love our house but I’m feeling that old itch for something more. I’m starting to do my usual thing of imagining other future scenarios with some characters known to me now but some completely unknown. As our relationship shifts, I start to feel this familiar feeling of impending homelessness and loneliness.
I have gotten my own place twice in the time we’ve lived together. I fill it with beautiful things and make sure the energy is just right. I tell him (and myself) I’m going to take space BEFORE we need it. I fantasize about individuating, sleeping alone, inviting whoever over whenever, waking up early making as much noise as I want and walking to the yoga studio next to the house. But the few nights I’ve stayed by myself over there, I didn’t like it much. It’s the same feeling that I felt in my mom’s apartment when I was 13: out of place, unsettled, sad, lonely, longing for my home.
Part of me clings to him because I see him as the reason I finally feel at home. But then I remember a quote from my favorite Warsan Shire poem: “you can’t make homes out of human beings, someone should have already told you that”. This person lead me down here but he alone is not my home.
I realized that I feel at home when I’m spending a night in recharging my introverted self. I feel I have a place here when I’m with my girlfriends in circle every full and new moon to commune, support and witness each other. I feel a sense of belonging here when I go to a restaurant and bump into friends I haven’t seen in a while who are genuinely excited to see me. I feel at home when I get morning texts from my friends telling me how important I am to them, how they want more one on one time and when we declare our love and commitment to each other.
The list goes on and on and it reminds me that I made this home for myself and I can continue to do that for the rest of my life no matter where I am or who I’m with.
Sometimes I look around in awe at the beautiful community of thoughtful, conscious and interesting people in my life. It really does feel familial, like what I always imagined community would feel like. Some of my friends and I have talked about how we can start building more tangible connections to each other in the real world. We dream of co-living and co-parenting. I fantasize about feeling held by these people who are committed to each others’ growth now matter how the relationship boundaries change.
I have the creative power to make and maintain connections with people that inspire me, to be a good friend and partner to multiple people, to bring others together and build community, to carve out a place for myself in my career, and to make any house a home. I now know that I am my home and all of these people and situations in my life are temporary guests. And sometimes you have to clean out your house and part with things that you once loved but no longer serve you. This sense of power and peace and impermanence is both terrifying and liberating. But with this knowledge of how to harness that power, it’s comforting to know I’m never far from home.