I grew up in a culture that encouraged nesting, young marriages, and staying within the zip code — a place where the idea of adventure was talked about, but never acted upon.
When I began to notice that I craved something that wasn’t exactly commonplace, I found it maddening. I spent years wondering if there was something off in me. I felt like I was the only one asking questions or pushing against given answers. But mostly, I was confused.
Why did no one understand my need to get out? Why did I seem to be the only one who didn’t have a strong sense of the word home or a desire to stay where I was raised?
The first time I realized this was during my inaugural trip to summer camp. I was eight years old, and my entire family made a big deal out of it because I was the youngest and had never done anything on my own before. For weeks I heard, “If you get homesick, just call and we’ll pick you up.”
Looking back, I don’t remember anything about being dropped off, and not much about my time there, but I will never forget the dramatic sobbing that ensued when I had to leave camp and return to routine. I was happy someplace else.
I guess that was the beginning of the end.
As soon as I graduated from high school, I left. I traveled here and there, shuffled houses, and took a deeper breath with every border I crossed. The thought, Could I live here? haunted me. But after three months of being in one location, I was always ready to leave again. I’d return to my hometown every so often but feel a burning in my chest if I stayed too long. I learned to call it “stuck.” It was the closest descriptor I could come up with. But still, I never understood where my restlessness came from, let alone how I was supposed to explain it to those around me. My family got used to answering others’ confusion with, “That’s just how she is.”
I wish I could recount the number of times I have heard the word homesick tied to questions about my choices. To be honest, I don’t really understand the term, and I’m not sure if I have ever felt it. Do I love my family, my close friends, and my secrets spots back home? Of course. But in my mind, the fear of staying put has always overthrown them. I’ve had a conviction to grow for as long as I can remember, even if that requires shedding skin and relocating on a regular basis. I owe it to myself to be more, see more, and feel more — I’ve just always understood that.
Looking back on the addresses I’ve collected, I think that I was not only learning who I was, but what home wasn’t. Or, rather, what home didn’t feel like. Part of the reason I kept running was to feed my unadulterated craving, but the other side of it was a hope for resolution — a next step, a place where I could sit for a while and rest without feeling guilty or like I was betraying something within me.
But what I’ve figured out in all of this is that, for me, home isn’t a place; it’s something that I carry with me. It’s my collection of all the best pieces of places. And I guess I needed to buy one-way tickets, live out of suitcases, and despise my hometown in order to find the pieces I was looking for, the missing bits, because that’s the only way I could begin to build my own sense of home.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever stop collecting. I don’t think it’s a bad thing — it’s definitely not an easy thing — but the next time I pick up and move, I like to think it’ll mean that I’m ready to grow again, to slough off what’s withered and find new fragments that fit and challenge my latest perspective.