That's not right, exactly - I believe that she was right, but for me, basically a lifelong nomad, I'm starting to wonder what that really is these days. Another adage about home says that home is where the heart is. But what happens when you don't quite know where your heart is? And I say that without melancholy or unnecessary self-pity, I actually mean it in the very best possible way.
Those who know me may know that one of the more difficult questions you can ask me and require me to give you one answer for is to ask my hometown - I wrote my college essay on it, in fact, and I'm still figuring it out. To synthesize: I was born in Chicago, and went back every year at least twice a year for probably 10-12 years (my mom grew up there, my parents were married there... we have a lot of ties still). I spent my formative years in Toronto, and though I lived there only 6 years it left an indelible impression in my heart and soul that, when my roommates laugh at my need to tell EVERYONE I meet from there that I once lived there, I can't explain. It's just part of me. And then there's San Jose, where I lived for the longest I've lived anywhere, where I grew up and went to middle school and high school and learned to drive and started to become a grownup.
Yet as I realized when I moved to New York for school, I never truly considered myself from California until I moved away from it. I do now, and yet if you ask where I "live" I will no longer tell you I live in San Jose and New York, I will only tell you I live in New York. And so I guess it's my "hometown" in that it is the town I currently call home. Though I wouldn't put it on the short list.
I can't define "home", however, as where my heart is because bits of my heart exist in all these places. In the strange, undefinable rightness that I feel when I'm in Chicago in spite of my having virtually zero cognitive memory of having ever lived there. In the part of myself that still feels Canadian, still longs in some strange and perverse way to go back to Toronto to discover the rest of the life I never had there. In the part of myself that loves the beach and freeway driving and smiles sentimentally at California songs and understands now that I'm not there what people love so much about it, what I love so much about it. And in the part of me that feels anxious when I leave New York, as though nothing's quite as right as it is when I'm in this crazy place.
I'm thinking of this because I spoke today to my family about their intention to move to, or at least nearer to, San Francisco from San Jose. Several months ago I had spasm of panic thinking my family was moving out of California to a strange house in a strange place I had no connection to, where I'd know no one. I was having a rough few weeks, and acute longings for home welled up in me in ways they had rarely ever done - indeed I can only pinpoint being so achingly homesick twice in the last 5 years, and 3 times in the last 13. Yet moving still basically within the San Francisco Bay Area leaves me excited for my family, but without the longing or the sadness of - potentially - never seeing "my" house again.
A friend mentioned tonight that her apartment is now her "real" house, after I referred instinctively to my house in San Jose as my "real" house. But who's more right? Because I think, actually, she is. My apartment is mine, I refer to it easily as home or my house. While I love San Jose and am at home there and have a house there, I accept that I am a visitor. But I'm still in a stage where, though they're both my home, neither is my home.
As I said, I've always been a nomad - just look at the way I answer my "hometown." I've lived at 10 addresses in 20 years, a number some people never hit in lifetimes. The house I took my first steps and said my first words in was not the house I went to preschool in, the house I won my first skating competition and had my first really, really big life dream in was not the house I first did homework in or hit puberty in or took my driver's test in or graduated high school in (okay those last two are the same, the rest really are all different). And none of these houses are where I hit a number of very important adult firsts, both conventionally consequential and non.
There is no place like home. But the idea is getting harder to define, and frankly, I don't suppose it ever will be. I will know where I feel at home, and I think perhaps that's something that I will know to be good enough for me. It's not for some people. But really, when I think honestly about it, I think it's the only way I've ever truly known how to look at it.
It's really strange. I get that. For people who could detail the formative-teenage years in one place, it's totally foreign. Hell it's still really bizarre to me, especially because the place I spent the most time and had come to call most easily my "home" is now indisputably unfit to carry fully the title, though still appropriate in some way. And yet as I say, it's what I've known. It's what I've always known. And my "where the heart is" sensibility doesn't feel characterized by division, but rather by multiplicity. I could never ever count myself anything but lucky for that, I think.
Someday I'll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me, I'll click my heels three times, and who knows where I'll end up? Not sure yet. We'll see where I'm calling home by then.