“Oh, you’re not really from DC.” I was sitting at the dinner table at my Lisbon hostel, chatting with a group of my fellow travelers. She was another student, from California but in Copenhagen for the spring. “You just go to school there.”
She had a certain point—and to be honest, I mostly said I was from DC because it was easier than explaining to Europeans where Oregon was—but at the same time I was a little bothered by the assertion. The man to my right had introduced himself as Matt from Brooklyn, but he had only moved to New York about six months prior. I had been in DC for nearly four times that long, even considering the few weeks each year when I left to make the trek back west and the months I’d been in France. At what point did DC start being home?
It’s a question that’s been in the back of my mind for a good while now, but especially in recent weeks. That’s because for the first time in two years, I’m on my way back to Oregon. It’s a weird feeling. I’m excited to see my family—who, don’t worry, I have seen several times in the past two years—and my friends from high school. My hometown, though, doesn’t hold much appeal to me.
My parents have both said that Grants Pass never really felt like home to them, that even after 18 years, they never get the little thrill inside when they make the last turn on the freeway and the town comes into view. I don’t know if I get that. I get a feeling of doneness, of being at a point of pausing, in much the same way I do when I walk through the door of my Georgetown apartment, or when I entered my room in Lyon. I get a sense of familiarity coming through the door of my childhood home, though several things about it have changed since I moved out. (I don’t even have a room anymore—my sister took over my room and repainted it shortly after I left.)
I get a little feeling of… something, of understanding that is something more than ordinary comprehension, when I wake up in the back of my parents’ car as we turn the corner onto Morgan Lane, only a few minutes from the house. I’m not sure that feeling is home, though. It’s more like the feeling of getting through a particularly tricky section on the violin or the backstroke lap of a 200 Individual Medley and knowing that from here on out, I know where I stand.
This spring I briefly visited Balatonalmàdi, the Hungarian town we lived in when I was 13, and I got that feeling there too. I got it in Lyon, setting my feet on autopilot as I walked through my neighborhood. I’ve even gotten it in foreign cities, when I find myself remembering that yes, this is the way back to the hostel, yes, I know where I am. It’s a feeling of knowing. I don’t think it’s a feeling of home.
In my first mental draft of this post, dreamed up more than a year ago, I thought about the line from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog that I have at the top of the page. “Home is where the heart is, so your real home’s in your chest.” It’s a joke, but I thought maybe it had some truth to it. Maybe, if I get the same feeling everywhere, then home is everywhere I am. Now I wonder if maybe it’s just that right now, nowhere is home. And maybe that’s almost the same thing.
As my plane took off tonight, I watched the lights of DC grow gradually more distant beneath me and tried to pick out places I knew. I got a little feeling then, too, but it was different. A feeling of knowing where I’m going, but also a feeling of knowing that I would be back. Maybe that means that DC is finally starting to feel like it really is home.
I’m not worried. I know that sooner or later, I’ll find that place that I can recognize, undeniably, as home. Until then, I guess I’ll just have to carry my home with me in my chest.