Deconstructing the walls I called ‘home’

People are more than pretty faces and homes are more than four walls


Home is a fickle thing. The thought of it conjures a web of different ideas in everyone’s minds, anywhere from the smell of their favorite home-cooked meal to dinner table arguments with their family. Retro postcards warp the idea of home into an image of a brightly-painted kitchen with a woman sporting an updo, apron and heels as she slides a pot roast out of the oven or a man with his hair gelled back, briefcase in his right hand and doorknob in his left, walking into his house, shouting, “Honey, I’m home” the couple’s pearly white smiles twinkling underneath the thin veneer of preserving gloss.

I never really gave much thought to my own perception of home until I was forced to travel to and from New York City and Charlottesville on seven-hour-long train rides and contemplate the tracks of my own life. I was never prompted to consider that the apartment in which I have been living for over the past ten years was not truly my home until I walked through the door after being away from it for a few months, and for some reason, it didn’t feel like I was home. It suddenly felt like a vestige of a home as I saw it in its rudimentary parts white plastered walls, cherry wood floors and windows looking into the office building across the street where I could see people frantically walking to and from the printers and their cubicles with files in hand. I was homebound and homeless.

Between my dorm room, my childhood apartment and my older sister in the process of moving out and renovating her new studio, it’s fair to say that the question of what makes a home an actual home has been weighing heavily on my mind. Home is not necessarily where family is, where memories are triggered or even where your heart is because your heart is scattered across many places at once.

The poet Vinita Agrawal recognizes the dichotomy between our ideas of what constitutes a home and what creates the feeling of one in her poem “Home” “Homes have no walls / no rooms, no furniture, no thresholds / Nothing through which you might enter / and nothing from which you might want to exit / Because homes are not houses / Homes are built in the eyes / Erected by naked, hungry hearts.” 

“Home” is a noun, a place, but it can also be described as a scent, a memory or a feeling. On the surface, the thought of home takes on a physical form whether it be with a certain person or at a certain location but a home is a tender state of mind built from simple scraps of trust and longing.

It doesn’t feel far-fetched when I say that I don’t have a home or at least a place that feels like one. I think of finding a home as a similar journey to finding your identity to know where you feel at home is to know yourself, and I don’t feel badly for knowing that I’m still figuring that out. It’s hard for me to say whether I have felt at home anywhere before or whether the feeling of it gradually wore off with time as I shed my skin and adopted newer versions of myself. I do have faith that when I’m truly home, I’ll know it.

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