Photo: simona pilolla 2/Shutterstock

How To Be Home

by Leslie Finlay Jul 31, 2014

THE WEIGHT OF THE DECISION to leave a home is often overshadowed by the logistics of the move itself, so much so that we forget about the courage it really does take. No matter your reason for starting a new chapter in a new place, once the luggage is sorted and the tickets are confirmed, only then do we feel the full force of the stamina required to take this risk, the spirit to not be disappointed with what we encounter, and the nerve to not long for what we left behind.

Some days it pours from the moment I wake up. They say this weather can extend for months in my corner of East Asia. Breathing in those last few moments of unconscious twilight, the rain slapping the tin overhang could just as well be the rhythmic, steady click-click-click of drizzle coating the air conditioning unit balanced out the window of my old apartment halfway around the world. But I’ve been away for long enough to know that it is not. And I’ve been away for long enough to know that on some days, just some, the thrill and deliciousness of navigating this newness, this confusion, this excitement I’ve sought out will be, well, damp.

These are the days I miss my last home. The trusty dependability of it all, the level of control I felt, its predictability. I feel exposed navigating this city that’s now supposed to be my own: “Hey, look, her expat is showing!” But having the courage to get up and go was just the beginning. It takes an ongoing emotional toll to keep from romanticizing our past lives too much, to let go of the places we craved to leave.

Largely, no matter where you go, you’re leaving behind a dependable life brimming with dependable people on dependable schedules. I boasted a steady income and a gorgeous apartment and friends who each have kept a piece of my heart. But I stirred, kept awake at night by an unidentifiable monotony, a certainty that I was not in the right place and a faith in somewhere I hadn’t even been yet. I’d fight sleep, suffocating on the fear that when I woke up it would be an identical day, five years later.

So I left. I left stability, familiarity. I left people who meant everything to me. I left the bartender who had my drink served up by the time I took my seat. I left my local lunch haunt, where they always added on extra avocado. I left rooftop conversations of equally poured portions of incredible importance and inconsequence, feet dangling over the edge as I gazed out on the Empire State Building with a friend-turned-roommate-turned-sister. I left fresh bagels.

We’ve all left home.

But New York City wasn’t always home. Once, home was the front lawn in a college town, speakers resting on an upended beer-pong table blasting the playlist that still brings me back to that rundown house, worn from years of kegs dragged across its threshold and strangers sleeping on the floor. Home was one-liter boxes of wine and cigarettes littered across a riverbank, the Andalucían accent and wafts of Moroccan hookah cutting the breeze as I napped in the afternoon sun. It was the living room couch of an apartment with no lock to the front door, where I once was in love. It was the basement of my high school best friend when we were moody teenagers with so much time and beauty ahead of us, ignorant to all the magnificent heartbreak and adventure we would face and overcome, still free from the steady decay of cynicism.

Home will be new street corners and train cars and dimly lit bars. It will be midday G-Chats with friends dotted across continents and handwritten letters addressed to bars, because you know that as friends’ zip codes change, their preferences don’t. It will be rooftops overlooking a new city, and the moment of silence you breathe in before these new people you love, your new family, tear up the stairs, an evening’s supply of booze in tow. It will be places revisited, homes we’ll take up for a second go. It will be the carefully mapped itinerary tackled with the person who shares your dream.

Home is laughter at communication faux pas on humid train station platforms. Home is fireworks shot off in the streets and hopelessly misunderstood directions and breakfasts of burnt eggs and toast at three in the afternoon.

Home is the people who remind you of who you are.

When we each got on that airplane, packed up that car, departed that city — we shouldered the mystery of a foreign film with no subtitles. Captivation heightened, we couldn’t help but be entranced and confused but breathless as our story unfolded rather nonsensically and unpredictably. We’re charmed by the uncertainty, the difficulty — we explain ourselves to no one. But as our story arcs rise and fall, climaxes test our wherewithal to see this storyline out.

Maybe we should have stuck with something more familiar after all, a film we already had at home, even if we leafed through that collection a dozen times and found nothing we wanted to see.

And then suddenly the story makes all the sense in the world. Our narrative continues whether we’re prepared for it or not; it doesn’t wait for us to understand. We just hadn’t seen the plot growing while having grown scared, surreptitiously intent on reciting old scripts.

Because we can shift all across this planet, chase new experiences, and take control of our own story, but at its core, our narrative only shifts so much. Every day we smile, plan, pursue our dreams. We drink too much, lose sleep, we turn off our phones and tune the world out to bad Netflix movies. We worry, we risk, we take the harrowing, damning chances to give all of ourselves to everything we do, to everyone we love, regardless of what we get in return. Every day we’re home. This post originally appeared at Thought Catalog and is republished here with permission.

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