“Text me when you get home.”
She tossed into the air, where it stuck, much like the humidity of the night. I tasted the aftermath of red wine casting over me, signaling the start of a headache I would still have tomorrow. I exhaled—as I do when I need to gather myself together—allowing my lungs to lead my limbs, carrying me back to my apartment.
To my ‘home.’
It had only been a few days in Croatia at that point, on some date whose numbers I don’t remember, but whose memory I can see without closing my eyes. I watched this stranger-friend make her way up the hill, her cute braid bouncing behind her, the glow of her iPhone barely visible. What did I know about her really? From New York—but also the South. Sort of like me, sort of not. So funny. So kind. So much of a someone I wanted to know. How sweet of her to care if I got home.
What did I know about this place? This city whose exact position on a map I couldn’t pinpoint if I had to—but whose warmth surrounded me. In temperature and by the cruel demands of an European summer, and by the kindness of the people who greeted me here.
It didn’t feel like home, I considered. I wasn’t home, that’s for sure.
But somehow her words settled into my brain comfortably, piecing together the puzzle I had lusted after for years. I think I told her I would find her on Slack and let her know I was through the three locks to my place. Through the many doors that required me to sit down my purse to figure out. That forced me to do a potty-dance reminiscent of circa-sleepaway camp as I struggled to turn it right and then left. Or was it left and then right? I told her I would text her, I think.
Did I say that? I did. But I forgot, as I fell fast asleep on my unforgiving Croatia mattress, resting into this new room, this new life. Drifting away at my August address, my just-for-now, just-for-what-feels-like-a-second, home.
“Wanna bike home?”
She asked, collecting her computer and her squishy blue water bottle—that I lost six months later. I wondered where she got it and cursed myself for not buying one just like it. She had used it every single day for nearly four months—most of which, we had spent together. Her hair fell in her face and she brushed it away and sighed, a gesture I had grown to understand its depth. The stress showed in her brow, the heaviness weighed in the dimly-lit room that was somehow organized in chaos—strange and quiet—much like Japan. Much like this friend of mine.
We had only been in this city, nestled in the crisp of the mountains—a dot of color in an otherwise muted country—for a few days. I loved fall back home, with the brief few weeks of indecisive leaves, shading from yellow and red to orange and speckled. Oh how I used to love Central Park—and oh how odd it is that I don’t miss it this year, I thought as I pedaled through the backstreets.
I followed her lead and cleared my head, listening to her download of the day, feeling the chill of night flirt with my hair and tempt away the $10 scarf I bought at H&M when we arrived. The endless summer we were promised was empty—and I had become an expert of layering tank tops and t-shirt’s, sweaters and socks. An expert of layering the heat with a slightly-cracked door in my miniature studio home. I had become a pro at layering my own heart to make room for all of the homes, and all of the people I share them with.
As we zoomed past the signs, riddled with symbols we couldn’t read, the locals politely bowing to let us pass, I thought of how fast this season is moving. How our bikes make the commute 20 minutes, while walking would be 30. How ‘Home’ has became a capitalized letter in my phone. How this friend saying “Linds, watch out for that bump” didn’t know my name a year ago. How time and distance, miles, feet and kilometers take us so far away from our quintessential home, but we can still create it in somewhere in the South Pacific.
“Text me when you get home?” I joked as I got off on 4 and she went up to 8. She rolled her eyes at me – as she does – and smiled. I smiled too, as I walked the four feet to the front door of my home, feeling fulfilled by the unknown that becomes familiar in a few days. After we’ve unpacked our year’s-worth luggage, after we’ve found the grocery store and the co-working space, after we’ve found the coffee shops and the lunch spots, after we’ve seemingly found all of what we need to survive for 30 days. And after, yet again, we remember ‘home’ is not so much about things or Google maps or a lock-and-a-key and a welcome mat in another language—but it’s about the people who make your home… just that.
“I’m on my way home now. Want to chat?”
I asked my mom, in a timezone not so different from her East Coast location. After I heard her laugh, I tucked away my phone in my purse—all too aware of the warnings of the great South American iPhone thieves. I trusted my city instincts but doubted my own vulnerability, as devouring in a conversation in Buenos Aires could find me lost in translation.
“What is home like this month, sweetie?” she asked, her voice cracking, subconsciously.
The thing about my mother is she can’t lie, she can’t mask her emotions and she couldn’t be more positive or supportive – three qualities I inherited, for better or for worse. While my nomadic legs were thoroughly trained, her heart was still tagging along mine, trying to keep up with takeoffs and landings. I was thankful for her steady voice and encouragement throughout the turbulence, throughout each month and every city.
Even so, I knew she disliked the ‘h’ word. I still remembered when I called my first apartment in Harlem ‘home’ more than seven years ago now, and she corrected me. Reminding me that the definition of ‘home’ was the house I grew up in was my homestead. Where the magic of our unstoppable trio was cemented: mom, dad and me. We wanted to be unbreakable, and we weren’t, but we tried, trying to forget the stitches we painstakingly sown over the years.
It took her just that—years—to agree NYC could be my new home, my adult home, the first home I selected for myself. The first place I built a life but tore down walls to make room for all the love I could feel for a place. I grinned at the thought, savoring her quick acceptance of my ten months of temporary homes. Perhaps because she knew this year, like all of the others, would also come to an end. That maybe I’d move closer to her home. Maybe I’d move back home to my adult home. Maybe I’d find a home of my own to share with someone, a home where her grandchildren would grow up, a home where her wanderlust daughter would finally fall in love with more than a transient home and fall in love with her roots.
“Are you going to come back home?”
They’ve all asked—in one way or another. In all of their special that make them so priceless to me. Of all the continents and all of the countries, the cities and the sunsets, I love the ability of my iPhone to connect to my friends a hemisphere away. The thing about leaving a home like New York that has all of the people you love is that you hope you heartstrings aren’t severed with your departure. You pray you don’t miss out on so much of the everyday nuances of your friends’ life that they forget about your place in their home. That they feel distant from a life you’re leading that they can’t, that they don’t want to, that they’re proud of you for trying.
Their names bubble up in my iMessages everywhere I go and I still feel like they’re sitting next to me. I still wish they were. Still laughing at the same old secret jokes and crystallized memories that made us inseparable before I moved. Before they moved – to other parts of the city and to Los Angeles. Before they started thinking about babies and about new jobs, about vacations they want to take and places they want to see, homes they might buy, dreams they could chase. My monthly trinkets of spices and postcards, magnets and trays serve as my way of knocking on their front door, reminding them that Hello, remember me? I’m here—even if I’m not—I’m here. Your home will be my home, su casa mi casa, my heart beats like yours does and physically together or not, we have a home. You are my home.
But now, I’ve invited 57 other people over—and they’re going to stay. Trust me, you’ll like them. I love them.
“No, I don’t know if I’m coming home. I don’t know where that is right now. Because of all the places I’ve lived, I’ve called them just that. Home.”
And they have been. They’ve felt that way. They still do. My plethora of homes is like an old fashioned movie reel, bits and pieces of dust and light that blend together, that illustrate the tapestry of my life. Like floating on a simple swing my father made of rope and block of wood, tied to an old Oak Tree in our backyard. Where I would swing in my legs back and forth as fast as I can, as long as I could, until the North Carolina night fell and the fireflies signaled bedtime. Or the peace of a morning spent wrapped in a robe with a cup of coffee, walking along a deck my dad built for my mom because it was her dream to watch the sunrise over a lake.
It’s the dirty floors and the creaky furniture that came with my first apartment, where I had to sit in the corner of a kitchenette – next to the microwave but far from the sink— to steal WiFi from my neighbor since I didn’t make enough money to buy it myself. It’s the view from my East Village apartment where I accepted I had outgrown the city I had loved my whole life, where I decided I would book yet another one-way ticket to a world I didn’t know yet.
Where I would recreate home on-the-go.
Like opening the heavy blinds before coffee in Croatia, watching the sun meet the Adriatic Sea, and packing my bag filled with the same sensations of the first day of school. Or the cascade of colors from the neighboring rooftops in Prague, where I climbed up on my windowsill with a beer, feeling the strings pull as they did when I first fell in love with another city, amazed I could savor another metro so easily. Or the dependable dance of the church bells outside my window in a cramped Lisbon apartment, where I hit my shin nearly every night as I climbed into my foam mattress.
It was the week it took me to figure out how to turn on a Japanese heater and the long, hot showers—that soaked every corner of the bathroom—I took instead in an effort to be warm. It was waking up to the view of a tower I knew nothing about in Kuala Lumpur in an apartment so ludicrously big all of my former homesteads could have fit inside of it. It was the freedom of having my own personal studio in Thailand but also the comfort of knowing that stranger-friend with the braid who was now one of my best friends, was just next door. It was people watching from my big-enough-for-one balcony in Buenos Aires, as a father woke up every morning to prepare breakfast for his family. It was watching Disney movies and cuddling on a couch made of plastic in Cordoba, bonding over childhoods that made us believe in magic, believe in ourselves. It’s the two-story apartment in Lima that was only as beautiful as it was because I got to share it with two women who have made this year so meaningful for me. (And our daily view of the ‘Naked Man.’)
Homes aren’t addresses or mortgage payments, rent installments or adventures in remodeling. I own nothing from these properties where I’ve laid my head, where I’ve made love, where I’ve stayed up restlessly chasing sleep and where I’ve felt relief as I walked from the front doors. Home is not space and walls, perimeters and square footage. All of my homes were never permanent, they were not mine, they were always going to be emptied by boxes or suitcases, but… they were home.
Because sometimes home has wheels.
Sometimes it is miles up in the air.
And sometimes it has legs.
Home can be a hotel you stay in for three days while sightseeing a destination and you can’t wait to take your shoes off when you come back. Or it is a surprisingly cheap villa you rent for a few days so you can celebrate Christmas, all together, by a pool, with beer. It can be an AirBNB you rent, a couch you crash on because you’ve had too much to drink, an overnight bus that transports you across a desert or through the mountains. Home is where you take your bra off. Home can be any place where you feel safe to be, safe to exhale, safe to rest, safe to be whoever you are, in whatever corner of the world you’re in, in whatever state of mind you feel at that moment.
Home is not something you have.
Home is something you make.
Home is where you find your heart.
And the lovely quality about this all-powerful, forever pounding organ, is that it goes where you go. And maybe most importantly: it goes where your love goes. And no matter what IP address you’re in or you’re faking, where your mom lives or your best friends does, you can find your way back home—or to many homes—anytime you want.
When you make your home your heart, you must be brave enough to let people and cities, experiences and challenges, construction and vulnerability in. You have to open your doors to allow that light to shine through.
After all, sun-drenched always increases your market value.