MADISON, NJ — When you’ve lived in a handful of states, it eventually strikes you that with each and every move, you drift further and further from home.
For those who leave home for college, it’s a paint-by-numbers existence. In your late teens, when you have a good head on your shoulders and a better family by your side, you’re expected to shed your skin gradually. You attend classes, occasionally scrape your knee, and roll tide, roll! Unlike your diploma, your freedom is first handed to you with a safety net and first aid kit. With mom and dad’s moral support, you’re given a custom-fitted wetsuit to bear the ocean’s cold temps. You’re given time to gauge the patterns of this planet’s waves. You learn to adjust to uncomfortable sleeping digs, overbearing roommates, and demanding professors. You cram for exams and pull all-nighters and you eventually (sometimes with the help of meds) become accustomed to the highs and hangovers of everyday society.
But for those angst-ridden, poorly equipped, late bloomers among us—those who may have made a conscious, ill-fated decision, say, to drop out of college and move away from our family and friends in our early twenties, there’s an unmistakable, self-inflicted branding. A scarlet letter the size of Rome. A Harry Potter-like forehead scar. We regrettably think that our choice to flee for greener, more meaningful pastures has severed us from the flock. Instead of liberating us, this undying desire for something more berates us. Like a flea-ridden mutt gnawing at a frozen soup bone, we keep chewing like the dickens to see what’s inside. We coarsen our gums, cut our teeth, and in the process, we sometimes lose sight of our place in this world and we forget what we wanted in that other place.
One thing you can say about wayward sorts: we ain’t ever satisfied. We find the beauty in everything and we often find a way to fuck things up. We usually eat too much and drink too much and want too much—yes, we personify that trite Dave Matthews song I never tire of hearing.
Contrary to popular belief, most people of ambition and bundles of energy do not want material things, just the things we haven’t yet tasted, experienced, and embraced. We’re gluttons for all of life’s bounty.
Home is a grounding force to be reckoned with. It need not be tempered or cajoled. Home is the thing we grip a certain way, without ever letting go completely.
Home is the piece of land you can’t find when you’re sick at sea. It’s the flannel blanket you miss when all you feel is cold.
Home finds us no matter where we live. It knows who we are when we’ve lost all sense of identity.
Home doesn’t judge. It may challenge you to a fight. It may even break your nose and blacken your eye, but home doesn’t harm.
Home strengthens. It feeds. It enriches.
Home teaches us more than we ever can learn from the road. It teaches us why we chose the road we chose in the first place. Home teaches us why there’s never a wrong road in life, only a road and another road and another road that leads us home.
Whenever you get an itch, whenever you begin to resent the place you’re from, whenever you get the urge to bury your past, remember that home is not a physical place to escape. It’s a place within you.
As my mom says about happiness, home cannot be found. Home is made. And as sappy and cliché as all of this may sound, if you can remember that simple sentiment, you may never again find the need to seek a better world somewhere. Anywhere but here is a long way from home.
The world can take an awful lot from you. It can take youth, it can take riches, and it can take away love in a mid-Manhattan minute. But the world can’t take home from you. That one is yours to keep.
Wherever you may find yourself this new year, may it bring you a piece of home — and the peace of home. For another glimpse at home, please read this lovely introductory editorial to our inaugural “Home” Issue by Atticus Review Editor-in-Chief Beth Gilstrap.
Photo: Home by Kevin O’Mara