About a week ago, I flew home for Christmas. Descending over Grand Rapids, I was appalled and enthralled by the snow that seemed to appear upon the face of the earth. A week prior, I had gone to the beach in Wilmington, NC, where we were having temperatures in the seventies. Now, here I am back in the cold and the snow. I didn’t miss this; I could have gone without scraping off my car, slipping all over the roads, and shoveling the driveway.
Nevertheless, Michigan will always be home. That Perry Como song comes on the radio, and I’m a wreck because there really is no place like home, whether it’s for the holidays or any time of year. In spite of family bickering and abhorrent weather, there’s no place I’d rather be right now.
Growing up, my mother used to talk about her hometown of Terre Haute, IN with a fondness that I could not understand. Sometimes, we would tease her about it; Terre Haute is not exactly a major metropolitan area and in recent history, may be best known for being the place where Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, was executed. But, for my mother, it was and is home.
I’m beginning to learn that the word “home” can refer to multiple places. In some ways, Terre Haute is my home because it is part of my history and holds much of my extended family. Whenever I hear a train, I get nostalgic for Terre Haute, that forlorn song reminding me of falling asleep at my grandparents’ house.
Of course, Grand Rapids still feels like my “main” home. My mom, dad, brother, and sister live there in the house I grew up in. Most of my friends are there. I went to elementary, middle, high school and college there. Something will always anchor me, at least in part, to Grand Rapids.
But Wilmington, where I live now, is home, too. My partner lives there with our two cats. We rent a house, which is filled with our things and represents our shared life. My current life is in Wilmington: my love, my school, my job, my house, and many friends and colleagues. Already, I feel comfortable there. I refer to Wilmington as “home” and I’ve not even been living there for six months.
Home is not only where the heart is. Home is anywhere that anchors you, any place that you carry with you. Your heart can be in multiple places and multiple places can reside in your heart.
I think of my early childhood in Champaign, IL. I haven’t lived there since I was seven, but my memories of it, of playing in parks, of learning how to ride a bike and swim, of starting school, all represent home for me. My formative years were spent there, and while I have no family connection there anymore, it will always be a part of who I am.
Maybe home is simply that: the places that form us into the people that we are and will be. The places that show us who we were, stretching into our present and moving us forward: those places are all home. Since it is impossible to come “home” to all of these places, then we must carry them with us. We must be at home within our own skin.
Bethany Tap (’12) received her MFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she also worked as the managing editor of Chautauqua: the literary journal of the Chautauqua Institution. She is currently working on her first novel. She lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, with her wife, Clarissa, and son, Alexander.