Where is Home?
I am always in awe when someone shows me the home they grew up in, because I had 15 different places to call home by the time I was 23 years old. Home was nothing more than a temporary place to stay for an average of 1.5 years. Where is home? For the longest time, I struggled to answer the question, but I am getting close. Very close.
I am a third culture kid, someone who spends the majority of his or her transformative years in a culture that is neither one’s own nor one’s parents’, but in a third culture. My father worked for a Korean chaebol in import-export business and I grew up in Indonesia, Korea, Poland, and Vietnam, before coming to New York City for college in 2005. Looking back now, moving frequently had a big impact on me. It changed how I related to places and formed relationships. I never really settled anywhere and was always ready to leave.
My college roommates and friends found it very odd that I would never hang anything on the walls or decorate my dorm room or apartment. For me, it didn’t make sense to put time and effort into making a place feel like home, because constantly moving was the only thing I knew how to do.
I still remember the day when I couldn’t stop crying in the arms of my favorite teacher in fifth grade, because I had to change schools by the end of the school year. It felt like the end. I was devastated at the thought of never seeing my friends again and losing a sense of belonging I had only begun to develop. It was one of my saddest moments and it wasn’t the last time.
With every move, I wasn’t scared of not fitting in, but I hated saying goodbye to everyone and everything I knew. At a time before social media and cell phones, goodbyes were the end. You were never going to see them again. Every time my father made an announcement out of the blue, I knew there were no other options but to leave, whether it was to a different country, city, or school.
You’d think that things would get easier with practice, but that wasn’t the case for moving. Every time I heard the announcement, it felt as if the ground I was standing on was crumbling, only to be replaced by a big void I did not know how to mourn. It is not the worst of tragedies like fire, earthquakes, and war, but for the little kid I was back then, it felt like a tornado had wiped clean all I had ever known. As this pattern continued, I became numb and reluctantly accepting of goodbyes, because there was nothing I could do.
During the last decade, I was on a mission to find my home. I travelled everywhere in the hopes of finding a city or a country that felt like home, but I couldn’t find it. It didn’t exist. I also looked for boys and men who could make me feel at home, but that would make me a hermit crab invading their homes, which is not what I strive to be. I couldn’t find home because I was looking in all the wrong places and I believed that homes had to be found until last year.
On a hot summer day last year, I was in Rockaway waiting to catch a shuttle bus to the beach and saw an osprey’s nest built atop a decrepit house. The bird had built its home, twig by twig, on top of a house that was disintegrating into thin air. Despite its broken foundations, it was a real home. It clicked then that I could build a home. If the bird could do it, I could do it, too.
This past weekend, I thought long and hard about why I was still telling my friends about leaving New York. Did I really want to leave? After spending almost 14 years here, there is nowhere else that feels more like home, yet I still couldn’t get myself to call it home. Why?
I came to a realization that there is a part of me terrified of losing my home all over again, and the stakes were so much higher this time. I love New York. I love New York for all the reasons it is loved, but also for taking me for who I am and letting me make my own decisions about staying, leaving, and just being, for the very first time.
In a convoluted way, I believed that if I never called this place home, if I told everyone that I might not be here next year, if I pretended that I didn’t care, I couldn’t get hurt. I didn’t want to lose it again like the time in fifth grade.
I am so scared, but I also want to see past the fear. Birds build new nests every year and we rebuild after natural and men-made disasters. I have to hold on with hope, and believe that homes can be built over and over again, no matter what.