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.