I watch the sun set over the grey clouds on the horizon. From the airplane, it’s almost surreal—earth and sky one blur of color—grey, gold, pink, blue, a hint of yellow-brown. Lately, I’ve been on airplanes probably more than I should, traveling back and forth from the town I grew up in, the place my sister lives, the city I went to college, and where I live now.
Sometimes I feel like I’m always in motion, spreading myself between people and places I love. Trying, so desperately, to understand the connections I have between each location and my heart, between the person I am in each city, each town, and each relationship I’ve kept and left behind.
It’s been a year since I’ve left the Midwest—what has always been my home. It’s been a year since I gathered my life and loaded it into a uhaul truck, hitched my little car to the trailer, and watched the city where I grew up fade in the rearview mirror.
It’s been a year since I said my goodbyes, since I walked down the gravel paths in my college town, since I hugged one of my best friends, since I unpacked my entire existence in a town two thousand miles from what I used to call home.
Displacement.That’s what I call it: the feeling of not really knowing where you fit. When you’re tied to a place you’ve always known but suddenly feel more comfortable somewhere new. When you’re connected to more than one location, considering both of them where you belong.
It’s always strange when I board a plane, when I feel the mechanical body lift underneath my own, when I watch the houses and cars and boats and people suddenly become specks, when I get that giddy feeling of heading somewhere I used to belong.
Used to belong.
That’s such a strange emotion—returning back to the place you’ve left, trying to make sense of where you fit. You never know what’s waiting for you at that airport. You never know what to expect when you land. Will the earth still smell the same? Will your heart feel heavy? Will there be that strange tug in your chest at the once familiar suddenly feeling foreign?
As humans, we’re always moving, always shifting, always claiming new places and spaces as ours. We find ways to fit. We create new lives for ourselves based on circumstance or people, on relationships or connections or emotion or desperation.
And suddenly where we were doesn’t seem to hurt as much when we think about it. Suddenly we’re not swallowing lumps in our throat when we think of ‘home.’ Suddenly ‘home’ is transversal, malleable, dependent—on who and where we are.
We leave our hometowns for school. We take jobs that lead us to new soil. We follow people and passions. We leave our worries behind and shamelessly seek change. We leave. We go.
And we create homes in the people we meet and love, in the places we settle, in the locations where we decide, ‘yes, this is where I belong now.’
Isn’t that beautiful? But scary too. Scary because as we leave where we’ve been, as we leave what we know, there’s a bittersweet taste in our mouths.
Because when we return, it’s no longer home.
It’s no longer smells and emotions and memories we recognize.
Our old ‘homes’ are changed, paused, frozen in time with the last kiss we shared, the last words we let slip from our lips, the last photograph we snapped, the last goodbyes.
And in some ways, these places, moments, slivers of time are no longer ‘home.’ Not anymore.
I watch the sun set, watch the clouds drift in and out of focus, revealing blinking city lights below. It’s the hour between sunset and darkness, where the sky hasn’t yet been swallowed by night.
I imagine my mother, getting ready to head to the airport to pick me up, or my best friend, planning her wedding in the city I’ll travel to next. I think of my sister, in another state, settling into her new life, her new home away from me. I think of my little apartment, my little hanging plant I gave to my neighbor to water while I’m gone—am I going home or leaving home?
Is there a distinct difference—the past home, the new home—or will I always feel like these two parts of the world are mine?
I’m not sure where I fit. I’m not sure if I should hold onto the pieces of my past, the memories of the town I grew up, forever rooting myself to Midwest soil. I’m not sure if I should leave those parts of myself hidden, only dug up when I’m returning back and the rest of the time claiming a new city, new identity.
And what about now: Am I returning back home or merely visiting the place I used to live? Will my old ‘homes’ forever be a part of me, defining my path, my future? Or is where I live currently the only place that will, that should, write my story?
Not necessarily fitting into one place. Not necessarily knowing where to belong. A sense of being lost, caught between to physical places, between two ways of thinking, between two ways of loving—where you’ve been and where you are.
I have homes in people, in memories, in towns, in coming back, in starting new.
Maybe there is no set answer to where I belong. Maybe none of us really know, or have one set place that forever stays the same in our minds and hearts. Maybe it’s not about trying to figure out where I should be or belong.
Maybe my heart is free, creating ties each time I leave, and each time I return.
Photo Credit: Ethan Sykes