Home is a difficult concept for me. Immigration, failed adoption, rehoming, and being a ward of the state make it impossible to know the permanence or security of a home in the way most do.
I aged out of the system when I was 17 years old. By that time I had lived in approximately 10 different cities and attended 21 different schools. No matter how you defined home – a specific city, house, or family – I didn’t have one.
What makes something home? How long does it take for us to recognize it for what it is?
When it comes to a new city becoming home, I’m inclined to see it as about more than just the city itself. It’s about how well you know yourself, your desires, and your needs. It matters who you connect with when you arrive and with what you fill your days. Finding the right city is like finding the right partner. The relationship depends on who you are at that particular moment in time.
I spent over a decade in Orlando, Florida. For most of it, I barely knew myself. I was on my own for the first time, discovering a new religion, and just trying to make ends meet. It was a good place for me in my late teens and twenties. Orlando was that first romance that was more about learning who I was in a relationship than about the person I was seeing. Whenever I return my excitement is more about the opportunity to see a few beloved individuals than a sense of returning home. It’s a nostalgic revisiting of the past and who I used to be.
Omaha, Nebraska was a whirlwind romance. We lasted a mere nine months. I wept for what seemed like every day. I had the job I had wanted for years but I was immensely unhappy. I could not find community, no church embraced me, and some shocking experiences left me feeling vulnerable in my brown skin. Omaha was the tumultuous relationship of my twenties. The one that I knew wasn’t good for me but was too enticing to say no to. It was everything I thought I wanted so I had to try. We can only withstand that sort of upheaval for so long though and so I quickly ran back into Florida’s arms.
Then came D.C. I’m coming up on my four-year anniversary here and I don’t regret a moment of it. It’s common for people to say that D.C. is the sort of place you love or hate – it’s not for everyone and it evokes strong feelings. Either way, it’s known for its brief love affairs. Many people come for a few years and then disappear to build their life somewhere else. For them, it’s that fling before they settle down. For me, D.C. was home the moment I arrived. I loved this city immediately and completely. I love the energy that emanates from it. The dancers and musicians that greet me outside the metro. The two-for-one special at my favorite happy hour. The brief beautiful week of spring we’re currently enjoying. I love that, whenever work tears me away for a bit, I still feel the same rush of relief when I land at National.
Though I’ve tried my best, it is hard to express to others how I knew so immediately that I had made the right choice in moving here. Everyone questions a love-at-first-sight experience. It’s not as though there is one thing I can point to that affirms my choice. “It was just a feeling” seems so inadequate. I can tell you this, I never cried. Not one tear. Not one night. I have always felt safe here. I always belonged.
Of course, I was 17 when I moved to Orlando and 27 in Omaha. If D.C. is another in a line of love affairs than I suppose I’m just finally old enough to want to make it last. Something truly life-changing would have to happen to tear me away.
I was a few months shy of my 30th birthday when I moved here. With my 30’s has come more confidence in my beliefs and how to express them, more acceptance for my own body, more awareness of what I want out of life, and more clarity about my needs and boundaries. How could I not love a city that provided the backdrop for such an important period of self-discovery? After all, the best relationships are the ones that allow us to know and be our full selves.
The even greater ones are the those that can do all that and still challenge or surprise us. D.C. is that for me. There are still neighborhoods I haven’t explored yet, museums I haven’t walked through, marches I haven’t experienced, and friends I haven’t met. There is so much left to learn. I couldn’t possibly leave yet.
Things aren’t perfect. No relationship is. Rent is exorbitant, gentrification is ever-looming, rats are far too confident, and a certain overly-tan temperamental golfer has moved into the house down the way. But not all of that is permanent and the rest I can learn to live with for as long as the city continues to treat me right.
Where is home for you? Is it because of the place or because of who you are when you are there?