“The things in our homes...become part of us. Seen in this light, the objects that surround us become a sort of extra skin—an integral part of the image that one has for oneself and shows to others.”
After we all meet, we discuss how we first met. We sit at a barbeque buffet in Seoul, one of our favorite digs, laughing at the strangeness in how we met.
“Cari and I were on the same plane when we first came to Seoul,” I tell Li. In San Francisco’s international terminal, pacing before a solo international flight, I saw Cari. Boarding our plane at gate G27, her fiery hair burned among the smoldered-out browns. Sixteen hours later, at the designated meeting point of our study abroad program, Cari appeared again, and we introduced ourselves. But I noticed Cari before we met.
“At least you didn’t just stare at her like you did me!” Li exclaims.
Li, too, became prey before our friendship. Queuing in line for a music show, I searched for someone, anyone, who might speak English to befriend. Li’s red lipstick and bleached hair drew my eye; but I just stared. I ate my bread and I stared and now Li recounts just how strange I looked staring at her while eating my bread. She knew I wanted to talk to her, but Li’s not that easy, and it took a few days of seeing each other at the same venues before a mutual friend brought me into the fold.
Before we met, I wanted to meet.
“As Heraclitus taught, we can never step into the same river twice. In this sense we can never fully return home and thus our longing is tinged with unassuageable regret.”
-J. Douglas Porteous
At work one morning, I ask fellow barista Douglas if he went home for the holidays. “Well, I’m 27, so this is home. But yes, I had dinner at my aunt’s house with family,” he replies.
I understand and balk at the distinction, trying to pinpoint when my parents’ home was no longer mine as I began a series of transitions. Was it when my father moved to Texas? Or when my brother moved back in? Maybe the first day I moved my belongings into a tiny dorm room on Forbes Avenue was the one—ah, but it could’ve been the moment I boarded my plane to Seoul, sending myself off for a year of study abroad. Somewhere along the line, I felt I might have lost my home.
An online etymology dictionary gives the roots of the word home. Of the Old English ham meaning “dwelling, house, estate, village,” the word also has ties to a meaning of settling or dwelling through Sanskrit’s kseti; it’s also a feeling of being inhabited in the Armenien shen. But we always inhabit the space we’re in. What makes that home?
I find I prefer the verb, home, which has a few definitions, my favorite of which means “to proceed toward a source with radiated energy used as a guide.” While I know this radiated energy literally means that of radar or heat tracking, I instead imagine the laughter of my friends guiding me to our home.
The dictionary is insufficient and hasn’t told me where I can find my home so I turn to academia. A sociologist named Somerville argues that “home is not just a matter of feelings and lived experience but also of cognition and intellectual construction: people may have a sense of home even if they have no memory of it,” and I agree that I have a sense for home but only a sense in the sense that I cannot find it. Gurney explains that we cannot know what home truly is beyond the ideological construct, and I must leave Sociology behind.
I decide that maybe poetry will help to reveal my home, and skip Auden’s About a House opting instead for Philip Larkin’s “Home is so sad.” The poem begins:
“Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,”
and I have to stop reading because I want to find my home but I don’t want it to be sad. I don’t want to leave it once I can find it and I hardly want to fill it with loneliness but I want to fill it with comfort and food and friends and the things that have become me. I don’t want to be sad in my sad home, so I leave poetry, too, and try to sleep.