“You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it’s all right.” —Maya Angelou
I recently watched “Garden State” for the first time. Don't get me wrong: I, too, laughed at the twee, wallpaper-matches-my-shirt scene and overload of Shins songs. I almost lost it at this navel-gazing interaction:
Andrew: “Good luck exploring the infinite abyss.”
Albert: “Thank you. And hey — you, too.”
*Andrew proceeds to toss his head back and drink in the raindrops*
So yeah, I get it. Garbage bags as raincoats? Natalie Portman wearing a weird helmet because of epilepsy? C’mon. But then, BUT THEN. I watched that scene in which Sam (Portman) and Andrew (Zach Braff) sit in an empty bathtub, and Andrew says, “When I'm with you I feel so safe. Like I'm home.”
And I entered a glass case of emotion.
Allow me to digress 23 years: I was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, but my family sold our house there and moved to Papua New Guinea (PNG) to be missionaries when I was 3 and my brother was 5. In the first two years my family was there, we breezed through about 12 houses in quick succession. We lived out of suitcases a lot and took care of other people’s pets (torture for an animal lover) before we finally bought a house in 1998.
The house was one story with blue trim. Its cement floor had a long, jagged crack that ran the width of the house and got slightly bigger each time there was an earthquake. On cold mornings, my dad would lug out a kerosene heater that we huddled around while we ate breakfast. And one Saturday, I came home from a sleepover and saw that my dad had made me a loft bed. I would sit up there with my purple, hibiscus-patterned curtains closed and read for hours.
My mom used to have this Mexican wall hanging in our dining room that read "Dios bendiga este hogar," or God bless this home. She was also a missionary kid, born and raised in Mexico, but she left in middle school and returned to the States so she could go to school. Because of that, she was away from her home and family for long stretches of time. And I must have looked at that wall hanging every day for ten years, my legs curled up beneath me at the dinner table, eating with my hands and chewing with my mouth open, and never grasped its meaning.
During our time in PNG, we would go back and forth to America on furloughs, staying in various apartments, houses and churches while we raised support and visited family and friends. My brother and I would go to public school (which was always terrifying) for about six months, and then we’d go back to PNG for another few years.
It’s so hard to maintain friendships when you live on a little island in the South Pacific. I grew up in the ‘90s and ‘00s, and we were technologically behind the rest of the world, so I would send letters to the few friends I had back in America and wait anxiously for months for their responses. But by the time I saw them again, they would have completely forgotten about me — either that, or they were now too cool to be friends with an unfashionable missionary kid wearing her brother’s jeans. I had great friends in PNG, but a lot of them left when we were little, or they would go back to their home countries for furlough, too, so I’d go long stretches of time without seeing them.
All of these experiences have made me restless into my adulthood. I’m so used to constantly putting my whole life into two suitcases or less, so whenever I’m in one place for a year or so, I get the itch to go somewhere I’ve never been. And that’s true of all missionary kids: It’s so hard for us to sit still and rest after we’ve spent our formative years looking toward our next adventure, next address, next change. Our lives were constantly in flux, like we were quantified by the number of stamps on our passports. Being normal terrifies and bores us, basically.
That’s why that Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes song “Home” gets me right in the feels. I think I’ve always known that home is where your loved ones are because my mom told me that all the time (hence the wall hanging), but I’ve just now started to grasp what that means. Our house in PNG belongs to someone else now, and my parents have a different place in South Carolina. It’s not where I was born — it’s where I'd visit on holidays during college (but nevertheless lovely).
In another part of “Garden State,” Andrew says, “You know that point in your life when you realize the house you grew up in isn't really your home anymore? All of a sudden even though you have some place where you put your sh*t, that idea of home is gone.” And I get that. In 2010, we drove away from home in a van filled with suitcases and trunks and duffel bags, and I couldn’t see out the window very well. Then we got into a little, twin-engine plane and flew away and never came back.
After high school, I went to Kentucky for college. I never felt at home there (horse racing, bourbon, fried chicken and basketball aren’t really my shtick, you know?), but at least I was there for four years straight, which is longer than I’ve lived anywhere. Then, after graduation, I got married to Luke and moved to New York City. We have an apartment here, but it’s a place and not a home (yet).
I tell Luke all the time that if he ever gets a job in Europe or California or wherever, I am SO there. Because, if nothing else, I’m a pro at packing up and moving. But right now, I’m learning that permanence is good, and there’s security in constancy. We have no big plans coming up — not even vacations. And I need to be all right with that. I used to think that I would go crazy if I stayed in America — there's a big wide world out there that I haven’t explored yet! But I think I’m O.K. now with being from and living in America (unless you're traveling in Europe, then by all means, say you’re Canadian).
What I’ve come to realize is that I will probably never feel at home in any particular neighborhood, city or even country. Like any good third-culture kid, I belong everywhere and nowhere all at once. But people are my home, and isn't that better? I've slept on so many couches and pullout beds that I understand the importance of hospitality, and I desperately hold on to my friendships because they're the only thing that connects me to my childhood.
So when Luke came through the door and saw me crying to the pseudo-hipster movie that everyone laughs at for being overwrought, he asked what in the world was wrong. And I just thanked him for coming home and being home. And then we watched funny YouTube videos until I felt better.
“Moats and boats, and waterfalls,
alleyways, and payphone calls —
I been everywhere with you (that's true).” —Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes