We’ve lived here for fourteen years. It’s the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere since childhood.
I’ve always liked having a home base, a comfortable landing spot. When I was a kid and we went away, I always felt like something was out of place when we got home. The routine was off; dinner may have been eaten at a restaurant, not at our Goldfish cracker-shaped kitchen table. Bedtime was strange if the nightly ritual hadn’t been done. It wasn’t until the next morning that things felt better, back to normal.
My parents were travelers. They took us to the Jersey shore and Disney World and Niagara Falls and New Orleans. They went away for two or three weeks at a time to places like Japan and Australia, leaving my brothers and me at home with grandparents. I couldn’t wait to be an adult so I could go away for weeks at a time.
I thought I’d be a nomad, a wanderer. I fantasized about traveling to India, Australia, and Norway. I wondered what it would be like to live in New York, North Dakota, Oregon.
What would life look like in these places? Would I dress differently, grow out my hair, drive a beat-up car, take the subway? Would there be a cool café on the corner, or a great florist down the street? Trivial things seem important when trying to approximate a life out of thin air.
In my adult life, I’ve lived in a dozen different places. I’ve loved putting down roots in each community. Finding a good grocery store, the best place for a burger, church – these things become important when you live somewhere. Knowing the shortcuts, the long way around, and when traffic is bad – no matter how small, these are the details that tie a person to a place. Familiarity and a sense of belonging result from knowing them.
Fourteen years in the same place has dissipated my romantic notions of wandering. It’s something I’ve had to work up to, to admit how much of a homebody I am. I guess when your home is your job, you grow attached to it. I have done this, willingly. My home is here. I like it here.
But I could like it somewhere else, too. Southern California, a little house near the beach. A tiny apartment in Paris, close enough to the Eiffel Tower to see the top of it if I lean way out the window. A tinier apartment in Hong Kong, above the whizzing social scene. A squat house in Phoenix, where the sun blazes 300 days a year. Somewhere sleepy and tropical – an island in the Caribbean or South Pacific? Somewhere robust and colorful – Miami, maybe? Or a small European town, where residents take a siesta each day and meet in the square before dinner at 9 pm.
It doesn’t really matter where I live, I realize while contemplating each scenario. Each place has its own attractions, its own details, the capacity to become home.
Vacations are great, but we never stay long enough to really get a feel for what life there is like. Seeing a ton of sights in a few days is nice, but I forget what I’ve seen as soon as we’re onto the next thing. Memories hold better when the mundane is experienced in unexpected surroundings.
Reading an English newspaper in a Parisian café early in the morning. Watching children swim in the Pacific Ocean while huge iguanas lose their balance and fall out of trees. Going to the movies with girlfriends in a theater across the country.
I like to live in the places I visit, imagine myself living there for years. I check out real estate ads, locate the schools, pretend to be native. Certainly my existing habits would change. I dream of spending more time in each place I love for more than a few days, trying life from a different angle, saying “I want to live here” and doing it.
That probably won’t happen. Not soon, anyway. Our life is here. We have kids, a house, friends, jobs. We have a church, a favorite grocery store, and several favorite burger joints. Finding life in the details is what keeps me rooted here, the home of my own making.
The dream is there, but I’m okay with it being just that. It’s fun to wonder. Plus, we have only skimmed the surface of what this life here has to offer. There’s still so much to explore, so many more details to discover.
Even after fourteen years.