We were driving back to Atlanta last weekend, after being in Southern Missouri for a week, and my husband and I were talking about that word Home, and what it means to us. You see, Southern Missouri used to be our home. We lived there for 10 years. We graduated college there. We were married there. We started our little family there. We made everlasting friends there. His mother still lives in Southern Missouri, and we go back to visit from time to time. And when we go visit we say, as we do when we go to Kansas, that we are going home. But lately, I have started to feel different about Southern Missouri. About all the places I have lived before. And over the last few months when someone asks where we are from, I have caught myself saying that we are from Charlotte. And I have been trying to figure out why.
I mentioned this to my husband, while we shoved our mouths full of road trip food and tried to stay awake in the searing dusk. I told him that I think I give that word too much power. That the older I get the more I realize that I am lost and that I don’t really know what makes something, or someone, feel like home. I told him that we use our home too often as a way to define who we are and what we can accomplish. I told him that seems somewhat limiting. He told he wanted to sleep in his own bed. Truth be told, I did too, but I was more caught up in the places I have called home, and how even when I go back to those places, I yearn to be back to my current home.
Living in Atlanta isn’t so bad. In fact, I had built it up to be this monster of a place, and really it isn’t any different than any other city. It has its “good” parts and its “bad”. It has sweet, kind people. And it has people who scare you a little. It has great drivers, and crazy, aggressive drivers. It is just a lot of people, from a lot of different homes, mixed up together in a tiny area trying to get by. And honestly, it feels surprisingly good to be a part of the ebb and flow of the ATL. It, dare I say, feels like home?
So how can Southern Missouri, and Leavenworth, Kansas, and Charlotte, North Carolina, and Atlanta all feel like home to me? The closest I can come up with is the people I am doing this damn life with are my home, and while there are some constants, my husband, my son, my dog, there are other people too. There are the neighbors. The ones in our cul-de-sac now are not that different from the ones who were on our street in Charlotte. We have Mr. Charlie, and Mrs. Kim, and Chris and Christy, and yes even Ginger and Scooter. And they smile and they wave. They check on our house when we are gone, and they pull our trash cans up from the curb if we forget. There are whole communities and lovely people inside each of the places we have called home.
There is my favorite Target, and the one I will go to in a pinch. There is the good Dunkin and the bad one. The clean Kroger and the dirty one. There is that coffee shop at the corner where people sit for a spell and talk about their day. There is that game store that sells comic books and Magic cards. There is IKEA, and TJ Maxx, and Walmart. Dear Baby Jesus, there are the Walmarts.
There are the neighbors who wave and those who don’t. There are the moms in the PTO who are a little crazy, but manage to get it all done. There are the teachers who love your kid like crazy, and the ones you wonder about. There are the post office employees who keep smiling, even when they really want to hit that woman in front of the line who doesn’t know how stamps work. There are the pharmacists who tell the same thing to 100 different people every day. Yes, this pill might make you sick to your stomach. Take it with food, please.
There are the brainwashed Chick-fil-A employees, and the Jesus Saves guys on mopeds. There are the little women who ask which church you belong to and would you like to come to Sunday service? There are dads mowing lawns in New balance sneakers, yelling about gas prices, and how hard it is to start this damn weed-eater, I swear I’m going to buy a new one soon.
There are people asking for money with signs that say, Veteran and Anything Helps. There are the drug dealers who deal in dime bags and the ones who deal in cartel meth. There are the women who wear too much perfume and the ones who insist on make-up to workout. There are the teenagers sneaking a six-pack down to the river, so they can listen to music and make out with that red-headed girl.
And all of these people live in all of these places. And all of these places are home. Someone’s home. And in the end, it doesn’t matter so much which home was yours. Which one you wanted to belong to, which ones you never did. Because for as much as each of these homes is unique, they are also so very much alike. And sometimes we forget that. And sometimes we need a reminder.
“I think maybe home is where your shit is,” I told my husband somewhere between Tupelo and Birmingham.
He smiled. “I think you might be right.”