Perhaps my favorite quote from any book is towards the end of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods:
He sat down on a grassy bank and looked at the city that surrounded him, and thought, one day he would have to go home. And one day he would have to make a home to go back to. He wondered whether home was a thing that happened to a place after a while, or if it was something that you found in the end, if you simply walked and waited and willed it long enough.
That was on my mind because on our recent trip to the East Coast (more on that soon) we passed through several of the states that I’d lived in during other parts of my life: New Jersey, Delaware, North Carolina. And while we were traveling, I read Gaiman’s latest book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane (more on that later, too) and I was struck by another quote that seemed to come from the same well. It was from the book’s protagonist who was seeing his childhood home for the first time in a long while:
I stared at the house, remembering less than I had expected about my teenage years: no good times, no bad times. I’d lived in that place, for a while. It didn’t seem to be any part of who I was now.
That quote made me think not about the abstract concept of “home”, but about the specific places that I’d lived and how I felt about them now. Were there any traces of me left there? And after so many years for some of them, were they still a part of me?
So even though we only took the time to drive by one of them (my grad school apartment), I decided to take a little tour.
The Ancestral Betz Home
This is the house I grew up in Camden, New Jersey. We didn’t go past the it this trip, but we have in the past. The house has been out of the family for about a decade and I’m surprised at how little it moves me to see it or the old neighborhood. Lots of great memories, of course, but I don’t really miss the place of it. Home-score: 6
I didn’t count the various places in college, because “home” was still technically (and emotionally) back in Camden, but this was the first place that I ever really lived on my own. The complex looks pretty much like it did 25 years ago. When we drove past, I was sentimental for the idea of it, but not the boxed, no-balcony, sweltering-in-the-summer-ness of it. In some ways, my real home at Carolina was the lab and the people in it. Home-score: 5
I lived here when I was a post-doc, working in Delaware — famously (or infamously) sharing this townhouse with Roomie. There was a lot of pizza and video games and drinking at the Irish bar two blocks away. We rented it from my first mentor, which added an extra connection. I was close to my family. Very warm feelings for Monroe Street. Home-score: 7
The House That Shall Not Be Named
Occasionally here I will mention my years with She Who Must Not Be Named, but I try not to dwell there. This is where we lived. It was nice house in Illinois. It started out okay. I shoveled that driveway a lot. It was not okay by the time we left. Home-score: 3
Our move to San Diego and subsequent split happened so quickly, I’m not sure I could correctly remember the layout of this house. No warm feelings for this one at all. The most non-home place on this list. Home-score: 1
After the split, I needed a place to live — and to recoup. It was here. It was a nice apartment — nicer than my grad school one, that’s for sure. But I knew it was a way-station and never quite invested myself in it. Home-score: 4
Stately Betz Manor
My first real home in California. I bought in 2003 and lived there until we bought The Aerie in 2007. I felt really at home there — and I thought it reflected me. The better me that came out of all the tough times before it. Home-score: 8
My home now — and it’s hard to imagine any of the other places ever feeling THIS much like home. Home-score: 10
And so, here I am. I am home. I feel like The Beloved and I have made home that’s worthy of being “a home to go back to”. But who knows if there will be other homes after The Aerie? Perhaps eight is enough. Perhaps.