I remember the very first night in my apartment. Exactly one year ago, a small but bustling city, a fourth floor apartment with no elevator. It was a tiny place just for me, with almost nothing in it but an air mattress and an ugly brown bean bag chair. I remember sitting on the bean bag, listening to only the mumbling refrigerator, and watching the sky darken through my window. It was simple then. Twenty-four papers were laid out on the floor in front of the bean bag; a paper for each of my fourth-graders. I was alone here, as I would be almost the entire year following. Without knowing the future, I felt at peace, only for a brief moment. This was now my home.
I remember the very last night in the apartment. In a year, the city hadn’t changed much. I had. My independence had been hard won. I had trod down the flights of stairs countless times, out the door and up High Street, the red Eastland sign leading my way to the Emerald City in the distance. The apartment was once empty, then filled with too many odds and ends, now empty again. I felt more at home here without the things. The bed was all that remained now, and that would be gone tomorrow. All evidence of my life here wiped clean. The year had crawled, but somehow raced; time is funny like that. It all fit in a perfect circle in my mind, the cycle of the year. With memories swirling, I closed my eyes, drifted off, and it was done, this chapter complete.
I stood up, took the lone key off the hook and started to close the door behind me. But first, I looked back inside. All I could see was the past. I didn’t belong here anymore; a realization that brought a pang of sorrow. But almost instantly, relief. I closed the door.
Now, I only recall fragments of this solo year: walking through a blizzard toward the Western Prom, sipping a maple latte at my favorite coffee spot, family dinners, blurry jazz club concerts, the smell of rotting shellfish in the street, the gleam of the Eastland sign.
This woman in my brain is only connected to me with a thin cord; I watch her live within my former life, relishing in her loneliness, knowing that it’s only temporary. In my current life, which will soon be in the past, the loneliness has dissipated, a new home has taken the place of the tiny apartment. Back then, I felt that I was drowning in my feelings, truly experiencing what it felt like to be scattered and lost and sad. I don’t regret a single second.
My current home is in Germany instead of the U.S. and another human being resides here with me. Instead of bright lights and city smells, stepping out my door leads me to row after row of similar houses, hearing the faint sound of training gunfire echoing across the military base. A townhouse with barely anything in it, but with everything we need. This home will be in the past someday, too.
Before I left, a friend told me that home is a person, not a place. I couldn’t agree more.