I once believed America was my home. I spent the first half of my life here. My earliest memories are of me rollerblading with my sisters along the wide road in front of my family’s spacious one-story house in Arcadia and playing dodgeball on my elementary school’s blacktop under the blazing California sun.
My family and I moved to Japan, where my parents were from, the summer before second grade. I refused to think of it as my new home. My heart belonged to smoggy, spacious, and sunny Los Angeles, even if it was decided that I would live out the rest of my childhood in the humid, crowded, and strange city of Yokohama, Japan.
In Japan, I lived in a couple of different towns in a couple of different houses. The homes felt perfectly comfortable to me once my sisters and I had made absolute disasters out of the rooms with our messy personalities. School posed a problem for me since I was insecure about my awkward Japanese and found it difficult to connect with the normal native kids. Yet I found a few wonderful friends in each school and felt happy most of the time.
Last year, after I had spent a good chunk of my life in Japan, my family moved again. But this time, we moved all the way back to my beloved U.S. Seeing the familiar neighborhoods and the mountains that I gazed up at as a toddler was incredibly surreal and comforting, but something felt off. It did not look like the shiny paradise from my memories. Both the city and I had changed too much in the past several years for us to have the same, simple relationship. I began to question where my “home” really was and whether or not I even had one.
The word “home” evokes a pleasant image of a cozy house and a family to most people. What confused me was that no single image came to mind when I imagined my “home.” This reminded me of a fall afternoon in Japan, when I revisited an old home of mine. It sat atop a steep hill overlooking a small town. Its rare build was of a Western style, with hardwood floors and a small backyard. We moved out of it because of safety concerns raised after a large earthquake. I wanted to see if it would look any different to me, now that I had spent some time away from it. As I excitedly pedaled up the hill on my bike like I had many times before, I did not recognize the building that came into view. The owner had renovated the house; the pristine white and blue walls were painted over with black, the garden that I often sat in was shaped differently, and everything was just wrong. In shock, I turned around and peered down at the bustling town below. I noticed that a new restaurant had replaced the Red Lobster. When I lived atop the hill, the red light of the Red Lobster’s sign at night would illuminate the walls of the bedroom that my sister and I shared. I felt hollow as I looked at the once familiar place and failed to feel that connection again. I slowly biked back to my newer home, melancholic and confused.
Maybe a “home” is not a specific house or place, after all. I began to believe that a “home” was more of a feeling, one that made me feel warm and blissful, as if my life could freeze and I would be alright because I was safe and happy. This made sense, since I experienced this feeling with my family and friends no matter where in the world I was. The fact that I had lived roughly half my life on one side of the Earth and the other half on another side wasn’t all that confusing anymore.
Relief flooded over me. I wasn’t homeless after all! Everything was okay! It was liberating to think that I could be at home, even if I wasn’t staying in the same place. It’s good to be home. It’s easy to be home, too. All you really need are some good people and an open heart.