It's a strange feeling when you realize that home isn't just one place to you anymore. I mean yes, of course, I'll always be a Midwesterner at heart, and Chicago will always be where I'm from — home in its most rooted, comforting sense. By now, though, between my San Diego college years and these past four in San Francisco, I've lived in California for more than eight years. Eight years!
Last fall, I said to Radley, "I wonder when this will really feel like home. When this place will feel like it's mine." In many ways, it already did. For one thing, anywhere feels like home if he's there, and for another, a steady job and close friends helped me settle into San Francisco fairly quickly. I was happy, and I was established. Still, for a long time I felt a pull between here and there, as if I was back in college and this whole West Coast thing was just temporary.
Over the last five weeks, thanks to some weddings and celebrations, I've made three trips back to Chicago. It's been a whirlwind of travel, and in the back and forth, something shifted.
Here's the thing: Airports make me think (Seriously, what is it about travel that makes us so introspective?) and something about the trips between here and there seems to have kicked up the dust and let it settle differently. It hit me during my last flight back to San Francisco. As we were landing, I looked out the window, the bay water blue and still, and I had that overwhelming feeling of gratitude that falls over you when you return to what's familiar. It's happened, I thought. I'm home.
There was a split second of sadness — maybe even guilt, as if building roots in California meant I'd betrayed some piece of who I've always been. That sadness lifted quickly, though, because the only thing more comforting than being back where you're from is the ease of knowing that you're okay without it, too. That you still carry it with you, and that the home you keep inside yourself is made up of all the best parts of the one you remember.