For an expat, the concept of “home” is difficult to define. Is it the country you are currently living in? Is it the place where you grew up? Is it the city where you attended university? On my recent trip to the states, I thought a lot about the concept of home.
Two weeks ago I surprised my sister by returning to Houston for her bridal shower weekend. She had no idea I was coming, largely because I told her I couldn’t. I continued to throw my sister off the scent by replying “no” to all Evites for the event. I even texted her right before I got on my plane in Chile that Jon and I were knee-deep in a Netflix show. I hoped this would explain why I wouldn’t be able to text her back for the next fifteen hours. My parents were in on the surprise too, and I think they liked it, even though it was new to them. Dad picked me up at the airport in Houston and told my mom and sis that he needed to run some errands. He was gone a lot longer than normal if he was just running errands, but my sister didn’t seem to notice. After we came in the front door we looked around. She was in the back corner of the house. I gave my cell phone to my mom to film the surprise. Ali happened to be awake and taking care of some wedding details in the computer room, so that made it even easier to turn the corner and surprise the bejeezus out of her. I wasn’t quite prepared for Ali’s response, as I was exhausted from traveling for about twenty-two hours. She was so shocked that she started crying immediately. We just rocked each other in an embrace while the tears ran down our faces.
“I’m home,” I thought, while I hugged her in my arms.
And for a day or two, my parents’ place in the Heights completely felt like home. Except that my husband, my dogs, and my comfy brown couch were not there with me. At the bridal shower, I became even more convinced that Houston was my home. I saw former teachers, Ali’s childhood friends, their moms, and various people who remember me from second grade through senior year. It was definitely a walk down memory lane. I really enjoyed seeing everybody and being able to show them in person that I was still alive and doing reasonably well. The only things that took some getting used to, were the names on the invitation to Ali’s Texas Girls Night Out. The first names read like a journal of Ali’s childhood, but the last names were completely different. “Ahhh- it’s the married names of the same girls I remember fondly.” We had a great night together pretending to be young enough to ride mechanical bulls and line dance. It seemed like old times.
When I woke up in my parent’s old bed, though, I realized that home had fundamentally changed. My sister and her friends were no longer in their teens. Almost a decade ago, my parents moved from the suburban home I grew up in. I haven’t attended the John Cooper School in close to 17 years, and almost all of our friends have families of their own, or have moved away from Houston. Going to my parents’ place in the heights is completely different than my childhood experiences at 26996 Lana Lane. While I considered that, I felt a little lost. Where was my home now?
For the rest of the trip to the states I continued my journey down memory lane. Jon had a conference to attend in Los Angeles and asked me to accompany him. Since I still have many close friends in L.A., I happily agreed. I arrived in Los Angeles a little before Jon so I was able to spend some time with Randi. She has been a loyal and generous best friend since high school, so even just a few nights with her and Matt, her husband, helped fill my soul.
Jon arrived on Saturday, and his parents on Sunday, so we made a quick transition to downtown LA where we stayed in an Airbnb. Jon and his parents had never been to the city, so we spent our two days together exploring the highlights. We didn’t have a car, so we took the Metro to Universal Studios one day, and Hollywood, the next. The Los Angeles Metro is an eye-opening experience, indeed. Most everyone in LA owns a car, so very few people take public transportation- only those that don’t own cars. On our first voyage Sandi sat next to a transgendered lady, obviously on some kind of drug, returning from an all-nighter at the Hollywood Halloween party. There were single moms yawning, students from Los Angeles City College with headphones and bicycles, and hard-working immigrants from a variety of cultures going to or from one of their many jobs. There certainly weren’t any other white tourists on that train. “Ahhh! America! The land of diversity…” I thought proudly to myself. “I must be home,” I thought, as I glimpsed the familiar Hollywood sign on the hill behind the Dolby Theater.
After Jon’s parents left, I was able to take the train down to San Diego to visit a dear college friend, and her son. I had been promising her for years that I would come see her house, so this was the perfect opportunity. Megan and I had a great time cheering on the Cubs and devouring delicious bar food. “I am definitely home,” I told myself, as I gnawed on a buffalo wing and shouted gleefully at the sports game on TV. The next morning my friend’s husband went to work and so we took care of her son, Lucas. Due to my health, it was hard for me to up in the morning, though, so I tried to entertain him from my prone position on the couch. Sadly, in a few hours I had to leave. “Child rearing is difficult,” I decided, as I boarded the train and waved goodbye. As they disappeared a tear ran down my cheek. “Our lives have changed so much since college,” I thought. I knew that’s exactly what she was thinking.
On my trip I also had dinner with life-long soccer friends, ate breakfast with my childhood best friend, ran into an old flame, reminisced with a good friend from China, and grabbed a muffin with my former neighbor from Santiago. In twelve days I managed to visit with people from every single stage of my life. Every person and place I visited represented an essential part of me. Thank you to everyone who made me feel at home while I was in the states.
However, a week later, after all those Uber rides, Jon and I were ready to board the plane to Santiago, and sleep in our beds again. We missed our dogs and wanted to nap alongside them. We wanted to be able to navigate our neighborhood grocery store like locals. We wanted to sleep in all morning if we wanted to. In short, we were ready to go home.