Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Can you go home again?

The Manhattan Beach Pier

The concept of home is something I’ve thought about quite a bit in the past few years, first because I thought I’d lost mine and second because I started to travel more on my own and “What would it be like to live here?” became a common thread in my internal monologue.

I grew up in Manhattan Beach, a small town that sits about half an hour outside of downtown Los Angeles on the California coast. With a temperate climate, beautiful sunsets and some of the best public schools in the state, the South Bay, as the locals call it, is a pretty idyllic place to live. I knew I wanted to go “back east” for college (mostly, as a kid, because it was what my brother had done and I wanted to be just like him; in high school because I wanted to get out in the world and experience a place that changed – weather, politics, social tensions and all – the way Southern California never seemed to do), but I had never thought about a day when Manhattan Beach would no longer be home.

Three days after I left for my sophomore year at GW, in Washington, DC, my parents moved to Arizona’s Mogollon Rim. I’d known it was coming for years and had spent the summer avoiding doing anything helpful when it came to packing, so it wasn’t something that happened overnight, but as soon as the house was empty, I felt like part of my world had been yanked out from underneath my feet. Where is home? I thought, and couldn’t avoid the gloomy answer: I don’t have one.

I liked the house in Arizona more than I had expected. My mom was adamant that I have my own room, regardless of how often I would be there, so I was surrounded by familiar things when I came home for winter break. I spent the following summer in Washington, interning and baby-sitting, and wasn’t at my parents’ much before heading off to spend my junior year in France. It was there that my conception of home started to change.

I adapted quickly to Aix-en-Provence and soon felt as comfortable navigating its narrow streets as I had driving through Manhattan Beach. When I flew back to the States for Christmas and stopped for a few days in L.A., reverse culture shock made the South Bay feel full of annoying customs that confused me, rather than put me at ease. I wanted to go back to France. My parents’ house was comforting, if still unfamiliar: it was full of people I loved, and that made me feel more at home than visiting dozens of familiar spots in California had done.

When I returned to school in Washington after my second semester abroad, I expected the reverse culture shock that made the English buzzing in my ears sound foreign and bewildering, but anticipating it didn’t make it feel any less strange. I was happiest when I was with my friends, although the places we hung out had changed since the last time I’d seen them.

Gradually, I realized that the times I felt most at home had very little to do with where I was and everything to do with who was there with me.  In all the years I’d spent in Manhattan Beach, I had always assumed it was the place that put me at ease and defined my home when, in reality, it was the people.

It’s been several years since I’ve attached a place to the idea of home. I still consider Manhattan Beach my hometown, but home itself is easier to get to: the group of family and close friends that keeps me going. Some of them are from the South Bay, some I met in college and some I’ve met while wandering. They know me (and love me anyway), they support me and they know that I’m always just an email, a phone call or a letter away. They're what lets me wander at will, because – no matter where I am or where they are in the world – none of them is ever further than my next thought. With them to ground me, I can roam to my heart’s content, knowing they’ll always be there to reach out to.

Home really is where the heart is and it’s by looking inside your heart that you can be sure of finding home and all the comfort it brings. You can always go home again, and that's a revelation that lets me make mine wherever the wind blows me.


Kate said...

Lovely post and an important observation. Keep traveling and writing.

Jessalyn Pinneo said...

Thank you, Kate!

Colleen! said...

I agree with this so much.

It is SO different in MB now, but all that I really care about is seeing my old MB friends! You made me so happy by visiting! It was awesome to see you and your mom! Keep writing!

Jessalyn Pinneo said...

Thanks Leenie, I'm so glad I was able to see you a few times last weekend!