To Build a Home
featuring “Before a Journey” by Wisława Szymborska (translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak)
I have spent each summer following my high school graduation packing up and moving out. In barely three years, I’ve moved in and out of four different places. (Whew.)
I’ve lived in the same house since the day I was brought home from the hospital as a newborn, maybe sleeping, maybe crying. I grew up in that funny L-shaped house with all the vases and knick-knacks so carefully curated by my grandmother, the glossy grand piano that was my mom’s most prized possession, and its tall white walls (with equally tall windows) that echoed and reverberated everything from a shout and a gaggle of laughter, down to the most delicate tinkling of cutlery on the dining room table. I left all of this just shy of two months after my graduation ceremony. My mom and grandmother wept, my grandfather gripped my shoulder and warned be to be cautious, my uncle played it cool, and my dad discreetly wiped the corners of his eyes. I packed up everyone’s notions of my home away, and flew to the drizzly city of Vancouver, BC.
They call it: space.
It’s easy to define with that one word
much harder with many.
Because I’d never done it before, I’d always pictured moving out to have more grandeur, with a more palpable sense of finality. To be the girl who drove away. I pictured a studio apartment bustling with books, with flourishing plants tucked into its corners and spilling out to a balcony with a view — a place to finally call my own. It didn’t occur to me that I’d continue moving in and out at the end of each school year (even though it was clearly outlined in my campus residence contract).
Unsurprisingly, I over-romanticized the notion of moving out and settling in, to say the least. In truth, it was more like this:
You never realize how much shit you keep (shit that stays with you, voluntarily or involuntarily) until the room that houses them dissolves, leaving them suspended in boxes, in suitcases, in airplane cargo carriers, in friends’ cars. I have never been one for practicality; yes, I brought sweaters to last through the cold, rain boots to slosh through puddles, and enough tolak angin to last me awhile. But I squeezed them in along with a slew of sentimental mementos: my lucky purple t-shirt, a collection of photographs taken at various friends’ 17th birthdays, my gold medal from two years of toiling in my English literature class in high school, two dog-eared poetry anthologies by Wislawa Szymborska and Dorothy Parker. I unpacked everything in an L-shaped dorm named after a different school in a different country, lied down on an unfamiliar bed, and tried to fall asleep.
I woke up with the lights still on.
Empty and full of everything at once?
Shut tight in spite of being open,
can escape from it?
Inflated beyond all limits?
And if it has a limit,
what the devil does it border on?
Whenever I begin packing to move to a new place, I keep thinking to myself that this will finally be it, this will finally be The Place. In truth, things are never that easy. I stow expectations on the overhead compartment along with my in-flight carry-ons and store them, bit by bit, in each borrowed suitcase I lug around. Having spent nearly all my life in one place, I am always torn between being eager to move on, and being stuck to the sentimentality of each temporary home I carve for myself. With each move, my suitcases became heavier with the weight of the mishmash of moving: all the hassle, possibilities, expectations, and disillusionment.
Sometime in between my third and fourth move, I realized that it will be awhile before I settle down anywhere for more than a year or so. I stopped focusing on the possibility of one place being the real-life materialization of a Pinterest board. Instead, I mapped out my progression from house to dorm room to (slightly bigger) dorm room to shared apartment. I mapped out my progression from a girl who has slept in the same bed for seventeen years to buying my own bedsheets to buying my own mattress and building my own furniture.
I made myself comfortable with the in-betweens, during the transitions from one place to the next, during the journey from one home to another. I grew to realize that home is so much more than a brick-and-mortar cube housing all my possessions. It’s telling people I’m moving, yet again, and hearing multiple offers to help me settle in. It’s squeezing my suitcases in my friend’s car and being driven during a sunny day. It’s a housewarming gift of a plant and a found balloon from two friends who are sore from heaving around boxes of my books. To me, home is all the memories you accumulate before you start referring to them as memories.
Well, all fine and good. But go to sleep now.
It’s night, tomorrow you’ve got more pressing matters
made to measure for you:
touching objects placed close at hand,
casting glances at the intended distance.
Listening to voices within earshot.
Last month, I moved to an apartment with a friend I’ve known since I was a fetus. To be sure, it won’t be my last move for quite a bit. There is too much I want to do in too many places and too many people I want to share my time with. I unpacked and folded up and hung up my clothes; I dressed my mattress; I shopped for, built, and arranged my furniture; I built myself a home, even if it was only for a slice in my journey. There are many homes out there waiting for my embrace, but as for right now, this moment is mine.
Then that journey from point A to point B.
Departure at 12:40 local time,
and flight above the puffs of local clouds
through whichever infinitely
fleeting strip of sky.