For Mother’s Day I received Toni Morrison’s newest novel, Home. As a huge Toni fan, I look forward to reading the text and enjoying the characters as I always do, but what struck me the most about her newest book is the simple title, Home. In that short four lettered word, so many meanings and experiences come to my mind. Home has come to mean many things to me over the years. Literally, I can count up the dozens of addresses and phone numbers I’ve changed and re-changed, area codes and postal codes, boxes and bags. You see, I’m a mover. I’ve been a mover since I was young. My parents come from migrant people, and I think there is something about my ancestors being from, as we say in Spanish, ni de aquí ni de allá (neither here nor there). My mother’s family hails from the Tex-Mex borderlands, and they are migrant farm workers who have settled in the Rio Grande Valley. My dad’s biological mother, though he was adopted from a family in Richmond, was part of the great migration of African Americans to the Northeast in the 1940s, and she has called Hartford, Connecticut her home for many decades. While my parents met, married, child reared, and divorced in Richmond, Virginia, my soul has always felt I was from some other place.
Home from a practical sense was in constant flux from my perspective. I grew up knowing home existed with my mom, dad, sisters, and then with grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins (which is common for Latino families). There were several times in my childhood that I vividly recall moving in the middle of the night and making home with my grandparents or aunts for several months because of my parent’s troubled marriage. One time we lived for three years in an apartment on the other side of town from my father, and then moved back to the house. Each time we came and went leaving behind my faded childhood memories of Baxter Road. I felt less and less connected to the notion of home and created new memories by the time I was coming of age on Hampstead Avenue in a low-income apartment community. By the time I was ready to apply to colleges, I wanted to leave home because I felt no connection to home or to Richmond. I was a repressed and depressed teen in lots of angst and sought refuge outside of my home.
College made me feel safe, and I found security in my dorm and new life in college. But it was only temporary and often felt ashamed to tell anyone freshman year that going home meant going to a small 2 bedroom apartment that was shared by my mother and grandparents, an uncle and his friend, my 5 year old cousin, a noisy dog, and a parrot. My sisters, mother, and I---four grown women---shared a 10 x 10 room, a full size mattress, pallets on the floor with blankets and towels as another bed, and clothes neatly folded and piled in boxes along the wall. Our lives were all squeezed into one tiny room, waiting presumably for a home. I remember feeling angry and thinking, this is what I am coming home to? I selfishly did not want to come home anymore and found ways to stay on campus during breaks. I now realize that I desperately needed space, but foolishly thought I needed to make college my home.
My mom finally made her dream come true in 2002 by becoming a homeowner, and a year later, I made another home as I pursued graduate studies in New York City. Ever moving, within my first three years in New York, I lived in 3 different boroughs and 5 different apartments, continually searching for home---Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Bedford Stuyvesant Brooklyn and the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. Each time, I created and re-created home. Each time searching, looking and “constructing” home. Each time my home experience came to an end, and I was on the move again. New number, new address, new postal code . . .
In 2008, I came very close to having home when I bought the “house of my dreams” with my then husband in Virginia. I had moved back to Richmond that year to help my family with my sister who was battling cancer. We went big and bought the home I had dreamed about when I was kid: the 4 bedroom, 2.5 bath colonial style white house with black shudders, red door, garage, fenced backyard, and manicured lawn. I just knew I had made it because I had a [big] home to call my own. Finally no moving, no sharing, tons of space, privacy and it was all mine.
Months and years into the home, I noticed the house was always cold, and there was something very metaphysically empty about it. Despite the freshly-painted neutral walls, newly-purchased gorgeous wood furniture, and fancy alarm system for protection, there was still this barenness. It was the details though that should have clued me in. The little things were never done: the curtains were never hung, photos and art never made it to the walls, and the dining room sat empty night after night. Something in my gut told me this was not home and that things would change. I tried to ignore that quiet whisper because I had to make it work, right? I had constructed this life and this home, right? Soon it became painfully obvious that not only was this house built on a shaky foundation, but so was my marriage. As the summer of 2010 came to a close, so did my home and my marriage.
Fast forward to 2012, I have downsized to a 2 bedroom, 1 bath apartment in a beautiful neighborhood in northern Manhattan bordering the Hudson River. While I don’t have the oversized house, I have found my home. I finally am at ease and at home not only in my home, but in myself. The joy that I feel has no words. Every inch of my home is literally and metaphysically warm---stacked with books, and brimming with my son’s art and toys. It is imperfectly perfect, but I am finally home.
In the end, I now know that home is not a literal space to fix and construct, but a metaphysical and metaphorical space for loving, nurturing, and caring for myself and my loved ones in an honest and meaningful way.
Home is the jog up to the Cloisters on a crisp spring evening.
Home is the sand and rocks of the wild James River between my toes.
Home is the wind blowing my curls in my face when I ride down the highway.
Home is cradling my son in my bed at 2AM when he is scared of the monsters.
Home is the pungent smell of garlic and the sumptuous taste of a meal cooked at home.
Home is my life; home is my voice; and home is my truth.
Home is me.
Home sweet home is knowing that home is deep within me. I am home wherever I am at. I am home now and always.