Last week I visited my family up in Michigan. It was a beautiful drive up. There was a little rain. Just enough to wet the roads, and the light was diffused and seemed to amplify the autumnal colors of the trees against the gray sky. When anyone asked where I was going on vacation for a week, I’d usually say “I’m going home for the week.” And every time, my brain catches on the phrase a little bit. Was it home? Because, you see, when I was up in Michigan, and people asked when I was headed back, I’d say “I’m heading home Thursday or Friday.” Maybe it was the time to think on the way back, or maybe it’s just because of the way my brain works, but it got me thinking Where is home?
The Simple Answer
The most obvious answer is that both are home, for different reasons. I wish I had the sort of brain that would accept that. But home, in my head, feels like one place. Growing up, my mom and dad split when I was really young. They made a couple more gos at it, but it never really stuck. During this time, we moved a lot, generally to go where my dad worked. My dad is a smart guy. He was all about computers when they were much less common. He’s the one I have to credit for getting me a computer and paying me to learn BASIC on the Tandy Color Computer II he purchased from Radioshack. If I remember correctly, I think I got a dollar for every chapter I finished. A dead computer language, for sure, but I think that foundation when I was 7 or 8 helped me learn HTML and various other technologies over the years. In any case, my dad found management opportunities. My mom stayed at home.
We bounced around Indiana. Moving from the house my parents had built next to my aunt in Stillwell to La Paz to Bremen to Elkhart and then back to Bremen. When my parents split for the last time, and my mom became a single mother of three working in various factories, we moved from our large comfy house to a small apartment in Bremen. We were only there a short time before we moved once again to an income-dependent apartment on a little cul de sac in a larger housing edition in Bremen. 1995 Faith Avenue, located next to a wooded area next to a stream. Out back was a low-lying field that flooded and froze over in the winter, a playground, and a large radio tower. By 1990, I was eleven years old and I’d moved with my family seven times. When I think of “where I grew up” this is the place I think of. It’s the place that lives in my memory. Where I went sledding with my friend Bobby. Where I rode bikes with the neighborhood kids. This is where I embarked on solo adventures with my Lazer Tag helmet on, or carrying my He-man sword. This is where a couple of guys and I found some old porn catalogs in the woods. Where we made forts and tried to figure out what “Gum Eaters” were. But was it home?
Home is Where You Are
The truth is, because we moved a lot, home became wherever my family was. That tiny apartment I shared with my mom and sisters became known as the “Huff Homestead.” You could fit the entire thing in the downstairs of my house today. My sisters shared one room, and would often talk to each other in their sleep. That little place, in my memory, is full of so much love. Drama, yes. My mom waking me up so I would sleep in the backseat as she went out looking for my sisters who had stayed out too late or lied about where they were, etc. The time my sisters had a party and someone stole our microwave! But mostly, it’s just love. That love attracted people. My sister’s friends often hung out at our place, and many of them became like extended family. But the Huff Homestead still wasn’t a place. It was the people in it.
Sometimes I get jealous when my friends talk about going to their old room at the house they grew up in, and retrieving a box of old toys. My toys were given to cousins, or purged during moves, for the most part. I wasn’t forced to do this, mind you, to me it was just the thing I was taught you do. But there is fragility in a home being a place, isn’t there, too? I think it can be more traumatic realizing that home isn’t a location when you’re older, and you have to learn it because your parents passed away, or have to be put in a care facility. When the place you spent your childhood is drained of its life, given a coat of paint, and becomes something foreign. I suppose, in a way, I preferred the nomadic life. It got into my bones, to the point where when my mom asked me if I would be okay with moving to La Porte and live with her boyfriend, I welcomed it. Moving meant fresh starts. I began to crave that, I think. It came after a tumultuous time in my personal life that made me welcome that fresh start. Something I used as fuel for some of the protagonist’s background in my book In the Dark of the Grove. The town of Essen, Indiana in the book is very much based on Bremen.
The Home You Make
So, if home is really people—which I firmly believe—who is competing for title of “home” in my head? My life I’ve made here in Illinois. I moved here to be nearer my family (and after a fairly disastrous go of things my first time out in the world after graduating high school,) went to college here, met the love of my life here, and met all my best friends here. This is where my found family is. This is where I bought a house with my partner, something that (as a nomadic apartment dweller most of my life) seemed like some crazy fantasy that I would never attain before it happened. My partner and I both work from home, and certainly during the pandemic the idea of home became even more important. This is my refuge from the world. This is where I feel most comfortable, and can be the most “me” away from the expectations of the people who knew me growing up—even if those expectations are mostly in my head. When I think of home, I think of the house I’m currently writing in. I think of the love I have for the amazing man I was so, so lucky to find.
And then, when I go to see my family in Michigan—a place they all migrated to just across the border from Indiana—I do think of it as home, too. My mom lives in her small house there. My sisters each have absolutely beautiful new houses there I got to see for the first time. One of my nephews, his wife, and their two sons live there. It’s a charming little place that I barely know. But the people I have loved most in the world live there. Except my nephew Rei. He, it seems, takes after me and keeps a little distance from the family.
Astrologically-speaking, I am “on the cusp” between Leo and Virgo. But, as my friend Laura has often noted—I’m way more of a Virgo. Something I—very warily at first—have come to accept. Not because I entirely “buy” that when you’re born has some large impact on your personality. But the descriptors do fit, and line up well with some of the professional personality assessments I’ve taken. In any case, it means I like precision. That’s why, even though my heart fully accepts having two homes, my brain always catches on the idea and wants clarity and order. This is me in a nutshell. Always observing, always thinking, always trying to make sense of the world and the people in it. I like analysis and find it useful and comforting. But then there’s creative side of me. The side that takes glee in chaos, likes the freedom of creation, and believes that the boundless diversity of the gray areas of life should be celebrated. The part of me that thinks believing in multiple things—perhaps even contradictory things—is the only sensible way to approach life.
So, where is home? I finally resolved it in my mind on my drive back from Michigan. Like so many things as I’ve grown older, I just let go of that perfect ideal I was trying to achieve in my head. This idea that home was one place, and that when I used the phrase “I am going home” it should mean only one thing—I let that go. It was easier than I thought. Because the only person who really cared about it was me, right? Yes, I sometimes worried about offending someone who thought that home should be with them. My partner or my mom, for instance. But as time goes on, that concerns becomes less. Because I show my love every day I can, so surely they understand by now what I mean. Assuming it was even a concern in the first place for not-me people who don’t concern themselves with being so specific.
When my head complains about my careless usage of “home” to describe two different places, I’ll gently remind it that love and memory are unmoored from location and time and that home has always been a lot of different places all at the same time. Because, in my head, home is still that tiny apartment I shared with my family in Bremen where I would sit at the coffee table and draw comic books while watching TV. Home is still that wood-sided house near the park where my friends and i would crash into each other on our snow sleds. Home is still that house with the sun room where I used to play Star Trek with my next-door neighbor in Elkhart. Home is a big, generous place that can fit all sorts of people and places into it. And I’m damned lucky to have it.