I don’t know where home is, anymore.
It used to be where I had always lived, in the middle, as I put it in my Common App essay, of cows and Christians and corn forever. Only the rare birds took flight from this verdant and comfortably monotonous landscape. I was that rare bird of my high school graduating class, and indulged myself in a kernal of scorn for that small town of 8,000 with its downtown of useless boutiques, its factories, its lack of worldliness. I didn’t really expect myself to visit more than a squeezed-tight fistfull of select few when home on break. I didn’t look back as the car my parents drove sped towards Wellesley and the future I was meant to have. I’d always known I was a city person, condemned for 18 years of my life to Wisconsin manure spreading and polka traditions, relieved to finally be set free.
At Wellesley, I could finally be the person I’d never been able to be before. To my astonishment, I could actually make close friends, be gay, do sports and learn fascinating things at all and all at once. I was a kid in a candy store. This, finally, was the place I was supposed to be. Then came sophomore year, and my stomach started to ache from all the candy. By the end of the year, I ached for those first-year heart-to-hearts until 4am, and heart ache had added itself to the list. I had turned the place I belonged into a place I only knew I had to escape from.
In Chile, I had to create my own home. From zero on up. Express infant to adult human crash course in 12 months. Satisfaction not guaranteed. I had to learn how to talk, learn how to make friends (chill with the host fam and/or go to cool activities alone), learn how to walk (crutches and braces on buses and treacherous sidewalks). Talk about break you down and build you up. But the relationships in that environment felt like some of the most real relationships I had ever had. There was a relaxed, deeply caring, huggable, emotional and open person who the Spanish-speaking, initially-friendless, crutch-toting Savannah allowed, finally, to emerge. That person allowed herself to fall in love and be fallen in love with, take risks and talk about it after, travel too much and meet many beatiful souls.
Leaving Chile, I worried, would mean leaving that person on the graffiti-strewn streets of Valparaíso. I’d already delayed the return a semester, too scared to face the monster of aches after one short stint away. I’d spent my year there complaining about Wellesley’s stress culture, decrying the lack of possible guy friends upon my return, already missing those rambling philosophical discussions I’d gotten used to in Chile and had never figured out how to have at Wellesley.
Basically, I was scared and rationalizing. What’s new.
On Friday morning at 7am I kissed my mother on the cheek and staggered (already exhausted + 120lbs of stuff) onto the second of the 5 modes of transport that would take me to Wellesley. I alternated between naps and angsty journal entries right up until boarding the commuter rail. Then this navy vet named JT, I think, talked to me for 45 minutes about his 70 pieces of contemporary art, illegal camping and how to survive if you slip on black ice and break your leg in half on the night of the superbowl, and could he have my email address to send me pictures from camping? Then I arrived at my station, lugged my bags up the steps and was in the middle of taking a long breath to compose myself for the 25-minute trek to campus when a couple from Wellesley swooped in, grabbed my bags, and ferried me right to the door of my dorm, and could they have my email address because they were looking to go to Chile and Bolivia, too, and what a wonderful coincidence! A couple of effusively helpful first years opened the door for me, and my friend arrived soon after with a salad and a sleeping bag to crash on. We talked until well after the bed time I’d planned on. It was so joyful to laugh together, touch a shoulder in empathy, rejoice and bathe in the alegría of reunion.
I still don’t know where home is. Everywhere I go I kind of feel like I’m just visiting. It doesn’t help that the longest I’ve been anywhere in the past 2 months is 10 days. I think, though, that I’m finally starting to stop doubting where I belong.
Or at least, not belonging in one place is no longer so frightening. I guess it’s kind of sappy, but I feel, strongly and experientially, that I belong wherever I love somebody and they love me. The beauty is that there doesn’t have to be just one place, either, and belonging and fitting in are entirely independent concepts.
It doesn’t so much matter to me anymore that Ripon’s got about a bazillion-to-1 redneck-to-polyglot ratio, that I’ll always be a foreigner whose accent people question in Valparaíso, that I’m starting my senior year at Wellesley without the position of leadership, the relationship, or the ah-mazing summer internship that everyone else seems to have.
Ok, if I’m honest, those things are still kind of stressing me out, but then I remember these amazing people I’m living with this year, and I start to cry a little bit, tears of honest gratitude, for all of the hugs I’ve gotten to share with all of these beautiful people I haven’t seen in so, so, so long.
So even if you don’t know where your home is, anymore, either, you can always come belong with me. I’ve always got a cup of hot tea and hugs to share.
Bonus: And in case you didn’t understand the title…. this seemed appropriate, somehow.