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Home Is Where the Heart Is

Even if that heart is actually in pieces, scattered across the country

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ooking back, it’s hard to believe that one of the most explosive fights Nick and I have had over the past five years—through several long-distance moves and wedding planning and all the controversies that arise during those emotionally-charged life-changes—was over a baking sheet. It started simply enough. We moved to St. Thomas—an island over a sixteen hundred miles from either of our hometowns, an island we had never visited, an island where we knew virtually no one—and found that our fully furnished apartment, equipped with nearly everything, from forks to spoons to bedding, was lacking a baking sheet.

No big deal, right? A baking sheet is, what, maybe ten dollars? For Nick, an enthusiastic cook, a baking sheet was a necessity, and its absence had to be rectified immediately. We lived here now, and therefore we required a baking sheet, plain and simple. For me, on the other hand, the proposed purchase of a cheap baking sheet was symbolic; a bold acquisition evidencing our commitment to a major move I was still struggling to wrap my head around. We had just arrived here! Couldn’t we just… take a minute, before we dove in headfirst, and started accumulating stuff? There was a shouting match, and a fair amount of tears. I railed against the purchase of a cookie sheet (or any other household item, for that matter) until I had a chance to acclimate myself to this huge change we had made together.

Nick and I come from fairly different family backgrounds, which probably influenced our respective attitudes toward immediately settling into our new home. From mom’s house to dad’s house and college dorms to law school apartments, I’ve had no fewer than twenty addresses in my almost-thirty years. I’ve had many homes, but there’s no single physical residence that I look back on with a heightened sense of nostalgia. Nick, in contrast, lived in the same house for as long as he could remember—the house his family moved into when he was two years old—and spent most of his collegiate years in the “Farmhouse,” the old rural residence he shared with five roommates. As a result, he nests readily, while I take a bit more time to settle into my new surroundings.

If “home is where the heart is,” my heart, for better or worse, is scattered in pieces all over the damn country. Massachusetts, where I was born and raised and went to college. Washington, DC, where I landed when I moved away for the very first time and learned what it really meant to be homesick. Ohio, a state I chose to move to without so much as an exploratory visit, never expecting that I’d meet and marry an Ohioan and find myself tethered to the state for life. The Virgin Islands, where Nick and I moved on a leap of faith and have slowly built our grown-up lives.

We find ourselves using the word “home” pretty loosely these days. We’re traveling “home” to Boston over the holidays. We’re planning a trip “home” to Cleveland in a few months for a family wedding. And yes, each night we head “home” to our apartment here on St. Thomas. True, we don’t own the place—the nautical-themed décor is not anything we would have chosen ourselves, and the picture frames on the walls hold photos of strangers, rather than of our own family and friends. Gradually and subtly, though, we’ve made it feel like home. I eventually gave in and purchased the cookie sheet Nick wanted so badly, and even added a blender shortly thereafter. We’ve broken nearly every wine glass in the kitchen, and even established a junk drawer, stuffed with our takeout menus and old phone chargers—sure signs of making one’s self at home. Adding some of our own physical possessions to the mix has gone a long way toward making this place feel like ours, especially once we arranged to have a big box of our most important possessions—our books—shipped here. (Why is no one embroidering pillows that say, “Home is where the books are”?)

But there’s something else, something intangible and unintentional, that has made this place feel like home. In what seems like the blink of an eye, this has become the place where Nick and I have lived the longest. This is where we planned our wedding, spending hours upon hours cutting and folding and assembling all the paper products we had printed (on the printer we purchased, in a blatant violation of my own non-accumulation policy). This is where we did our premarital course, filling out workbooks and talking and crying and negotiating on the couch. This is the home we returned to, newly married and dazed. It’s where we exchanged anxious text messages the night my niece was born, feeling so much farther away than our sixteen hundred miles, popping a bottle of champagne in the wee hours of the morning when a photo finally popped up of a tiny face, tomato red and furious and perfect.

In this apartment, we’ve hosted dinner parties with new friends and had visits from old friends. We’ve decorated two Christmas trees and huddled on the couch through one tropical storm and many, many power outages. I’ve grown accustomed to the nighttime noises—my bedroom door creaking in the wind, frogs croaking outside my window, my neighbor on his cellphone on the street below—and stopped waking up Nick at fifteen minute intervals to ask if I’m safe, because I know I am.

These are the things I think about when I look around our apartment—not the unfamiliar faces on the walls and the cooking gadgets that don’t really belong to us, but the memories we’ve made and the home we’ve created inside these walls. We’ll move on from this apartment eventually, I know. Sometime in the near future we’ll sign a new lease for an unfurnished apartment, and finally unpack all those wedding presents that are waiting for us in storage, and hang photos of people we love on the walls. We’ll make new memories in that place and then, someday, move on again, once we’re finally ready to buy a house. For now, though, we’re happy in this place, at home and far from home all at once. It’s a pretty good place to be.

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