PROSE by Hannah Ji BFAW '24
Home has always been that blue house on Sparrow. There’s nothing special about it, aside from the color, it’s just another cookie cutter house with the same trees lining the bottom of the driveway. The interior is much the same with the bathrooms in the same place as the house next door or the one across the street. But I know this house. I know that the tiled floor creaks when you enter my parents’ bathroom, and my brother’s bed hides stickers on the wall from when I used to share his room and decorated it. It’s where my family has settled after the turmoil of moving to a new country and creating a family. It’s not wholly unique but it’s entirely ours.
It wasn’t always that way, there isn’t some grand story of how our house was built by my great grandparents, it's as simple as we bought it. But as adults tend to do, my parents lived in many different places before living where we do now. My dad went from living in a glorified closet, to him and my mom together sharing an apartment, and a townhouse where my brother lived for the first few years of his life, before finally settling down near old friends and new family in the blue house. It’s hard to imagine the house that my parents owned before they moved to our current one. My mom has tried to describe it to me but all I can see is the halls of my house. Trying to imagine a real place but never actually seeing it is a difficult feat.
All I know of is a blue house that immediately greets you with a dining room filled with photos decorating shelves and walls, along with a classic wooden table completed with a piano for those truly high class dinners, a cramped kitchen that feels like it can barely contain four people for one meal, and a living room with scattered hay on the ground and a coffee table used as a home for items that don’t have anywhere else to go. I can’t even try to imagine the upstairs of my parent’s townhouse. If not an office you see first after climbing the stairs then what? And what about at the end of the hall, were there not two bedrooms, one bathed in shadows while the other shone brighter no matter the time of day? It was entirely incomprehensible to me.
When I was younger though, that incomprehensible place was my own house. I don’t know what caused such unhappiness. Maybe it was ungratefulness, or a strained relationship with my mother, or comparing my freedoms with those of my friends and finding myself with less. All I knew was that I didn’t want to be there. I stayed away for hours and loathed to come back even if it was for dinner. I loved traveling and staying in hotels and new places; I still do, but I no longer hate the end of a trip like I used to. My hatred of being home was so great that once, in the throes of emotions, I considered running away. I felt trapped among those white walls that I was desperate to do anything to be outside of them. As long as I was somewhere else, even if it was another house, I was happier. My home just didn’t feel like my home.
I had many other places to call home and I enjoyed them much more. I practically lived across the street, which is ironic since their house was the exact same but mirrored. But it wasn’t the same, because two of my best friends lived there and that made it different somehow. While there were similarities, it was markedly different in a myriad of ways. Where we had carpet on the first floor they had tile, where my parents’ office was, they had a bedroom for they had three kids instead of two. Their house was one of the few places that I could stay for hours, it was near and my parents knew their parents. They were practically family, I even called their grandma “Grammy”. I would stay till mealtime and come back afterwards or even wait for them to finish while I sat and chatted with them. We would then proceed to spend hours playing Halo goading each other and laughing at the antics we pulled. We also spent our time in another friend's house, he lived two houses down, and his house was made from a different cookie cutter. The rooms were in different places and his staircase had a landing. He had the largest playset in his backyard, and since it wasn't fenced in we ran unreservedly between the yards like it was an open field. We used our imaginations freely when we were outside, coming up with different scenarios and acting as our own characters. Many aliens were slain this way.
So we triangulated between our three houses, but most of our time was spent at the other two houses which had more room to play. But some days I watched enviously from my bedroom window as they played outside while I was contained inside for one reason or another. As I grew older, there was a strange reversal of trust. Instead of being able to stay out longer and go further, my parents tightened their grip. I was monitored closely through constant texts, endless phone calls and was given a stricter time frame to be home. The thing was that I was never grounded, not explicitly, but every time my parents commanded that I must stay home it sure felt like it. Their reasons would range from I had played too much that day already (how was that possible?) or it was too late for me for some reason, but not for my friends who were mostly younger than I was. I was Rapunzel, but no one came asking for me to let down my hair, and so I burned with rage- wishing my house would feel the flames.
The best times were when we went to the house of my aunt, who was really just a good college friend of my mom. Her daughter and I share a birthday, the same year, same day, same hospital as they like to say, so you can imagine we spent a lot of time with their family. They were a drive away so I could never go by my own volition, but there I finally felt connected to my family and their house felt like a home should. I felt comfortable and welcome, always asked if I wanted some water or some chips and when we stayed for dinner it was shared over laughter and endless chatter. It was a quaint little house, with a front yard that had an apple tree that never bore any real fruit while their backyard cultivated grapes that we could eat while lounging on a bench just under the vines. The interior though felt larger than ours. Whether this is true or because every little thing had a specific space to be, I’m not sure.
The inside was intriguing, they had what I thought were two living rooms, but I learned one was a sitting room, and this was our command center. As Spy 1 and Spy 2 we would spend our hours observing those who walked by, and when our shifts were done, we gossiped about the most serious and terrible things a 3rd grader could experience. Their stairs were also of interest to me as it came with a landing that had a small set of stairs that gave easy access to either the front or the back of the house. My friend and I usually blocked them as we occupied the space to play with our toys. We spent most of our time in the basement though. Unlike mine, theirs was finished and contained everything we could have ever wanted to play with. We would raid the closet for whatever we had our hearts set on and transformed the basement into our playground. The Wii also saw a lot of use as we played Wii Sports and purposely messed up when bowling but also trying hard to win at the sports we cared about.
This house is but a fading memory now, as they have moved into a grander place, and those hollow halls replace homey ones and so I return to the only place that stays.
Maybe it was the realization that my home may not always be in the same place, that cemented my feelings of wanting to be there more. Faced with the possibility of having to move, I was stunned. Moving was never a thing that could happen to me. It happened to my elementary school friends, my neighbors, and adults, but not me. It was like a movie, memories of my life flashed before my eyes, my newly rearranged bedroom, the crowded sink I knew so well, all of it to become someone else’s hurt more than I thought it would. I didn’t want to end up imagining my house like my parent’s old townhouse. I may not have wanted to be there for most hours of the day but at the end of it all, it was still the place that held everything that I cared about.
I have grown to love my blue house, truly and wholly, not in a tired or defeated type of way. The scare of a move made me realize nothing is permanent and that opened up Pandora's box. All of a sudden my cell transformed into a haven. My room became the place I wanted to be the most, I enjoyed the meals with my family, and liked to spend time crowded around the TV. To have a place that knew me as intimately as I knew it was a special feeling, after all only the walls knew of my past anguish. I found comfort in something that would never change. My friends may move away and the ones who stayed may become people I couldn’t recognize, at least my house would stand the test of time. But it didn’t. The sofas changed, the basement is finished, the bird playground is in the basement, I no longer have a TV in my room. I can barely remember what color my parent’s bedroom used to be or how empty the living room was without my guinea pig’s cage. It’s strange to watch somewhere you know transform into somewhere you don’t, because it still retains what makes it home but at the same time it’s changed. But at least those additions I was there for.
As college rolled around, my home began to feel foreign once more. I still ached to be there and whenever I return to it, it still feels like the place I belong, but mutated. I find my sense of belonging irrevocably skewed by the knowledge that I won’t be staying there. As much as I can come home, I can’t stay there. And so I continue to live in this transient place, as things about my original home begin to slip through the cracks and my idea of home splits between two places. Sometimes I forget that the sink is shorter in one place than the other, that hot water in one shower is only lukewarm in the other, and my food will get eaten if I do not explicitly stake my claim. I have begun to use the word ‘home’ interchangeably despite the fact that I’ve lived in my house for 18 years and this new place for a little over a year. Even when I’m home and I talk about my dorm, I say, “Home” which feels like a betrayal. So I begin to wonder if home will always be that place I knew or just the space I inhabit? I’ve had many homes but have only lived in one house. With each home, I’ve felt at ease and a desire to be there. So I don’t understand my confused feelings. They say home is where the heart is but if my heart lies in that blue house on Sparrow, why do I call another my home?