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Home: A Mosaic
Home. Home for me is always associated with the plane ride back to the states, the intermediary between the two places I love most in world. Home is the feeling of leaving a little piece of me back on that island where my family lives. It’s the feeling of me going back to showers with water pressure and temperatures under 90 degrees, to English and to hand shaking, not cheek kissing. Home hits me hard as I sit on the rigid airplane chair imagining the fresh bagels waiting on my kitchen table, left by my grandmother, my worried and anxious grandmother, the green, green, green, of the trees and of the grass I had missed for a month in that land of stifling tan, the little boys playing four square and embodying the epitome of childhood while their mothers gossip and drink seltzer religiously. And when I finally reach that white house with blue shutters, the heaviness of jet lag pressing down on my back, I remember the little piece of me I left behind, the little piece that will be lying abandoned on the ground, until I return to Cyprus and pick it back up and feel whole once again, if only for one month.
Home, for me, is a clash of two cultures, both of which I would be lost without.
There is no clear-cut definition of home. Home is multi-faceted concept, and it can certainly be more of an idea than of an actual place. A home stretches far beyond a house, for a home is not concrete. Home is a state of mind.
The purpose of a house, as most know, is shelter. Shelter from rain, heat, cold, lightening, and sometimes, people. Houses made of stucco, wood, brick, hay: without that intangible substance that makes a house a home, they are the same. A house can have all the original artwork and European imported furniture in the entire world, but that will not make it home. A house and a home can easily be distinguished from one another from the second a person enters it. A home is heavy with comfort, the smell of love wafting in the air. There is an energy that connects every object and every living thing to each other, a sort of electricity that pulses in time with the hearts of the people living inside. People go home, they don’t go house.
It’s really no secret. What makes a home is the people inside. The living, breathing, perfectly flawed people, their interconnecting relationships, their outlooks on life, their temperaments, and their humanity. It is the love that flows between the people that makes the energy, the comfort, and the house a living, breathing, home.
Home is where a person goes to feel whole again, whether that place is where they grew up or it is a place they had seen yesterday for the first time. It is not necessarily a house, however. Home can be anywhere, anyone, anytime. Home may have been with you since day one, or it took you years to find your missing piece. Nonetheless, it is where people go to bask in what was and what will be. A place to remember and to dream. A place to live the rest of one’s life. Most of all, though, home is a place to be complete.
Homes are never perfect—nothing is every perfect. Sometimes, getting the hell out of home seems like the only option for sanity and survival. But the thing about home is that it will always take you back. The front door, whether figurative or literal, will always be wide open.
Once my father came to the United States, his idea of home was shattered, split, mixed up, and changed forever. My father came to America with suitcases full of clothes and hope, an admission into St. John’s College, and one thousand dollars in his pocket. But, life, as we all know, is not something that can be predicted. And so my father decided to abandon his previous plan of an American education and then a quick, easy return to Cyprus, his homeland, when he met the woman who would later become my mother. My father certainly did not choose the easy route in replacing one home for another and leaving his entire family shocked and heartbroken. After my father decided to stay, get married, settle down in—gasp—the States, his conventional idea of home was lost in the abyss of memories.
For my father, home is where the people he loves live, where memories upon memories take shelter. The place where he feels safe and content. My father lives in New Jersey with my sister, my mom, and me, but I often doubt if it will ever be his true, or only, home. The home of his childhood is in a village 5,000 miles away, a place where his family misses him deeply and waits anxiously to hear his voice. Sets of memories thrive in both settings, different but parallel. The aspects of his childhood, many of which dictated his adulthood, all took root in Cyprus. But New Jersey holds the memories of his daughters’ childhoods and of fatherhood. Neither one can claim superiority.
Sometimes I feel guilty for living so far away, like I was the one who stole him and made him stay in a place where only half of his being can call home. It’s not that he’s unhappy, I don’t think. It’s just that he’s complete in Cyprus, that tiny island off the coast of Greece. I often wonder what my father truly thinks home is. If he ever looks at my mom, my sister, and me with contempt for our inability to leave New Jersey, or if he’s grateful my mom rescued him from becoming the typical hairy, grumpy man he might have become had he stayed in his homeland.
My father raises a question about the nature of home itself. Is it possible for a person to have multiple homes? For a person to love two places equally? The idea of home can be twisted and contorted to fit any person’s situation. Home is not rigid.
Tragedy had always happened to people I did not know. I had seen the death tolls rise, the footage of plague play out of television, the convoys of refugees fleeing from everything they consider familiar. As I watched, I felt terrible for all those people displaced, wandering, dead, and dying. I felt guilty, but the feeling passed and I changed the channel. I cannot tell a lie—they were still only numbers to me. Numbers I felt sorry for, numbers whose families I felt sorry for, but only numbers. Like most things, it is only possible to truly understand when you see something affect you or the people you love.
My best family friends in the entire world were also my neighbors since I was basically a fetus. We played dress up together, we spied on our parents together, we tackled each other; to say the least, we grew up together. I remember spending every New Year’s Eve together, feeling our hearts swell with hope and apprehension for the year to come as the ball in Times Square plunged to the ground. I remember eating homemade pizzas and laughing about our teachers’ quirky habits. We transformed from innocent children to awkward preteens before we could realize the time had passed. When I heard they were moving, and when they actually moved, I was a sobbing, hysterical, despondent wreck.
“We’ll visit you,” we told them in an attempt to ease the pain.
“I’ve always wanted to see New Orleans,” I added.
They left in a blur, leaving only scattered memories behind.
My family and I visited them in Louisiana five months before it happened. They were happy, I think. Their house was beautiful and big, one much nicer than they could have dreamed of having in Jersey. They were stable financially, for once. It was the first time I could ever remember that their family was heading in the right direction. My friends were acclimated to the school, making friends, trying to adjust to sudden change.
Tragedy has a way of coming at the wrong time for everyone, since tragedy never comes at the right time.
This time, tragedy came in the form of torrential rain, wind, torn-down houses, lack of governmental action, and scattered dreams. August 9, 2005, a day of an awful natural disaster, tearing people away from their homes and destroying one of the most vibrant cities in the United States. And also dislocating my best family friends in the entire world.
They left the day before after listening to the warnings on the news. They grabbed what they needed and piled all six of them into their minivan, driving until they were clear from the reaches of Katrina. They drove and drove and drove, all the way to a motel in Florida. Meanwhile, their house was completely destroyed. Except for their trampoline, which was left untouched.
In the beginning, home for them was snatched away because of financial trouble. And when they finally were adjusted to their new house, when it was almost home, it was taken away because of something completely out of their control.
My friends now live in Florida, and they visited us this summer. They often face visiting their first, and most beloved, home with dread. They think I do not notice their reactions to their old town, but I do. I can almost feel the tangy taste of bittersweet rise up in their mouths as they look at onto the park they used to play soccer. It’s difficult coming back and seeing what you lost—what you can never have—right in front of your eyes, seeing everything you left behind and that you cannot get back.
It’s difficult seeing home but not being able to call it home anymore.
I have lived in Radburn, a planned community in northern New Jersey, my entire life. Radburn, with its cozy houses facing onto a park. Radburn, with its friendly neighbors and sense of community. As a child, no where beats growing up in Radburn.
Home is childhood summers in Radburn. Me and the other neighborhood kids would burst out of our slightly identical houses, doused in bug spray by our overprotective mothers but not caring about mosquitoes. We only cared about the majestic sight that lay in front of us. We held our jars, little holes poked through the top, close to us as we stared in awe at the glimmering, floating, moving lights.
If only every night could be like this, we think but dare not say as we set out, hands flailing, trying to grasp the lightning bus that are only visible for a fleeting second. The sound of laughter, of jar tops squeaking open, of childhood whooshing by, of our innocence. We were firegly machines, hungry to capture as much of the beauty of the night as we could. We wanted them forever in our littler glass jars, a little memory of a childhood summer. The best kind of summer.
Home is made out of fireflies and the insignificant memories that mean so much.