There’s no Place Like Home

Dorothy was right, there is no place like Home. For most, when you hear the word “Home” there is a strong feeling of nostalgia attached. Family is typically the main association and with that comes a sense of familiarity, security, love, trust and care.

When I think of Home, I remember baking cookies with my mom, throwing a baseball back and forth with my dad, completing homework at the kitchen  able and playing with my siblings and neighborhood friends.

When I was in school, I could not wait for the final bell to ring that meant I could go Home. Home was always the place I could be my most authentic self. At school, I was very quiet and shy. Though I was engaged in many school activities, I kept to myself and had only a few close friends. However, once Home, I had no reservations. Home was the place I felt most comfortable. If I felt excited, I could show it. If I needed to cry, I could let it out. There was no judgement or expectation behind those walls. My family and I, shared our most raw and honest versions of ourselves.

My Home was where my heart was. I carried Home with me as I formed my individuality there.

For me, my image of Home is a happy one. For others it can be a painful. But no matter the personal experience, the expectation for a Home comprises a sense of ownership, identity and self-hood. It was not until I went away to college that I realized what Home really was for me. As a teenager I craved small freedoms and new experiences; but once I received them I began to rethink what I wanted. Transitioning to a new living accommodation – a dorm suite that lacks privacy and familiarity – was especially difficult. A wonderful and trans-formative experience for many students, college living begins when you receive the keys to your “Home” on campus: a 15 x 15 space equipped with a complete stranger. Over the next nine months, I learned to make the best of my situation and space. With a roommate, you can find either a friend or a foe in your dorm room. In my college living experiences with roommates, I found that my dorm could either be a space I wanted to be in one or one I could not be away from enough. On campus, the disconnect between ‘housing’ and ‘home’ really came into focus.

I experienced homesickness to its fullest extent during my first few years of college. “Homesick” is a term many college students are accustomed to. By definition, the word homesick describes “a longing for one’s home during a period of absence from it.” With calls home to Mom and Dad, once, twice or three times a day, I counted down the days to vacation and longed for a comfortable night’s sleep in a bed that did not feel like a nail coffin.

Over time I became used to the dorm, the space, the roommates. I learned to live within those quarters without letting it take away from my overall great college experience. Nevertheless, I never considered my college room ‘Home’ because it lacked everything that made my family’s house the place I felt most comfortable, accepted and loved. I got past dorm life and now rent an apartment of my own. And, while I do love my apartment and the space and privacy it provides, it still does not have the same warmth and comfort I was lucky enough to have growing up. I understand it is a part of life to outgrow my Home, even if my family reassures me that I am always welcome to come back. The next course in life lies in finding what makes my house feel like a Home again. I know it can never the same, but I can learn to love this new place just as much. No Home is perfect, but those small fallibilities make each Home and family unit unique. At the end of the day, I see Home nurturing positive outcomes in my physical and mental health, education, employment, and relationships.

Home Matters because it is the place where I spend most of my time outside work or school. Home matters because it is the place that allows me to be the most honest version of myself. Home is where we start from. It is where we grow and thrive. But most importantly, home matters because it is the place you can be yourself with no inhibitions, to experience and share love, and be loved just for that.

Emily Humphrey is a 2018 SUNY New Paltz graduate majoring in Sociology and recently moved to a new apartment to call Home.

A Bag of Cans

I picked up Janet hitchhiking this morning. The first time, I’d driven past her at 55mph down Route 9W. Thumb out, cigarette dangling from her lip, she stood shivering close to the metal guardrail — it was 46 degrees. She looked like she had slept in the woods – no doubt, she had. 

I drove past thinking, “Where is she going? Wonder what’s her story?” She looked worried, as if she was late for work, or that she wished she had a job to be late to. I found that to be the case. She lost her job, and her apartment, after breaking an ankle. I didn’t ask how, but from the smell of the bag of cans she lugged with her, I envisioned a cadre of circumstances: a miscalculated stride off the curb, stepping into a groundhog hole, or simply not paying attention. I’d done those  myself over a lifetime, some with, and without, the help of a bag of cans.

After a mile, I turned around. I half hoped she’d be there, half-hoped someone else had stopped for her. Flashers blinking, I pulled over gradually, giving the 18-wheeler behind me time to decelerate and pass. I stopped. She opened the door and thanked me. She wondered why I had my flashers on, what was my story: was I running out of gas? Or was I actually stopping to pick her up? She passed in her cooler, a bag of cans, and climbed in. She’d missed her bus by three minutes. Three minutes, she said, she couldn’t catch a break. She thanked me again, and told me I was one of her “Turnaround Girls.”

Trembling, she clutched a makeshift cup from an apple juice can, sharp aluminum edges folded over made for softer sipping. She cradled a second cigarette in icy-bent fingers, blue with cold and chipped nail polish. Ten minutes in the highway-side wind coupled with a night in morning dew-lined tent had frozen her to the bone. She huddled on the passenger side. I cranked the seat heater and blower motor; she defrosted.

In 5 minutes 23 seconds, from roadside to her destination, I got a glimpse of her story. I’d heard parts of this before, from people in need, some homeless, living in the woods, couch-surfing at a friend’s, tent-dwellers and those in-between on their way to permanent housing. They’d been to my office asking for help, help out, help up, any help.

Why the woods I asked? To save money for an apartment, she said, it was the only way to get ahead. But someone stole her pocketbook yesterday with $400 in savings. A friend had found her purse contents, but not before she’d cancelled her bank account; the bank charged her $30 to do so. She was back to zero. Luckily, she bought a tent two days ago; the Catskill cold had set in this week and she needed protection, but still needed a tarp. She’d been out there 10 days. She couldn’t afford a tarp. She cried, reset.

Janet would charge her phone at the convenience store. Her phone, a needed expense was her lifeline to work prospects, a human connection, a promise of another life, a home. Her battery barely holds a charge longer than an hour, she said,  but she’d make it work. She’d recycle the bag of cans she’d collected while walking and spend a dollar on coffee. She’d warm up, cry, recharge, reset.

Her warm clothes stored 30 miles away, her Kingston apartment belongings in limbo; she had no way to get to her stuff, to move them, to store them. She cried through our brief talk about support services, how a system tough to navigate was cruel and offered little help and no hope. She couldn’t access the support she needed. Anger reset her composure. She was not letting this get her down. Her sporadic surveying gig in Tug Hill provided inconsistent income that disqualified her from most services. We talked about 12-step meetings, asking for help, holding onto hope that things will turn around. She thanked me again and closed the door.

I crossed the street to get my car serviced. In the back seat, I found the bag of cans. Shame-filled, I clutched the stale-beer promise of 5-cents-on-redemption. I cringed, wondering what the Service Desk employee thought. Did he think that clanking smelly bag of cans was mine? Disgusted, I wanted to toss the bag of cans, ditch them inside the warm waiting room recycling bin, or maybe stash them out-of-sight outside under a dealership bush. Would this bag of cans really matter to Janet if it weren’t returned? What if it were her clothes bag and phone? I cried inside, reset.

I climbed into the warm shuttle van and asked the driver for two stops. Walking into the convenience store, I found Janet charging her phone, making small talk with another semi-defrosted companion. I gave her a bag of cans. She smiled, thanked me, hugged me. “It’s gonna get better, right?” Yes, I said. And walked out.

In the passenger seat, I cried, reset, and went to work… for housing for those most in need.

Do you want to share your perspective? Email Tara Collins with your story.