Is home a place?
Years ago, I encountered on PostSecret.com a postcard that showed what looked like the Kansas farmhouse from Wizard of Oz with a storm cloud over it and the taped-on words, “Ever since leaving for college, I’ve lost my sense of home.”
At eighteen, I felt the same way. I went to Clemson University in 1995, some eight hours away from my hometown of Herndon in Northern Virginia. My parents divorced, our house was sold, my sisters went one to college and one to a different neighborhood, and my father moved to Ukraine. Separated, scattered, alone, I wondered what “home” was left.
I chose Clemson because my maternal grandparents, Nana and Papa, had season tickets to football there and I would get to see them nearly every weekend.
As my father said when making the case for Clemson, “Kasie, your grandparents are old and they’re going to die. You don’t want to miss this time with them.” I was lucky, they lived another 20 years after I went to Clemson, but he was right about one thing: I didn’t want to miss that precious time with them.
Home in my twenties became South Carolina, specifically Clemson University, the 1120 Rutledge Avenue, Florence, home of Nana and Papa, and Charlie Whitener who married me despite some of the best advice I’ve ever given – at the alter nonetheless – “We don’t have to do this.”
Home is about being yourself. Being accepted. Being loved. And in finding love, I found home.
In After December, Brian is experiencing the displacement that a lot of college students feel when they are caught between two worlds. He loves his parents and his friends, who are “home” to him. He hates Herndon, which he thinks of as a kind of inauthentic rat race teeming with pressure. He likes being in San Francisco but doesn’t yet think of it as home.
The ultimate displacement for Generation X came on 9/11. If divorce splitting our families into two households, and more of us going “away” to college hadn’t completely disfigured our sense of home, a terrorist attack on American soil and the Cold War-era, Reagan’s LA Olympics, John Williams-themed patriotism that surged in response probably finished the job.
Brian’s experience with 9/11 is one of a million “Where were you when the world stopped turning?” stories. The day plays a crucial role in Before Pittsburgh, Brian’s second novel that chronicles the three years elapsed between the last two chapters of After December. (Planned release is July 2021.)
Home is likely to be an emergent theme in my work as a GenX author. I suspect my generation has struggled with “home” more than our parents and certainly more than our grandparents ever did. Nana and Papa lived in the same town for 70 years. I’m on my sixth town in just 20.
If home is a place, it’s a place in my memory. A place to which I can never return. But I’m okay with that.
I prefer to think of home as wherever I find love and acceptance. And wherever I am free to give that love and acceptance in return.
“You Can’t Go Home Again” was a presentation for the Fairfax County Library given June 11, 2020.