Defining “home”

A Facebook friend — also an American living abroad — recently wrote a lovely and insightful post that started with the question, “What does home mean to you? Can I go home to visit my parents in the US and come home to Switzerland? Are both places home or is neither?”

It made me recall how we pondered this same question back in 2012, as we were in the middle of moving to Germany (at least, so much as one can “ponder” while being as incredibly task-loaded and emotionally drained and sleep-deprived as we were).

We had been living in Pasadena for the past eight years but no longer had a dwelling there — nor anywhere else, having ended one lease and not yet started the next. Perhaps more significantly, we had wrapped up (as best we could) and bid farewell to to our lives there — having managed to squeeze redemption of L.A. restaurant gift cards and scheduling of previously paid-for SoCal scuba trips and a few other “one last”s in between all the requisite packing and planning and paperwork.

Our possessions had been scattered — some sold or given away (hopefully to “good homes”, as much as that matters to a sofa or a dresser), or entrusted to family members in various cities across the U.S. (as was the case for our beloved cars and motorcycles), or loaded onto palettes that were going to be taking a ship across the Atlantic (to be seen again in a month or two).

We spent a couple nights at our respective parents’ and other family members’ homes during our cross-country “trip” — more of a “forced march”, really, albeit by car — toward the East Coast, from which we’d be flying out . . . but of course we were just passing through, and in a hurry at that.

Then, a few days before we boarded our one-way flight, I had to take whirlwind trip back to California so I could be trained on the positron system that I would be working on for my postdoc (which hadn’t been ready in time for me to do that back when, coincidentally, we lived nearby). As my flight approached LAX, I was struck by how profoundly odd it was to be descending toward all the familiar lights and landmarks, yet not be going “home”.

It was around that time that my husband coined the phrase, “Home is where the cat eats.” That’s more or less been our go-to definition ever since.

Footnote 1: Given that mindset, it is of course not at all surprising that after Xerion’s death, our apartment was cat-less for only three months before we adopted her successors (a sibling pair — one tuxedo cat, one tortie — whom the animal shelter insisted be adopted together).

Footnote 2: Closely related, I’ve never been comfortable using the term “expat” to describe myself. Wikipedia tells me that “the term often refers to professionals, skilled workers, or artists taking positions outside their home country” — which to means seems a bit incompatible with how much attachment I like to cultivate to the place I am living. That *is* home, right now.

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