Columnist Stephanie Self  grapples with the meaning of “home” and how it affects people once they have moved away from the places they grew up in. Growing up in two households and moving consistently since high school has created a unique perspective for her. Photo illustration by Alex Knaak/Nevada Sagebrush.

by Stephanie Self

I haven’t felt like I had a place to call “home” in several years. When I say “home,” I mean a place to which you can always retreat and is always going to be around, probably with the same people living there as well.

Some people are lucky enough to have families who have lived in a single home for most of their lives. I am not such a person, though. It was always a flimsy concept to me, but it has changed even more drastically since I left high school.

For me, home is just wherever I’m living at the time. That may seem obvious, but I realize that a lot of people my age might still refer to their family’s house as their “home.” The problem is that neither of my parents live in houses that I have ever felt comfortable referring to as “home.”

My parents have been divorced since I was 2 years old, so I essentially grew up in two different households from that time until I was 18 years old. Splitting time between two houses each week already instilled a sense of instability throughout my life, and on top of that, my dad moved three times within that period.

It could have been worse, but it was enough to shape my philosophies of what a “home” is.

Then, I moved to Seattle (from Reno) a couple months after I graduated high school. Within those couple months following my graduation, my mom moved to Las Vegas and my dad moved into a new house with his fiance and my younger half-sister. By this time, I was set on making Seattle a home for myself because wherever my family members lived was not a familiar space; there was my mom’s house in a city where I’d never lived and my dad’s house, which I had stepped into once. My mom wanted her house in Las Vegas to become a new home base for our family, but it couldn’t be.

Flash forward six months later, I moved back to Reno (for reasons beyond the scope of this column) and had to move back in with my dad… and share a room with my 10-year-old sister. Talk about awkward. As if having to return from a stint away from Reno during which I was trying to conquer the real world wasn’t embarrassing enough, coming back only to share a room with a child was pretty humiliating.

I had a place to put my stuff, but no space to call my own. I had a bed to sleep in, but it was basically a mattress on a floor for a while (until it became a bunk bed. High five? High five? No? OK…). I had a house to stay at, but it was not a house I liked or wanted to be in. It was an extended visit that had me feeling like I was a perpetual guest in a place I wanted to call home.

Since then, I have moved at least once a year to some new dwelling. That makes six times in about five years.

I’m used to moving around. Even if you aren’t, though, it is strange to move away from the place (or places) you grew up and come back to something totally unfamiliar. Visiting family would typically make anyone feel “at home,” but I was often grasping desperately for some sense of familiarity. It was like sticking my hand in one of those holes in walls at children’s museums that have creepy materials in them. Is it furry? Is it scaly? Is it prickly? I didn’t have a damn clue because I kept wanting it to be something that it wasn’t.

None of these new places were my “home” and I certainly haven’t had a “home” in the last five years. The few bedrooms I had as a child and in my teen years are long gone.

I know what you’re thinking I’m going to say: “Home is where the heart is.” Slow down, y’all; this ain’t no Natalie Portman movie. My heart is certainly with my family (wherever they reside), but those places will never be my home.

I’ve now resigned to the fact that (at least for a while) “home” will have to be a state of mind, and feeling like a house guest is something most of us will have to be comfortable with once we journey to create our own homes.

Stephanie Self studies English. She can be reached at self@nevadasagebrush.com.