Two weeks ago, I was sprawled over a horribly uncomfortable black chair in some terminal of Newark Liberty International Airport, ignoring the malevolent glances of travelers stepping over my legs and waiting for the harassed United Airlines desk attendant to tell me just how delayed my flight was going to be. There is an almost religious solemnity to being in transit, a solitary passage between worlds so familiar it starts to feel ritualistic. Perhaps the feeling of calm, surreal ceremony comes from my absolute certainty as to what lies at the end of the next several hours. I don’t know what time I will land, but I know that when I do, home is just a phone call and a 15-minute drive away.
“Where are you going for break?”
“I’m going home.” The second sentence is formulaic. It rolls off mechanically in response to the earlier question, a sign of how deeply it is engrained in our psyche: home. The word reverberates with profound, unshakeable security. Home is where we left our family, our pets, our real bed.
But this past break, I found myself slipping uncertainly on the word. Instead of respecting the sacrosanct nature of “home” as a term relating to the house and neighborhood I grew up in, I used it repeatedly and inadvertently to designate my college dorm room. Every time I told a story about campus life, “home” took on the automatic default of Holder Hall. When I began to describe my post-break workload to my parents, I was jolted out of my train of thought by my own first words: “When I get home…”
The definition of home changes throughout our lives. This is natural and healthy. A 40-year-old who still identifies his parents’ house as home is probably not in a good place financially or psychologically.
On the other hand, I haven’t exclusively shifted my sense of belonging from one residence to another. Instead I’m torn in two, oscillating between a college community where I spend most of my year and the Midwestern town where I’ve spent most of my life. When I fill out forms and paperwork, the line asking for my address now demands careful evaluation of the form’s purpose and the strength of my attachment to each respective place of residence.
Home has become an ambiguous word. Today, it means change and renovation just as much as it means refuge and familiarity. Home is the setting of our childhood, a house full of memories we can return to at various points throughout the year, but it is also a squashed campus dorm room that we possess for fewer than 12 months, leaving no other mark on it than whatever small-scale vandalism we choose to inflict on the scarred wood of the doorframe.
Our relationship with home is another puzzle piece to that iconic enigma that our society likes to call the “college experience.” College students are in limbo; they do not quite belong to their parents’ house anymore, but their campus abode is not permanent or real enough to merit a transfer of home identification. My latest flight from college to Columbus was as monotonous as all the other long, wasteful swaths of time I’ve spent in transit over the last two years, but this time I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had no real sense of where I was heading or coming from. I left home to go home.
College often feels surreal and out of touch with the rest of the world — Princeton perhaps more than most. The consciousness of having two homes grows on most students as they go through college, and it somehow diminishes the certainty of having either. At some point or another, most of us will undergo the unpleasant experience of being psychologically homeless. When the strangeness hits, the best treatment is a significant amount of downtime with your closest friends — the ones whose friendship will last longer than your current home address.
Tehila Wenger is a sophomore from Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reader Comments (0)
No comments yet. Be the first to post your opinion on this article.