I have discovered something new about myself. Once I get further away from my home than walking distance, I start feeling unsafe.
I’m currently in Beijing, which forces me to redefine my concept of ‘home’ slightly. Right now, I suppose it refers to the apartment at the university where I’m staying with my father. But in a certain sense of the word, I feel homeless. I will be moving out of my parents’ home once I return from Beijing in October – a home that my parents are currently selling. I am, of course, not truly homeless. My best friend is waiting with an apartment for us to share, and even if by some freak accident it should burn to the ground or be destroyed by Godzilla or our moving plans otherwise thwarted, my parents’ new house will have a guestroom for me. I’ll always have a bed to sleep in. But a home – I feel less certain on that point.
My aforementioned friend seems to have little qualms about moving. “Home is just where I keep my stuff,” she’s told me, paraphrasing a well-known saying. I, however, am much more distressed. All Summer, I have been caressing the walls of the apartment I grew up in, taking deep breaths to preserve the smell (it saddens me to say that I cannot now recall what it smells like – it’s too much of a ‘default’ smell, a smell of ‘me’, but I suppose it soon won’t be anymore). The process of tidying up and throwing out and doing practical, moving-preparing things has been an endless cause of stress and discontent for me. The moving boxes that cluttered my room the last week before I left completely drained me of energy. It’s time and I’m ready to move out; I’ve reached that level of maturity and gotten to that stage of my life. I’m excited about it, too, and confident that I’ll be fine on my own. And yet it feels like a part of me is dying.
Logically, there should be no problem. My home used to be the apartment shared with my parents; right now it’s in Beijing, and soon it will be in a very lovely three-room apartment with my friend. But moving, in several senses of the word, has caused me to reflect on the concept of homes. What is it about them that makes me feel like I have none? I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s about comfort.
Comfort is something that’s achieved with difficulty for me. For example, I dislike sleeping with people in the same room, and the task is made near impossible if they happen to be people I’m not close to – and it takes me quite a while to get close to them. Likewise with places: I’ve always spent most of my time at home, recharging, because being anywhere else is simply draining my energy. Even places I’ve gone to daily for several years. I don’t need a whole hand to count the number of places I feel comfortable enough in to spend an entire day without negative effects. One of those places is my parents’ apartment – which is being sold and which I have effectively moved out of now, leaving it behind. Time is the issue here: I will eventually feel at home in my new apartment, but I’m worried about how long it might take. I certainly don’t feel quite at home here in Beijing after two weeks, although knowing that my stay is temporary might affect that. And so, I have the nagging feeling of homelessness.
Which brings my back to my opening sentence. Why is homelessness such a scary sensation, despite the fact that I know it’s temporary and unlike actually being homeless has no consequences that could plausibly kill me? Why can’t I feel comfortable anywhere else? Perhaps the answer is as simple as my being overly sensitive to things like noise and changes in routine, but a quote I stumbled upon opens up the question a bit:
[P]laces like homes can trigger self-reflection, thoughts about who someone is or used to be or who they might become.
Maybe it’s the need for this – knowing who I am and being able to reflect on that. As implied before, I’m moving in several senses of the word, not just geographically. Soon I’ll be entering (or trying to at least) the workforce, and then I will start university. I’ll be on equal standing with the only other person in my household, with a lot more responsibilities than so far. I’m becoming a real adult. This is confusing. So I desire some kind of steady ground to plant my feet on while figuring out what all this means.
Perhaps I will manage to hold on until I feel at home again – or perhaps I will find this steady ground in something else. Time will tell. More on that once I discover it.