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On the Essence of Home

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It’s been two years since I’ve been home. I’ve always had a place to live, but it’s been two years since the place where I live has been my home. The strongest desire of my heart is to feel like I’m home. I’ve struggled to make the places where I’ve lived into homes, but was resisted by controlling people. Now I feel tired and depressed. I feel like there is no reason to care about anything.

For many people, home is where their parents live. I don’t feel this way about my mom’s house. The places where I’ve felt like I was home were places that I cleaned, decorated, furnished, and planted plants around. They were places where I had pets. They were safe places where bosses didn’t criticize, or inspect, and people didn’t rifle through my things. They were places that were shaped into my idea of beauty and comfort.

When I served in Iraq, my unit settled into some Iraqi buildings. I shared a room with three women that didn’t like me. They showed their contempt for me in a million little ways like hanging their wet clothes over my cot, going through my things and taking what they wanted, and being silent whenever I was in the room. Frequently, their guests would use my cot like a couch. They even went so far as to go through my dirty clothes and harass me about yeast on my underwear. I hated being in that room with them, so I took all my things outside and marked a spot on the sand and declared it “home.”

I paved my spot with a mosaic of broken tiles I’d found. I hung a piece of camouflage for shade and a ceiling. I hung chem-lights from my ceiling for light and beauty. I dug and replanted palm trees in my home. I found a square piece of concrete and moved it over to my cot for a night stand and seat. I felt like I lived in a garden.

This home had no walls, doors, or locks, but it was secure because my friends kept an eye on it for me when I was working or away. It was secure because of their watchful caring love.

There was another man who left his room for the same reasons I left mine. He also built a home, and when he had made it comfortable, dozens of other men moved out of the building and lived with him. There is something very refreshing about being in a home, especially when it has a homemade swamp-cooler and none of the other places to live have more than a fan.

When I was young, I remember trying to clean my mom’s house and finding that it got trashed immediately after I cleaned. I remember building a flower garden and making a fence of stone around it and my mom had a dump truck full of gravel dropped on it. I’ve found that people from the west coast and Montana don’t let other people make themselves at home. They are happy to let other people live with them, as long as they are uncomfortable, as long as there are no adornments. The only people who have ever let me garden, clean, decorate and make myself at home while living with them, are Southerners. Maybe this is a part of what “Southern Hospitality” is about, an intelligence about what home is, and a willingness to let people enjoy living in a place.

I’m homesick for the South.

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