What is home? Well, for me, the answer is not simple.
San Francisco has been my full-time home since I was 19. That's when I stopped spending the summer at my parent's house, that's when I emptied out my closet there, and that's when I started paying utilities in my name at my apartment. But, I have to confess I've never gotten around to changing the address on my driver's license or passport. Until recently, I used my parent's address for any important mail.
Valley Center, a small, rural community in San Diego's North County, is where my parents live and where I spent sophomore, junior and senior year of high school. It's not where I took my first steps, or learned to ride a bike, or had my first kiss. It's not where we got our first cat, or dog, or fish, or bird. It's not where I had my first big, teenage fight with my parents, and it doesn't house my childhood bedroom, but it is a place that shaped me.
It is where I first figured out how to get along with, and even be friends with, my mom. It's where I parked my first car, and got picked up for prom. It's full of memories and ghosts of who I used to be. It's where I learned some hard truths, grieved for a friend, and survived a broken heart. It's home in the sense that my mom and dad live there with our only surviving pet from childhood--a 15-year-old former stray cat. My first cat and our first family dog are lovingly buried under a fragrant citrus tree. The other two pets, a dog and cat, are from when I was in high school. They've grown up just like my sister and I have. They're members of the family, and contribute to home.
Valley Center itself also contributes to the feeling of home. It's a strange, detached, faraway place. It's beautiful and dangerous, and getting less rural every time I visit. There are new stop lights, new planned developments, and a new grocery store. The drought has forced farmers to stump their avocado and citrus trees, which has changed the entire look of the place. Some roads have been widened, and some of the wildness has been chased off. There's cell phone and radio reception where there used to just be static. Even here, things do not stand still. The world is not static.
The winding country roads, hairpin turns, and hills are still there. At night, the darkness can be encompassing and quiet unnerving. Coyotes howl, owls hoot, roosters crow, and the air is clear. This part of home means freedom and open spaces. Valley Center holds beauty and danger together. Roadside memorials for friends that died still dot the roads. Streets lack signs. The mailman drives an unmarked off-road-ready Jeep.
Home means eating amazing food, sitting on the sunny deck, and driving too fast. It means knowing people when you stop at the gas station (and knowing that 1/4 of a tank of gas won't get you home and back into 'town', so you'd better fill up). It means taking the back roads, and taking shortcuts, and knowing that sometimes urban (or rural) legends can be true.
This stands in direct contrast to my home in San Francisco. In The City, it's never quiet. You're never alone. There's no true darkness, there's always someone else out, and space is a premium.
The dichotomy these two opposing views of home create is astounding. How can two places so different hold equal places within my heart? How can my soul feel so at home in both?
The true answer is people. Home really is where your heart is. My heart will forever be where my parents are, but I've also shaped a life for myself here, in The City. My boyfriend's presence makes our apartment home. The memories we've shared their with friends, roommates, and each other make it a special place. We've cooked amazing meals together, had too much to drink, sat on the rooftop and looked at The City all night, and we've fallen in love here. We've spent years together exploring The City. We've gone through excruciatingly difficult times, but have somehow managed to survive, and be happier and stronger for it. The City has shaped us as individuals and as a couple. The City is our home.