This year, home has been a fluid concept.
I wasn't always convinced that "home" existed for me. I didn't own furniture. My art wasn't lovingly hung on any walls, there were no touches of Taylor in a space, and I didn't have that blissful pang of nostalgia for any place or any room. My parents divorced when I was a teen, so goodness knows neither of their houses feel like home.
Each space I inhabited abroad, whether it was our pretty studio in Buenos Aires or our eensie weensie flat with the great view in London, was temporary. I'd unpack my capsule wardrobe (that I grew to despise on a visceral level) and try to add my own little touches to the place I didn't choose.
It was never mine. It was never home.
And yet, I never pined for Durham. I felt homesick for familiarity and for health, but never for place.
I didn't miss Durham because I needed to leave, I think. I needed to find myself, fully knowing how vomit-inducing that sounds. I needed that insufferable millennial eat-pray-love shit. And so, even through the hard, I didn't miss my home.
In fact, I didn't realize how strong the power of "home" is.
Because I've always thought of "home" as a specific building.
In childhood, it was the cute little ranch on Ridgefield Road. Dean Smith's first house in Chapel Hill, and also mine. Last time I drove past it, two years ago, the mailbox hadn't changed. My mom painted that mailbox in the style of Mary Englebright in 1999. Mom's purple flowers, framing the carefully painted street number, reign on.
Later, after my parents divorced, it was the crappy run-down glorified shack that Dad and I shared on Carol St. Man, that was a completely terrible house, and man, I loved living there with my pops.
After college, it was the pretty townhouse on Grapevine Trail, covered in vines. I'd always wanted to live in a house covered in vines. My then-husband and I put our hearts into the townhouse on Grapevine and made it ours. It was full of love and full of memories. Walking into the front door would fill me with a huge sense of belonging, of comfort. Until he left, and the building's spell was broken.
That's when home stopped being a building.
That's when I started floundering.
That's when it was clear that I had to leave Durham.
When deep roots are unceremoniously hacked apart, what else can you do? I tried to stay, to rebuild in the same place. And then I found I couldn't, and I left in the biggest way possible. I tried to rebuild around the world.
Both taught me a lot.
First: that home isn't fluid, not really, not for me. I can't feel at home everywhere. I'm not sure I can feel at home anywhere that isn't Durham, actually.
"Not sure" being the operative phrase. Perhaps I haven't stayed in a place long enough to try. Granted, I haven't liked a place enough to stay and give it a real shot. I'm trying with New York. I'm giving New York a real shot.
I kind of hate New York. I also might kind of like New York. Shit, I don't know. But I'm giving it a real shot.
I have no idea if it'll work. Right now, I project that I'll grow to enjoy living in New York, but that Manhattan will never be part of my identity. It won't feel like home.
Second: home isn't a building. It's not an apartment with my carefully curated art. It's not the smells of my go-to dishes, pouring from the stove. It's not the bedroom with layered textures or the reading corner with a yellow chair and paper lantern.
It's an entire city.
It's the touch of grit that comes with a city built from tobacco warehouses. It's the slight hint of a southern accent that might be rare, but doesn't catch you off guard. It's the smiles that are given easily, to stranger or friend. It's the open highway and the mountains and the ocean and even the girls in their Lily Pulitzer and Wayfarers and Jack Rogers, sporting looks you couldn't pay me to wear.
It's the damn forest that is our entire region, evident to all who fly into RDU. There are so many trees here, visitors say. Yes, we say proudly, yes there are.
Maybe it's familiarity. Maybe it's nostalgia. Maybe it's "roots."
Whatever it is, it's home. Durham is home. That, perhaps, should be obvious, but it took flying around the world for me to realize the significance.
I love Durham more than I can say.
But I can't live in Durham. It's like a breakup that I'm not quite over. For my sanity, for my own personal growth, I can't live here. Not right now.
Remote Year is problematic, but I signed up for a reason.
I didn't sign up for easy, and I didn't sign up for my comfort zone. I just graduated out of that specific challenge... but it doesn't mean I'm ready to go back.
Part of me wants to say "screw it" and come back home. That would feel great.. for a year. And then I'd get itchy feet again.
When I come back to Durham, I don't want it to be because I'm exhausted. I don't want to come home out of need, looking for sanity in the place that brings me comfort. I don't want to greet it as a desperate ex, sobbing and begging for the city to take me back.
I want to come back to Durham as an old friend, with a hug and a grin and a satisfied nod. Knowing we've both grown, both ready for a new iteration of something with each other.
That's when I'll move back home.
God knows I'm not there yet.
Images of home.
Taylor Coil is a marketing manager who works remotely from around the world.