Home(s) is Where the Heart Is

Since moving to New York City in 2015, the number one question I get asked is, “Do you think you’ll move back to California?” Sometimes it’s a bit more pointed with “When are you moving back to California?” but I respect that my grandma is a woman who likes a deadline and to do list as much (if not more) than I do.

I am guilty of asking this question all the time too, curious how others see their time in this city as a stop or the final destination. And during this time of physical distancing, I have been thinking a lot about the idea of home. Can home be two places? Three? Four? Five? When is a place granted the title of home and what does that mean to different people? What does that mean to me?

After five years in New York, Brooklyn is now what I am referring to when I say “home” in passing statements. It didn’t become home instantly, not until probably a couple years in when I could navigate neighborhoods without maps and had set favorite spots. Now it is home, the place where my yellow apartment holds enough art and books and color to feel like mine even though I rent. Taking the subway, walking to meet friends or run errands, carrying a million bags, sitting in the park drinking tea on an Ikea picnic blanket with friends before grabbing tacos from the truck, the passion to pursue one’s dreams making the city hum with energy. These habits and routines have made this place home as I’ve learned to find myself within the hustle and bustle of the city.

Yet, when I’m back in California, it’s an almost effortless fit. Easing back into the car culture within five minutes behind the wheel, finding the fashion and attitudes and proclivity for a hike or sitting on the beach deeply familiar. It’s like shrugging on a favorite sweater that fits just right in all the right places. My friends here remind me to sit and enjoy the moment, pursuing their passions but never prioritizing their work over relationships or mental health. New Yorkers don’t believe in lunch breaks, taking their salads to their desks to keep motoring through. Californians take the hour, basking outside in the sun until they return to their desks, leaving promptly at 5:30pm to go take classes or see friends or see a movie.

When asked where I’m originally from, people nod knowingly when I say California. “You’re too nice to be from New York,” they’ll usually say, “You smile too much and are too friendly.” But when returning back to Valencia to visit family, I find myself restless from the lack of walking, at times feeling out of step with the relaxed pace, and bitter with New York at how much harder it makes everything.

Growing up, my family all lived within 20 minutes of each other. I lived in the same house for almost all my life — the same house my parents still live in — before moving only two hours away to college. So making the move to New York was a really big deal, not only for me, but for my loved ones as well. For a long time, I felt a lot of guilt about how much I loved New York City, feeling the need to temper it when describing my life to people back home. I believed that if I loved somewhere new I wasn’t being loyal to where I was from and simultaneously, that I needed to know right now if I was going to stay in New York City full-stop. That’s a lot of unnecessary pressure, no? In reality, life is all about holding two (or three or ten) things at once and when it comes to idea of home, I believe it’s the spaces, plural, that you feel the most you. Loving a new place does not mean you give up your love for another, it just means there are more places that hold little pieces of your heart than before, and for me, I need the balance of California and New York. They bring out different sides of me, balance and recenter me, and work together to make me me.

Right now, for me, home is a lot of things which I hope is the sign of a life well-lived. It’s my first real adult apartment that is currently missing hosting friends for dinner and game nights. It’s my grandma’s backyard and taking a hike through the mountains. It is sitting overlooking June Lake after a day fishing and it is writing at a rickety metal table under a wall of hanging plants at Grounded in the West Village. It’s my dad’s taco nights at home and sitting by the ocean.

It’s running errands around Valencia with my parents and reading in their backyard. It’s meeting up with Churro in Hollywood or at Disneyland for dinner and it’s dinner parties at my friends’ apartments in New York. It’s hiking in LA and road trips with Robbie and visiting the Tea Garden with my Mum. It’s afternoons in Central Park.

It’s anywhere the cats are. And also where my loved ones are across the country.

And most importantly, it’s me and that feeling of being home in myself and taking that wherever I go. So maybe it isn’t home is where the heart is, but homes is where the heart is? As I see it, home is currently so many places and people mixing together and ultimately, it’s whatever you decide it to be.