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This weekend, I visited my parents for the first time since the holidays. Leading up to my trip, people asked me if I had any plans for Labor Day weekend. Without hesitation, I would respond, “I’m going home.” 

But in fact, the home I was going to wasn’t even one I had lived in for more than four weeks at any given time. I think I can say without being dramatic that the question of home is one with which humanity often reckons. Everyone tends to have their own definition. For me, I’m beginning to think home goes back to a certain level of comfort, whether with the people, the environment, or some mix of the two. An innate kind of comfort is how somewhere you’ve never been can have that peculiar feeling of home; and the kind of comfort that grows is why it’s difficult to leave behind those that aren’t actually your family, but have come to feel as if they were. 

These five days passed much as those four weeks before I went abroad passed: feeling as long as they were short, full of sweat and sun and shampooed hair dripping into the couch while watching movies with my dad.  

I went to Florida tired. For those few days, it was nice to be taken care of. It was nice to wake up in the morning and go downstairs to coffee and a happy dog, to watch Lord of the Rings with my dad and walk on the beach with my mom, and eat far too much peanut butter pie with the both of them. 

My parents and I have not always gotten along. I like to joke that the hormonal teenage years my older sister avoided manifested themselves in me with a vengeance. I was, in short, not nice. From (roughly) 13 to 18 hormones raged, and I would watch with an out-of-body experience as I copped an attitude for no reason. I’m still not sure why this phenomenon occurs, the one in which we treat the people we love the most the worst. It’s one I’ve only recently come to terms with, within myself, in order to grow out of it. I’m still human, and I’ll still be the most imperfect with those I’m comfortable with — but I like to think I no longer take loved ones for granted. And this trip, while not without its familial hiccups, did not posessess the same tension of my teenage years. 

But of course, when my one home in Florida finally felt better, my other home in New York had become difficult. 

 

I went to Florida feeling that heavy feeling behind my eyes, and I knew if I was fully honest with what was bothering me (and what was bothering me because it was bothering me), I would start crying. The thing is, I didn’t want to cry. So many of the words I could say I’d already said. I didn’t want my parents to worry. And I wanted to be present in my trip home. (For better or worse, I’ll always be a Floridian at heart. I’m even working on a short story where the setting of Florida, with its humidity and unpredctability, is as much a character as the protagonist herself). 

If home is about comfort, was my desire to downplay stress signaling a lack of comfort? Or was it simply the hope that the act of playing off any level of unhappiness would bring truth to my professed aloofness? With my trip behind me, I now think it must have been some combination of the two. I felt more distracted than I would have wished, but less distracted than I would’ve been if I gave into some of the thoughts gnawing at me. 

When I was leaving this morning, my mom said to my dog (lol), “Amber is going back home to New York.” It wasn’t inaccurate, but it felt strange to think I was leaving one home for another. But, not leaving for long — I’d be back for the holidays once again.

And in the end, Florida and my parents did offer relief and perspective — as home so often does. 

 

Amber Hunter