Where will home be when I die?

'Love doesn’t have to be scarce, and it certainly doesn’t have to be temporary either'

Lately, I’ve found myself wondering where “home” will be when I die. 

I know that sounds morbid, but I can’t help but mull it over every now and then, given the amount of coming and going I’ve done over the last two years, the constant finding and leaving of things. 

"Putting down roots in a new place would first require ripping them out of the earth they were first planted in." Illustration published on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019.

When I was growing up, my idea of “home” was limited to one place — northern Nevada, where I lived until I was 18. I always wondered what it would have been like to have moved around a lot as a kid, to have to get used to new schools and friends and places every few years. I had always been told that the act of starting a new chapter first necessitated ending the previous one; that putting down roots in a new place would first require ripping them out of the earth they were first planted in. Still, while growing up in a sleepy small town, cradled by towering mountains that seemed to isolate us from the rest of the world, I developed plenty of the angst I needed to want to turn my back on what was familiar to me and seek out something new. 

It was that teenage dissatisfaction with comfortable monotony that first led me to a college out of state. Still, I hadn’t sought out Arizona specifically as my new home — it was more of a need to be anywhere but where I already was, even if that meant settling for another desert in the sprawling Southwest instead of the big city life I often romanticized. In my limited perspective, I felt that if I didn’t get out of my small town while I had the chance that maybe I never would. 

So, I had to leave once so that I could keep leaving and leaving and leaving. 

I was lucky to find that Arizona embraced me much more willingly than I embraced it. At first, leaving my family and friends was tough, and I had serious doubts about my prior gumption to abandon my hometown. But eventually, I felt myself falling in love with Arizona, and for all of the things about it that reminded me of my hometown — like the arid heat and the capital-city pride. 

That first move made me feel like I might be able to find a sense of home and comfort anywhere, which led me on a path of packing my life into suitcases and moving around every few months. I opted to spend the first semester of my junior year in Washington, D.C., the second semester in Tempe, the following summer in Los Angeles and the ensuing fall back in D.C. — meaning that I haven’t lived in the same place for more than four months since my sophomore year. 

When I first moved to D.C. to work as a Washington correspondent for Cronkite News, I found myself confronted with some of the same fears that I had when I first arrived in Arizona — worries that I thought I had already combated a long time ago. 

Though I was excited to live in and explore a new city, I quietly dreaded the prospect of leaving my friends in Arizona behind. I knew clocks would keep turning and seasons would keep changing. I worried that my friends would forget about me once I was no longer a part of their daily lives and that I would return to them feeling distant and unfamiliar. Perhaps most of all, I feared that I was leaving a well-established support system to be alone on the other side of the country, with the impermanence of my living there keeping me from putting down real roots. 

What actually ended up happening was a very welcome surprise — I befriended other interns from around the country who shared my anxieties, and we soon became the kind of support system for one another that we had all been afraid of losing. I realized that being alone can be its own special haven, a space to look inward and figure out how to grow outward. I returned to ASU in the spring with a newfound sense of independence, and I promised myself that I would keep doing things that scared me and prove to myself that I could handle them. 

That promise was best fulfilled by my decision to join The State Press as its politics editor last spring. My semester in D.C. showed me that I had what it took, but I found myself presented with a new worry: that I would be joining a staff of people who I had never met and who had no idea who I was. How could I ever possibly fit in with them when we had seemingly moved in completely different orbits until that point?

Once again, I found myself surprised at how wrong I was. The State Press ended up becoming a home to me on campus. I felt more welcomed and included than I ever expected to feel, especially given that I was once again in a transient space — summer would inevitably come and everyone would disperse, and again, things would be different when they all returned. Still, I was never made to feel as temporary as I often thought of myself, and it astounded me — in the best way — that people around me still wanted to be my friends despite how fleeting my presence might be. 

 "I haven't lived in the same place for more than four months since my sophomore year." Illustration published on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019.

May came, and with it came moving out, graduations, travel and new jobs and internships — both for myself and for everyone I knew. The impermanence of my physical setting felt sharply punctuated by the fact that some of my friends would no longer be students when I returned and that I couldn’t point to a calendar and tell myself when I would see them next. There was also the bittersweetness of knowing that when I returned to ASU in the fall, it would be for the last time as a student. But somehow, after all this time, I still underestimated my own capacity for love and friendship with others, as well as my own ability to change as much as I feared everything else would. 

This summer took me to Los Angeles, California, another city where I knew no one and whose grandeur I felt intimidated by. Again, I found myself worrying that I would spend my days alone, unnoticed by the world as it hurried along with or without me. Instead, I had what might have been the most vivid summer of my life.

When fall came, I packed up my suitcases yet again and returned to D.C. for another semester. Being back in the city reminds me that the roots I put down here last fall were never really uprooted just because I left — instead, they’ve remained steadfast, waiting for me to come back so that they can continue to dig deeper and deeper. And I know the same can be said of Los Angeles, or Tempe and Phoenix, or even my hometown. 

I used to think that love — platonic, romantic, love in all its forms — had to be scarce to have value and that it can only be given after time builds trust. 

But the last year and a half or so of my life has taught me that all those types of love aren’t a quotient of some carefully crafted equation, one that treats time and trust and vulnerability and physical proximity as variables to be doled out in perfect measure before love can exist. 

Instead, it seems to me that love simply exists, and it finds a way to do so in spite of all the challenges, like the end of a semester or a graduation or a move. Love given in those temporary spaces doesn’t have to be scarce, and it certainly doesn’t have to be temporary either — like those roots, planted and waiting, it can keep on growing.

Leaving people and places and things that you love never really gets easier — at this point, I feel like I can write “wistful pining” and “heavy sighing” into my bullet journal in the days leading up to leaving one of my temporary homes. But I’m so grateful for all of the people in my life who I never would have encountered without those fleeting travels that it’s worth it to break off a piece of my heart and bury it there, where I know it’ll be safe. 

I’m not sure where this life will take me next, especially after graduation, but I hope that wherever “home” is by the time I’ve reached life’s end, I can say that the roots planted have finally flourished into the garden of everyone I’ve ever loved.

Reach the reporter at Vandana.Ravikumar@asu.edu and follow @vandana_rav on Twitter. 

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