Essay: A Home That Isn't A Place

Jan 14, 2016

Some might look wistfully at a picture of urban decay in their hometown like the images photographer Eric Holubow has captured in Milwaukee.  However Lake Effect essayist Christianna Frtiz has given quite a lot of thought to her personal idea of home:

Several weeks ago, my boyfriend’s mother put his childhood home on the market, because she accepted a job in another state. He helped her sort through old pictures, separate what to keep and what to donate, cleaned out closets and set furniture on the curb to be taken or thrown out. But I can tell that it’s difficult for him, seeing all the rooms empty. Besides our current apartment with peeling ceiling plaster and a fickle toilet, it’s the only home he’s ever known. I’m here for him, but I admit I don’t know what it feels like to attach the idea of home to one place.

I’ve moved thirteen times and have lived in five different cities. If I were to squeeze my eyes shut and imagine what home looks like, it would be a collage of memories—mismatched and patched together like a hand sewn quilt.

To me, home is red brick and summers with drought and yellow grass, but a view from the street of mountains that are usually gray, but sometimes purple.

It is a large closet I climb through looking for a lever or button that will open a trap door or secret entrance, just like in a Nancy Drew mystery.

It is a best friend’s floor where we sit whispering and pointing to different states on an atlas, planning a secret trip to California. I pack my Snoopy duffle bag, but we never work up the courage.

It is a bathroom where I stand on the edge of the bathtub, trying to examine my thirteen-year-old self in the mirror, socks stuffed in a bra to fill out my figure. After some leaning, the shower rod collapses, and I fall into the tub, cursing my vanity.

It is a bedroom with dark orange walls where I contemplate how to tell my parents that my best friend is actually my girlfriend.

It is an old house with three roommates where a homeless man opens my bedroom door and says hello at midnight.

It is an almost empty apartment that once had a couch, a TV, a dining room set, and a person I had been in love with.

It is a Greyhound bus where I sometimes look up from my book to watch the landscapes of Minnesota and Wisconsin blur together.

It is a painting at an art museum in Minneapolis, of olive trees and sun, a view from Van Gogh’s window at an asylum.

It is a walk by Lake Michigan in January, when my sister and I set our differences aside and stand quietly on the snow, letting the waves and wind bite us a little, because gray, blue, and white are shocking when they’re beautiful.

When I try to describe this abstract idea of home, people sometimes feel sorry for me, as if I’m missing something they have. But I like my home. It isn’t a place, it’s a feeling. It’s a feeling of comfort and happiness with the memories I have and the people I love. And it will always be mine, and it will always change.

Christianna Fritz is a transplanted Milwaukeean who is now a children's bookseller and over-caffeinated writer living in Minnesota.