MERCER-GOLDEN: A visitor at home

Meditations

Over the last few weeks, I have had different iterations of the same conversation with many of my senior friends. We went home for break, some of us for the first time in a long time, some of us just as we always do. This time, going home was complicated, exhausting and left us feeling grateful (shockingly so) that we were back at school, starting class.

Let me be clear: We love our parents and our siblings. Much of the time, we get along well with them, and look forward to spending time in their company. Going home to clean sheets, laundry service and regular nutritious meals is always a delight. At home, we get to see old friends and family members, eat at favorite restaurants, visit familiar places that remind us of what it meant to live in that place.

As one year away from home became four, the dynamics changed. Friendships from middle and high school became less important — conversation space became harder to fill as interests and experiences diverged. Our grandparents got older and quieter, while our siblings evolved from being annoying pests or superior know-it-alls to friends. Our parents — eternal, steadfast — grew more grey hairs and wrinkles.

We are living in the shadow of these changing relationships in our families and communities, and also in the shadow of the changes to our hometowns and loved places. Home no longer is or can be the place it was when we were younger: We haven’t been home enough to watch changes as they unfolded. I am left a little melancholy in the wake of change that I can neither slow nor alter.

For many of my breaks in college, the picture and experience of being at home has felt rose-hued. This break, that experience and picture began to crumble in some troubling and unexpected ways, as it did for many of my senior colleagues. I’m trying to decide if I can go home again — for good — and discovering as I ponder that the answer may be no.

This made this past break hard. My parents are sending eager emails about the job opportunities close to home. My grandparents make less-than-subtle remarks every time I call them. Even my cousins — bless them — who have graduated and moved to the area are waging their own quiet war of offhand remarks. It is wonderful to be loved, but the love is part of the reason why it is hard for me to go home.

At Yale, I have found my own independence. I have worked and earned a wage, set and met my own deadlines, built a community from nothing and preserved that community despite incessant busyness and perpetual sleep deprivation. My space at Yale is fully mine in ways that my room at home or even a place near my parents’ house won’t be. I am worried that I will lose that sense of personal autonomy if I go home to the relationships that already exist there. I am worried that I will have to work to fit myself into the spaces and places that I outgrew while at college.

Going home felt like a strange kind of goodbye to the self who had spent college pretending that home was still home. From now on, I will be a perpetual visitor in the place where I grew up, who drops in without the pretense of staying for long. Home has and will become less home: I will have to build a life somewhere else, both to protect the person I have become and to move towards the person I want to be.

Some of us will be forced to move back home for financial or family reasons. Some of us will want to — the lure of food and laundry will be too strong. I hope, however, that wherever we go next year, the movement will be towards a home that we make and remake for ourselves. We no longer need define ourselves by our connection to one town or one institution: The choice is, at last, ours.

Zoe Mercer-Golden is a senior in Davenport College. Contact her at zoe.mercer-golden@yale.edu .

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