Transcontinental Homelessness

Home, where the heart is, etc.
Home, where the heart is, etc. // Creative Commons

When I got back to New Haven, I was drowsy and bleary-eyed and my head ached. I rubbed my eyelids, and when I looked up, there was Yale. The intermittent naps that I took on my flight and shuttle-ride over had spread a haze over everything. As I got out of the shuttle, I remembered scraps of my day: tabloids, romantic comedies, security, the Band-Aid on my mom’s nose as she hugged me goodbye.

Now I am in the throes of shopping, sleeping on my plastic mattress and eating cashew clusters in the middle of the night. The sky is pale and the ground is cold, and there’s always the sound of sirens but never of the airplanes back home. I’m starting to feel the brief pangs of agoraphobia that come with walking into a dining hall at six o’clock.

Yet this has been by far the most seamless transition I’ve made from going home to coming back during my time at Yale, despite the dramatic change of scenery.

There used to be something terrible in the prospect of moving. Moving meant swept floors, sweaty foreheads, boxing up my belongings and feeling those half-comforting waves of nostalgia. My mom cried when she sent me away freshman year. The following May, I cried when I had to move out of Farnam Hall. I hated that Ikea lamps had to be thrown out, I hated the beat-up couches on Old Campus and the people rummaging through piles of discarded clothing.

Now, these motions and emotions have become routine. The jolt of displacement is still there, but it’s no longer new. What’s new is the complacency I feel towards the jarring nature of change. More and more I feel that I am leading two separate lives, one at home and one at school. My life at home consists of baking cookies with my brother and fighting with him, gossiping and laughing with my sister, watching movies with my parents. I kvetch. I yell and I call names and I storm out of rooms.

I don’t do that here. The stakes are too high for me to unleash sincere anger on my friends — there’s the risk they’d drop me. I pacify resentments and offenses and desires into small hints, perpetual OK-ness. And what am I to do without the arguments and reconciliations, the hurt and unconditional love that lend a clearly defined rhythm to life at home? There’s only an unpatterned mass of days, the flux of intellectual arguments and hangouts and parties. I brew in new ideas and desires and become absorbed inevitably into the Yale bubble. I try to puncture it with phone calls to my brother and Skype calls to old friends; the bubble re-forms.

The best I can hope for is to find some meaning in the blur of rain and meals and books here. Some community forms, fluid no doubt, replenished and emptied by a quarter each year. That counts for something, I guess. I switch rooms and roommates, seniors graduate and strangers live in my old dorm, but I’ve still got my friends and Harkness Tower.

A professor of mine freshman year quoted someone who said we live in an age of “transcendental homelessness.” I didn’t know quite what that meant at the time, but I feel its meaning now. I jet from home to home and it is still unclear which is which. I wake up in the middle of the night, think I’m back in LA and let out a sigh of fear mixed with relief; I look at the window grille and know I am here.

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