My house is a gray box on a corner in a neighborhood of boxes. I’ve lived here my whole life. It’s filled with books and games and scraps of recycled paper.
Other houses in my West Hartford neighborhood of boxes boast neat, recently cut lawns with little yellow signs that say “someone came by and sprayed me with chemicals to make me greener!” My lawn is littered with branches and speckled with weeds. The backyard is surrounded by a sea of fat bushes.
This is where I grew up, where I learned to read and walk, where I helped my mother make a vegetable garden, where I laughed, where I cried. This is where I spent time with my brother and parents on the weekends. By anyone’s definition of the word, this is home.
But I have other homes, too. Other places where I laughed and cried and learned, places where I’m far from my mother’s vegetable garden and often from my family. Places that have, at times, felt more like home than home. Where gray box Xavier disappears and other versions of myself come to light. Here are a few.
A little Basque town in the southwest corner of France. It’s touristy, but if you walk far enough, you’ll find big hills over the purple water and hidden villages and secret beaches with sandpipers and plovers everywhere.
My mother raised me speaking French. I’ve only been to Saint-Jean-de-Luz a few times in my life, but there’s always something magical about the arrival: the flight into San Sebastian, the taxi ride into the town center, the walk through the narrow streets to the apartment. It’s a feeling that I’m unlocking another part of my identity, a part that hardly ever comes out when I’m in my gray box on the corner. My français part. Saint-Jean-de-Luz is home for francophone Xavier.
One of two all-purpose music rooms in my high school. Dented marching band tubas and dangerously splintered wooden lockers. An out-of-tune grand piano. Old photos and dried-up markers and Manhasset music stands with the “Manh … et” crossed off. For years, I began my day in orchestra and finished my day in jazz band, both in this room.
It’s a room where I can forget my love-hate relationship with the suburbs, where I can freely joke about my gayness and my Tourette Syndrome and all the other things I often keep hidden in one way or another.
Besides, it’s a room where people make music, and that’s a wonderful thing.
I like thinking about things.
Sometimes I invent alternate lives for myself. Sometimes I choose a city and live there in my mind. Sometimes I listen to music. Sometimes I write stories. Sometimes I press on my eyelids and watch the blurry patterns race by.
Sometimes I worry. Sometimes I feel calm. Sometimes the voice in my head sounds loud. Sometimes it sounds quiet.
I didn’t always feel at home in my head, but I think I do now.
That Jordanian restaurant
They just make really good tabbouleh.
My grandmother’s house
Rochelle’s yard is even crazier than mine. There’s a statue of a naked mermaid and a garden of tiger lilies and trinkets galore. My grandmother lives on Long Island and — though I joke about the strip malls and the horse flies and the accent (which I can imitate quite well, if I may say so myself) — I love coming here.
There’s a vaguely creepy closet in the upstairs bedroom that contains all of my favorite childhood books. The one about the fat cow who runs away. The one about the crazy father who names everything something it’s not. The one about the dinosaur.
My grandmother has curly hair and many books. She sends me long texts with strings of emojis. Sometimes the teenager in me forgets to respond, but I always feel a little burst of Long Island joy when I see a new paragraph from Rochelle.
I think it’s fair to add this one to the list. I haven’t left Davenport many times, and I couldn’t give you directions to most buildings on campus, but I don’t think you have to know a place for it to be home.
I know my bedroom and my (superior) courtyard and a bit of the city, and for now that’s enough.
Yale is home number seven.
Xavier Blackwell-Lipkind | firstname.lastname@example.org