The first time, it’s easy. You’re excited, having thoroughly googled about boarding school and high school and making friends and study tips. Your parents drive you down, help you move in amidst the chaos of all the other families and their daughters. The first night, you lie on your back in your new bed with your new blankets neatly draped above you, body straight and stiff as if in a perpetual flinch, and you try to diffuse the tension with your new roommate by chattering on and on about silly things. She cries every night for weeks.
You compartmentalize the situation very quickly. The girls around you like to call your little dorm “home,” and they giggle when they caper up the hill. You’re defensive, stubborn, a child. It’s not home to you; it can’t be; this isn’t how home should be. You’re used to a warm, constant buzz of life around you rather than the frenetic screams and tumbles pushing through your hallway. You spend most of your time caught in a flinch like your first night, always on guard, too careful and cold. Google didn’t say it’d be this way. One night, you’re chatting with your family on the phone when the woman on duty angrily pulls you inside, taking your phone, hanging up. She berates you for staying up past lights out. You protest— you were calling home! She leads you back to your room and replies harshly that you can call home during acceptable hours. Your room feels like a cell in this moment. How dare she tear you away from your mother’s comforting voice and treat you like a disobedient child? How dare she act as a mother to you! Unable to retaliate against this perceived tyranny, you ask around about her and spread the dirt you hear as far as you can.
When you go home on break for the first time, you feel a little out of place for a few days, as if you’ve forgotten how to fit in there. Your siblings complain that you’ve changed, and it hurts more than it’s meant to. Your parents notice too. You’re so used to doing things on the side when you’re away that you forget the joy of openness and attention at home. It’s foreign to return to a space where you do not feel scrutinized or manipulated or watched, where secrets are neither currency nor leverage. From then on, going home becomes a necessary refuge, taking a breath after months of holding it all in, shaking out muscles that have gone numb.
The next few years are easier. You learn to navigate this world of reputation and rumor, custom and class. You came in wanting to be noticed and acknowledged, and you leave wishing nothing more than to just slide out underneath the back door. It’s not wholly terrible, but you’re tired of being on edge. Calling home every night is a source of pride; you have family that bothers to listen. Every break, your mother worries and tells you that if you want to leave the school and come back to study, it’s alright. You don’t know how to explain that you’re already in too deep, so you might as well carry on.
During one break, she asks you to sort through some of your belongings which have been lying around the house collecting dust. While you watch her sift through things you don’t even care much for, putting more and more things in the “donate” pile, you are filled with an inexplicable hurt. As a fifteen year old girl does, you lash out, asking why she seems so set on erasing your presence from the home. She’s taken aback— of course she hadn’t thought of it in such a way. From then on, she lets you keep your things in a big storage bin in the garage.
You still spread out your belongings all over the house every time you return, even now, and you still feel – every time you pack them up – that it looks so much emptier, but leaving to and returning from Boston is different. If the last four years were caring too much over far too little, Boston is learning to stop. Coming home is an easier transition. You no longer feel like you have things to hide. You’re surprised that you’ve started calling your place in Boston “home.” You have people here that you chose, that you continuously choose to keep. They make you feel safe and wanted and relaxed.
Now home is different too. You look forward to returning not out of desperation for familiarity or affection or warmth but because of easy, simple love. It feels like a part of growing up— coming home not because you need it, but because you want it, because you know you’ll always have it and you want them to know they’ll always have you too. You see more flaws in it these days, but you love it all the more. You joke that you’ve become the grandparent sibling, always arriving with gifts and general cheer. Coming home is about giving now, instead of taking like it was. It’s about being there and being part of what makes the place a home. And even when the house is cleared of your possessions apart from a few piles of clothing on a topmost shelf and a storage bin in the garage, leaving is promising you’ll be back.