‘Where you are wanted’: A letter to home

Photo of Izza Ahmed

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A few days ago I was scrolling through Instagram and stumbled upon a screenshot of a Tumblr post that said, “Wasn’t that the definition of home? Not where you are from, but where you are wanted.”

Thinking this would be an interesting addition to the pictures that littered my camera roll, I screenshotted it — only to realize the next day how this quote had encapsulated my life for the past few months.

Ever since moving to Berkeley, I have faced a constant struggle when attempting to define the word “home.” I had spent my entire life in the same three-bedroom house in the heart of a suburb, and up until last fall, it was the only home I had ever known. Every time I try to navigate Berkeley using Apple Maps, the house icon is still set to my home 100 miles away — my apartment is just an ordinary pin.

My college apartment feels temporary; I moved in knowing that a move-out date would be a mere year or two away.

I toured what was to become my apartment for the first time last July. It was located close to campus, the kitchen was everything my inner chef had dreamed of, the wood-stained cabinets reminded me of my favorite cousin’s house, the airy balcony was the perfect home for my plant collection and it was large enough to feel both cozy and spacious at the same time. I was in love.

The month between signing my lease and moving in was bittersweet. I was filled with the dread of moving and my parents were annoyed at the two car trips’ worth of stuff I was taking, but most importantly I was bursting with excitement at the thought of being able to make new memories in this place.

I had been looking forward to college and living on my own for years, and this was to be the start of a new era.

The first few weeks in my apartment went by in a crazy blur, filled with the exhilaration of meeting new people, going to an in-person lecture for the first time, exploring Berkeley, a slight nostalgia for my bed at home and blasting Taylor Swift while making dinner with my roommate.

However, whenever I referred to my new apartment, I could never say “home” to describe it. The few times I said I was “going home” instead of “going back to the apartment,” I instantly felt a sense of betrayal. It felt as though I was going against the place I had lived in for 18 years — and most importantly, the people that lived there.

It was a magical but strange experience: I was seeing myself live the life I had dreamed of, but something felt out of place. Everything around me felt fleeting and temporary, and I struggled to reconcile my feelings of excitement with the nervousness I felt during the painful moments of loneliness and longing to feel like I belonged.

After being away from my house for longer than I ever had, I went back to visit my parents over Labor Day weekend.

As I walked in I was hit with the comforting smell of my mom’s cooking, and I was thrilled to be back. However, walking into my room felt eerie. It was strangely clean, my polaroids were no longer plastered all over the walls and my mom had decided to change my bedsheets to something she had picked out. The safe space I had envisioned returning to and reconciling my new college self with had somehow disappeared.

When I returned to Berkeley, I felt caught between two vastly different worlds, but neither felt like home.

This visit home was followed by months of making new memories and finding my place in the sprawling city of Berkeley, but these months were also plagued by loss, anxiety and sadness.

Amid all these feelings, I began to realize what home really meant.

Home isn’t just a house or a place I live, but rather a place where I feel happy, whole and wanted. It’s the place I return to day after day because I want to, not because I have to. It’s the place where I can be myself and figure out my life without the hustle and bustle of the school around me.

Slowly but surely, through late nights baking, a wall covered in Trader Joe’s bags, meeting amazing new friends and a desk used solely for dealing with my book purchasing addiction, my apartment has started to feel like home.

I no longer feel the pang of guilt over calling my apartment home, and I’ve affirmed the realization that maybe it isn’t the physical living space that defines home — it’s the ever expanding collection of memories, people and dreams that want me there and make me fall in love with my home day after day.

Izza Ahmed is a social media deputy editor. Contact her at [email protected]