I dragged my massive suitcase onto the 81 Lawrence bus at Jefferson Park and carefully grabbed a seat, piling my smaller backpack on my lap and letting the suitcase jut into the aisle. Exhaustion and hunger overcame me as I had been up for nearly 48 hours straight making my way back to Chicago after three weeks in Nepal. Those weeks took a lot out of me and I longed for the comforts of home – for regular internet and electricity, for hot showers and familiar food and for outfits that didn’t including hiking pants or dri-fit t-shirts.
But I didn’t long for home.
I kind of dreaded returning to my mostly empty condominium, the place I called home for four years before departing on my career break trip in August 2011. I rented it out for the next two years and finally moved back in over Labor Day weekend but it hasn’t really felt like home again. Gone was my comfy navy couch that I had purchased with so much excitement when I first moved to Chicago in 2001. Gone was my adorable antique baker’s rack that I ended up donating to charity because I couldn’t find anyone to pay me close to what it was really worth. Gone was my awesome multicolored wool rug that I fell in love with the minute I saw it at Room and Board. And gone were my cats who had been there to greet me when I returned home from Egypt and Germany and Peru.
Instead, when I returned to my beloved condo over Labor Day weekend, I found a place that didn’t feel like home at all. I found mold on the bathroom ceiling and a bathroom fan that no longer functioned. I found burned out light bulbs and an air filter that hadn’t been changed in months. I found walls covered with horribly patched up holes and shelves missing out of the closets. I found an oven that hadn’t been cleaned in two years and ugly shelves installed in the bathroom without permission. I overwhelmed myself with the mental list of things I needed to do (or hire someone to do) before my condo would again be in the condition that it was two years earlier.
I left for a weekend in New York just a few days after moving back in and then three weeks later, I was on a plane to Nepal. I have spent just three weekends in Chicago since Labor Day weekend, each of which was spent on freelance work or running errands to prepare for me trip. Aside from fixing the mold issue ASAP, I haven’t managed to do anything to fix any of the other issues listed above. But even when I do, I’m afraid it won’t solve the problem.
The problem is that home doesn’t feel like home anymore. Toward the end of my career break trip, when I longed to return home to Chicago, the home I imagined was the one I left – with my couch and my baker’s rack and my rug and my cats. The home I have now consists of a full size bed that doesn’t come close to filling up my empty bedroom, a droopy couch and chair set that just don’t live up to my beloved navy couch, and a wobbly, but cute, coffee table and matching end tables that are really too large for the space. My second bedroom/office is more of a storage area, home to a dozen boxes and my half empty luggage from Nepal and subsequent work trip to Washington, D.C. I am torn between wanting to fully furnish the place to make it cozy and comfortable and not wanting to spend a lot of money when I may not stay that much longer anyway.
Beyond my physical home that is my condo, Chicago as a city no longer feels like home. I don’t feel like I fit in here anymore. I no longer have the friends I can just call up to go have a drink when I’ve had a bad day. I spend so much time solo that I might as well be in a foreign city where I don’t know anyone. I worry about my safety here in a way I never did before. Stories of violence dominate the news and I passed signs on my way home the other night warning of recent robberies at gunpoint – all within a couple blocks of where I live. While I used to feel perfectly fine going for a run while it was still dark in the morning or after the sun set in the evening, I now feel nervous. In my own neighborhood. In the neighborhood that is supposed to be home.
So what do I do now?
In the short term, I make the best of it. I buy some shelves for my second bedroom and I finish unpacking. I patch the holes and paint and hang pictures on the wall and display my favorite souvenirs from my travels. I force myself to be social, to try to meet new, like-minded people to replace the friends from whom I have drifted. I continue to run since I’m training for a marathon in March, but perhaps I join a running group. And I try to not spend too much time looking ahead to the day when the real estate market has improved enough for me to sell my condo and bid Chicago goodbye – to the day when I find a new place to call home, wherever that may be.
Have you ever lost a sense of home? How did you get it back?