Redefining home: The internal conflict of a student in residence

Can you have two homes?

After class, I walk in the door, finally home. I’m greeted by smiling faces, looking up from homework. “How was your day?” they ask as I drop my bag on the ground and myself on the couch. I tell them about the midterm that went terribly and the midterm that went okay and the midterm that I still have to study for, and they listen sympathetically, unconditionally.

Eventually they all go back to their tasks, and as I watch them I remember a similarly sunny afternoon, light filtering through the windows, making the air seem soft and warm. I come into the familiar entryway of my childhood home after a day of school and kick off my shoes. From the dining room table, my sister looks up from her homework and my mom smiles from her laptop on the counter. I fall onto the couch and recount the day’s events, even the most mundane details, and they listen.

It’s at this point that I come to a sticking place. These two experiences feel so similar, yet they come from very different places in my life. It’s this contradiction that, for some reason, makes me uncomfortable with categorizing both experiences as “home.” There’s a strong distinction in my mind between where I live, Lister Centre, and where home is, Calgary. If I were asked, “Where is home?” my immediate answer would be the blue and white two-story on the cul-de-sac; the place where I cried over IB math, played Hunger Games in the backyard with my sister, and discovered indie music. But at what point does my answer change to “right here?”

It’s hard, because living in residence isn’t the same as a non-stop sleepover. The people I live with on my floor have seen me without makeup after a late night, stress-eating jelly beans at my desk, and washing dishes singing ABBA at the top of my lungs. Living together 24/7 seems to shed the formalities and boundaries of normal friendship and create a new kind of relationship. I mostly find myself using the term “new family.”

During the Thanksgiving long weekend, I went back to Calgary for the first time since moving away. “Did you bring back that shirt you stole from me?” my sister asked as she watched me make my old bed. “No,” I laughed, “I left it back at home.” I paused. Home. The word slipped out automatically, and it felt both natural and deeply wrong as I stood in the one place I’ve invariably considered mine. While I’ve made deep connections in Lister and created this new community, calling it home still feels like a betrayal.

Maybe what I’m struggling with is the feeling that if my home moves, I am cutting an invisible tie with my family, my friends, and my past. Maybe that’s what makes this such a hard, sometimes circular, debate. Maybe that’s why I can say I have both a family and a new family and yet somehow still feel torn. It feels like calling Edmonton home finalizes all of my experiences back in Calgary, making me officially “moved out.” While I don’t live there anymore, I don’t feel ready to cut the cord completely. There’s still a lot I don’t know yet.  Can I come to peace with myself and forge my own identity, a mix of everywhere I’ve been and everywhere I’m going?

While I’ve made deep connections in Lister and created this new community, calling it my home still feels like a betrayal.

What if the answer is simple? Home is Calgary, home is Edmonton. Living in Edmonton doesn’t make me less of a Calgarian; it doesn’t strip me of my intimate knowledge of the complex transit system, my connections with all of the people I love, or my home address. But I can also embrace everything about living in Edmonton — especially the creation of a “new family” and a new home base from which to have my next adventures.

When you ask me where I’m going for Christmas, my answer will invariably be home. But if you see me in Calgary waiting for the bus back to Edmonton on January 1, I’ll smile and tell you that I’m on my way home too.

Kate Turner

Kate Turner is a first-year native studies student and The Gateway’s Winter 2019 Staff Reporter. She is passionate about human rights and is a lover of chocolate, languages, and public transit systems. When she's not writing, she can be found strategizing Monopoly moves and reading historical fiction.

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