Where the Heart Isn’t

My writing desk vibrates with the hum of Florence + the Machine, the echoes of her voice as it thralls and throws the air, a soft vibrato all the way to my fingertips, my toes.

My toes sit soft at the ends of my shoes, slightly sweetened by sweat and the long walk across campus I made today–twice–beneath the blistering North Carolinian sun.

My right shoe is pressed flat against the floor of the faded maroon carpeting of my new campus apartment, only the ball of my left foot hitting the floor, my heel raised as I lean forward, poised for creativity, ready for my words to rewrite the world.

I’d say it feels like home, but it doesn’t. It isn’t.

At least not yet.

See, maybe it’s being a friend of Dorothy, but I’ve long been told HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS, but the truth of the matter, if my heart were truly in all the places I called home, it’d be a red smear across half the world and somewhere my body would be broken.

So when I moved on campus this past Saturday, I left a blood stain on this dingy, graying, faded carpet that may be as old as I am, but probably isn’t. There in the middle of the room, it swells like a heart, bereft of beating, not quite belonging. Not yet.

When I sat in graduate student orientation this morning, I felt separate and other than the vast majority of student in the seats around me: I haven’t been working for the past half dozen years; I haven’t just transferred from another school; I haven’t just moved in from another country. I wasn’t even out of undergrad before I began my graduate studies, all in the same school, and yes, I am from North Carolina (a few years removed).

I’m sure there were others in the crowd who were, who are, the same as me: who are continuing here because State has become their home, because the thought or the work of going anywhere else just couldn’t be overcome, because here is belonging.

Their videographer (who shared my first name, so I felt bad turning him down) had wanted me to shoot a short clip with him (I had commented during the group discussion so, he said, I mustn’t be camera shy–but say that to the new video I’m in, I dare you), telling the potential viewers why I chose State, what my goals are, what I love about the school.

I could talk–well, write–on this for pages: The school fosters leadership, diversity, tries to form a family of thirty thousand students; it watches after our health, it sustains us and supports us; and I want to learn, succeed and lead, so I can help change the world.

But ask me to articulate any of this–orally–on the spot? The most I could think of was that I was already here, and how the thirty thousand dollars in student loans that are paying for this one-year master’s degree must say just how much I love this school and my dreams.

So I took my seat and kept silent.

Afterward I walked to the new, recently rebuilt Talley Student Union, where all the campus centers I’m involved with–the GLBT Center and the Center for Leadership especially–now reside. I was greeted with hugs from everyone I saw, encountering friends at every turn, old classmates, old club mates, old colleagues from extracurricular involvement.

Here the walls were new, but the same warmth remained–renewed with a burning vigor that seeped from these freshly-painted walls and sleek new architectural curves.

I was smiling. I felt at home. Finally, I felt at home.

When I’m with my family, I hardly feel the freedom I feel on campus. The walls are too thin, the nature outside too sparse, the community all but absent. Being with family reminds me of the family that isn’t there, of the pieces I’ve left behind, of the distance between us.

When I was in Mexico, I had all that freedom, but it was passionately restrained. Every heartbeat shared in unison with my husband-to-be was a reminder that too soon our hearts would beat at 1,600 miles apart, every moment yearning to slip into endlessness.

Here, I feel potential. I have a mission. Even when my mind is limitless, every train of thought diverging into confusion and chaos, I have direction: One more class, one more homework assignment, one more club meeting or free dinner or walk to the gym.

The routine reminds me of who I was, who I might become, who I might be right now: even if I can’t decide, the path is paved in bricks and I walk upon it. Past the classrooms where I got all As and the classrooms where I tasted true failure, past the places I hung out with friends and the places I found to cry in shame and fear and hopeless. Every brick is laden with the memories of my greatest successes, and my harshest tastes of reality.

This is the table where I ate in a numb daze after my first encounter with HIV. This is the bridge where I broke down a year later, thankful just to be alive. This is the bus stop where I stopped to write, after our first Skype call, “I think I just met the man I’m going to marry.” This is the gazebo where I paced trying to decide what to where the first time we’d meet.

This is the patch of grass where I first thought I could understand abstract algebra. This is place where I lay in the middle of winter to watch meteors falling from the sky.

This is the parking deck I passed, afraid to climb it, thinking I might jump if I did. This is spot on its grooved cement top where I finally felt brave enough to meet the stars.

And this is my new desk, stirring now to the rhythms made by Of Monsters and Men, and this is my new apartment, everything I could ask for except a ceiling fan.

And if home is where the heart is, then home must be inside me, because for all my heartstrings woven between Raleigh and Asheboro and Mexico and Hoonah, Alaska, and Belize and Israel and here, here is the only place my heart is, every beat and every bite.

But it’ll never be home for all the places it isn’t.

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4 thoughts on “Where the Heart Isn’t

    • Thank you so much for you kind and encouraging words; they truly mean the world to me and bring so much fulfillment to my writing. My fiance lives in Mexico City so we spend most of our time there when I visit, but we’ve gone to Queretaro to stay with his parents, and we’ve also taken a trip to Puebla–it’s a beautiful city, rich with so much history, and I’m eager to visit again. We’d also like visit Chiapas before he comes to the US, but that will depend on whether or not finances allow it. So, to get back to the heart of your question, I have not yet visited Guadalajara, but perhaps in time I will.

      • I live on Lake Chapala, which you should not miss. Only an hour from Guad…a charming town named Ajijic with lots of writers, artists, actors. Lovely village atmosphere on the biggest lake in Mexico–once part of a sea that went all the way to the U.S. border. Now 60 miles long.Both Puebla and Queretaro are lovely. I love the Sunday antiques outside market in Pueblo. Such wonderful arts and crafts in Mexico–most of which don’t make it over the border.

        I can’t believe how much it costs for a visa application and permanent residency application in the U.S. Ridiculous!!! They are doing similar things in Mexico re/ the amount of monthly income you have to have to become a permanent resident, but at least the application expense isn’t so unreasonable. Best of luck to you, Darren.

  1. ALASKA! I lived in Alaska for 25 years, and that’s where I consider “home’ even though I currently live in Portland, OR. Well, I guess Alaska could be considered my homestate, not necessarily my home since now I consider my apartment (of one year!) home. It’s true, home is where you yourself are, it’s in your heart, it’s what you make of it. Very nicely written.

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