As I write this, I’m sitting in my temporary home, a wonderful flat in the very center of Zagreb. I’m here just for the month of November. But a couple years ago I spent 5 months in this city, and even though I don’t speak Croatian, this place feels like home. I know which grocery stores stock the yogurt I like, I can maneuver the tram routes with ease, I have favorite cafes. I can handle the post office, the bank, the police station. And I can tell people which museums to visit and where to go in the upper town for the best photo ops. Just an hour ago, I had a semi-knowledgeable conversation (in English) with a wine shop proprietor about varieties of wine and methods of wine production in Croatia. I’m comfortable here and when I return to California, I’ll be homesick for Zagreb.
Ah, but California. That’s home too. I’ve lived there 20 years. My husband and kids are there, my day job, my house and my car. I’ve spent more years there than anywhere else I’ve lived, and it’s a comfortable place. While I’ve been gone, I’ve missed my family, and I’ve also missed the easy familiarity of a place where I speak the local language, where people stand patiently in lines, where my favorite photos and travel mementos surround me as I work. I’m homesick for California.
But California wasn’t my first home. Like Dylan from my Bones books, I grew up mostly in Oregon, in the Portland ‘burbs. Most of my family still lives there. I visit once a year or so, and I always love the green hills, the microbreweries, Powell’s bookstore, and the general compulsion to be alternative, dammit. I’m homesick for Oregon.
And now you see my problem—no matter where I am, I’ll always miss someplace else. I don’t really think of it as a problem, though. Yes, it can be a little frustrating, a little sad sometimes. But it’s also comforting, knowing that little pieces of my heart are tucked safely here and there. Because that’s what I think defines home: a place where we’ve left a piece of our heart.
As my newest novella, Housekeeping, begins, Nicky Hauser doesn’t have a true home. He loses his job and living space when he catches his boyfriend having sex with someone else. Then he finds a new job as live-in housekeeper for the handsome but horribly messy Spencer Cartwright. Spencer has a really nice house. The question is whether it can become home.