Home had always been a strange concept that somehow eluded her – it had never been a place. How could it be when that place was in constant flux? Indeed, the notion of tying a home to the physical realm was foreign to her. Rather, home was a feeling. Somewhere she knew she was when a certain sense of belonging enveloped her, like the warmth one feels when in the embrace of their favorite person. Home was indefinable. It was not a house or a street. It was not a city.

And yet, that was what she told others when asked where home was. She gave the name of a city because this was the accepted custom. The other students at her university were like ultrasonic bats, conditioned to return to their cities with the advent of each break. She thought she could understand the appeal. Home was meant to be a refuge. A respite from the neverending stream of demands being a university student required—the cliché malady all young adults suffered from. A month to escape from the pristine construct of higher education sounded nice. And she was oh-so-tired. Tired of the constant push forwards and the cookie cutter environment, where everyone molded themselves into figures they thought would be best received by the judging masses of Higher Education. So she made herself believe that going “home”—the city her family happened to reside in for who-knew-how-longwas the cure to the fatigue. This city, however, was not one she could properly call her own.

Neither was she prepared for the disillusionment that would follow the return home. At first, she thought she was happy. Happy to embrace the family she hadn’t seen in months and happy to no longer feel as though she was on constant display—no performance to put on, no need to please. Soup never tasted quite as nice in the dining hall either, and there was never a reason to wake up in the morning as anything less than well rested. She was excited to see old friends too. To share stories and experience the Good Old Fun of The Glory Days together again. She wanted to relive the memories, the ephemeral emotions of happiness she felt when she was younger, unmolded. She did not account for the fact that she was a different person hoping to feel the sentiments of years ago.

This city that was meant to be her haven felt, at once, much too small and much too sprawling. The townhouse her family presently inhabited had never seemed so insignificant before. It, too, had been cookie-cut, bland and unattractive just like the entire row of buildings on the street. The space inside it, strangely, felt empty. There was furniture—some new, some that had been with her family since the dawn of time as she knew it—but not nearly enough of it to fill the looming space. Her bedroom (a space she’d offered no design input on) had a bed, a desk, and a bookshelf. Neat. Reasonably sized. Stifling. And there was no escape from this house. Although she could walk out the door at any moment, the space outside was perhaps even more bleak than the interior. The city that hosted the house was sick and in an eternal state of misery that suffocated her. Slowly, subtly. No one could see.

She found, too, that these thoughts in her mind amplified until they commanded her full attention towards them. The notion of being trapped flitted around constantly until it pushed her towards the precipice of insanity. She felt she could not go anywhere, and so she receded into her own circling ruminations. Wake up. Look out the window. Why doesn’t the sun greet her? Gray. Freezing. Why is she always so cold? Slippers. Sweater. Cereal. Why couldn’t she taste it?

Her body executed the necessary actions appropriately, but the core of her self was elsewhere—inside, yet intangible. She saw her friends, and she smiled, and she laughed at all the right moments, nodding her head in affirmation and making pensive noises of accord when people would check to see that she was following. Or, rather, she saw herself doing these things, as if there were two copies of her: One that was her real body, walking about and functioning as a normal human being, and the other was her true essence—a shadow that walked alongside unseen. A shadow in danger of evaporating.

She was frustrated most of all for changing without noticing she had done so. She could not identify this intrinsic shift, and that only vexed her further. She simply knew that when she spoke to the people she once called closest to her, she had never been farther away. But where was she? 

She realized, then, that some part of her fiercely hated the city she was bound to—a city she thought she’d said goodbye to long before. Perhaps she was merely projecting her own anger and confusion onto an entity that was easy to blame. This was simple to do when the city itself was dying, streets ridden with litter and desolate buildings decaying in the humidity of the lake that claimed the valley. She wanted out within a week of her return. This desire she carried within her as criminally condemning evidence. She was ashamed that what was meant to be home felt much more like a prison—a city where hope came to die.

She was lost, and there was no place she could go. Only fleeting feelings to chase. The feeling of home she did not even begin to know where to find.