Growing up, I was always the girl with two homes.
When your parents are divorced, but both are still present in your life, you no longer have a simple answer when people ask, “Where is your home? Where do you live?” I had two places of comfort and familiarity, and each one provided me with something different and necessary.
My father’s home was the address I used to stay in our current school district, so I could graduate high school with my friends. (This also meant I sometimes had to steal his mail when I didn’t want him to see a bad report card.) In my father’s house, there were rules and standards. In my father’s house, we said grace before every meal, there was never any junk food in the kitchen, and I made my bed in the morning. In my father’s house, I had my own TV and computer and my own bathroom.
My mother’s home was the address where I’d get my subscriptions to CosmoGirl and Vogue. In my mother’s house, there were no hard rules—merely suggestions on how to avoid getting cussed out. In my mother’s house, my room was always a mess, because I had filled it with journals, sketches, and books. At my mother’s house, we never ate at the dinner table, let alone said grace. In my mother’s house, I had to wait until my brother was gone to use the computer. And we both shared a bathroom with our cat.
In both homes, I was loved and nurtured. In both homes, the environment reflected my parents’ personalities and ideologies on family. For my father, home and family were the place where you found discipline and structure—where you were encouraged to be the best part of yourself. There were clear delineations of which space belonged to who, each space was intended for specific purpose or person. For my mother, home and family were the place where you could unravel—where you could leave a trail of your messiest self, and no one would judge you. We all bled together and our sense of individual space overlapped and melted into the others’.
For this, I am grateful. In growing up with two homes, I learned how to not only fully inhabit two places—but to also fully inhabit the space between them. Home evolved to be something much more than a singular place. Home became energy, emotion, state-of-being. Home became the meaning I found in a place, rather than the physical space itself.
As an adult, I am once again the woman with two homes.
My inherited home is Los Angeles.
Often, I refuse to claim LA as home, because I did not choose her. Instead, my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents chose her for me. Both sides of my family migrated here in the 1930s and 1940s to pursue the opportunities and upward mobility not available then to Black folks in the South. They made this place my home, and I have spent the majority of my 25 years plotting my escape. I have a reluctant attachment to my birthplace.
Yesterday, I was almost in a wreck with a fire truck on Figueroa. As I write this, the LA County Sheriffs are looking for a suspect hiding in the apartment complex across the street. I will never understand why weekday “rush hour” on the 405 actually lasts from 6am to 7pm. And I still don’t know the difference between a neighborhood, district, and incorporated area.
In Los Angeles, I am constantly angry that there are no real seasons. I can’t stand the dry heat between May and October (our “summer”) that bites at my skin… or how the sky becomes coated with a thick, brown band of smog. I can’t stand that fall and winter blend together indistinguishably—six months of mild weather and the occasional gray sky. Despite this, all the basic bitches celebrate their pumpkin spice lattes and wear their infinity scarves from Forever 21, even though it’s 72 degrees outside.
Admittedly, I spend a lot of time complaining about Los Angeles. And still, I recognize how incredibly fortunate I am to live here. Los Angeles has always taken care of me, the safe haven I retreat into when I am feeling raw and bruised and broken. She is where I am allowed to keep the world at a distance. Here, I am close to the people who love me most and know me best. Here, my parents met and fell in love. Here, they made me from their best selves. Here, they bared their worst selves as they divorced and left my brother and I in the wreckage. But here, there is healing and redemption. Here, there is wide sky and mountains and sea.
Los Angeles is where my roots grow… Yet still, my chosen home has always been New York.
I have been in love with New York City since I was 17 years old… and I was in love with the idea of her long before that. I’ll never forget my first time in Manhattan, being overwhelmed by the masses of people and pungent smell of piss. It’s a strange kind of madness to love. But in this madness, I never needed to explain myself. I could detach myself from my last name, from my family and be wholly myself. The madness was liberating.
In New York, every season is my favorite. In autumn, the trees catch themselves on fire, engulfed in a plume of red, orange, and yellow leaves. In winter, the whole city lights up in preparation for Christmas and I become an awestruck little girl at the first sign of snow. In spring, when the weather is finally nice, everyone smiles more and becomes just a little bit more friendly. And in summer, the whole city comes alive and the possibilities for free events are endless.
In New York, I got to be alone for the first time in my life, even when surrounded by millions of people. How can you hate the place that allowed you to learn yourself completely? New York is the wilderness I wander into, when I must ask myself to be a bigger and better woman. New York is where I ask myself the questions I’m afraid of answering. Here, I cut off all my hair. Here, I became a darker, tougher version of myself. New York is where I fell in love with myself as an artist, where I rebuilt myself brick by brick after an abusive relationship ended. New York is where I lost and found myself, again and again.
These days, it is harder to mark the delineations of who I am in Los Angeles versus who I am in New York. For this, I am also grateful. I have learned not only can I inhabit and love two spaces equally and simultaneously, but I can also let them inhabit me. This makes it easier now that I live in Los Angeles again, and only get to visit New York once a year. Home is now what I carry within me, the parts of myself that allow me to feel loved, comforted, and claimed… no matter where I am.