Almost exactly a year ago today, I graduated from high school. At the end of this week, my little sister, only 18 months my junior, will graduate from the same school. In August, both of us will jump on planes that will take us across the country, to the two smallest states, Rhode Island and Delaware, respectively.
A year ago, I stood on stage in a row of my fellow graduates, all of us wearing the white dresses and white flower crowns of our school’s tradition. My hands were clammy with anticipation, stage-fright-jitters coursing through my body as I prepared to give the speech I had been selected to deliver on behalf of my class. Nervously, I walked to the front of the stage. The low heels I wore had once belonged to my grandmother, and I drew a certain measure of courage from her presence as I tried not to trip over my feet or my words.
As I am apt to do, I turned to metaphor, comparing my high school experience to the training astronauts receive before they’re launched into space. I addressed my classmates: “Take a moment,” I said, “to look over that horizon line. Reflect with honesty, try to find the beauty in temporality, in change.”
I described our futures, collective and individual, as a sky littered with stars and planets and galaxies just waiting to be explored. I reminded my audience that Archer, our high school, would always be our home, planet Earth awaiting our return.
Now, I don’t know if that’s entirely true. I don’t mean to suggest the reliability and solidity of home base has completely disappeared. Rather, I think my definition of home has changed; adapted in response to my extraterrestrial adventures. Home, I’m realizing, is more about the people you’re with and the habits you develop than any actual location.
I’ll always consider Los Angeles to be my first home. But who says I can’t have more than one home? Archer wasn’t always home to me; it took me a handful of years and a post-puberty vote of confidence to find my place. By the time I graduated last year, I addressed my classmates as family. Some had become immediate relatives, while others felt like extended cousins or distant aunts. High school didn’t feel like home until I found my family there.
When I graduated and moved across the country, I was homesick for months. I had grown comfortable in LA, in high school. The people I saw everyday, at home and at school, had spread out across the country. It felt like my home had fractured and scattered, and I saw that only as a bad thing.
In the fall, I visited a friend in New York and realized the flaw in my thinking: rather than losing a home, I’d gained a new one in Providence, and countless others where each of my friends had moved. Home hadn’t been diluted, it had been dispersed. Staying with my friend for the weekend, I adjusted to her new routines, found a temporary home in New York because I was with her. More than the city or the dorm I slept over in, she was what made the trip feel like a momentary return to a familiar world.
Every time I’m in LA, I revert to old habits. My room is a mess, my sleeping and eating habits are out of whack, my free time stretches out in front of me like a blank canvas. I feel like I have “painter’s block,” and I don’t know how to fill this empty vacation time that is, I have tried to remind myself, intended specifically to remain empty.
I go out with the people who made LA my home and do the things I have missed during my many months in Rhode Island. I’ve been reading for pleasure, catching up on John Oliver and Broad City, swimming and suntanning in my backyard. I missed home, but it still feels strange to be back. I’ve changed a lot since graduating high school, and so has Los Angeles, my family, my high school.
In my first few days back in LA, I visited Archer. My sister, only days away from graduating herself, gave me a tour of the new campus, which was under construction during my senior year and into my sister’s final fall. I was in awe at the new facilities, beautiful, sleek and high tech. I was envious of the Archer girls who experienced the renovation as something more than a semester of classes held in trailers and interrupted by the sounds of a school being rebuilt.
I was proud of my sister, who’d come into her own as a senior, as a student independent from my place at the school. I was saddened by the certain loss that comes with progress, the feeling that my home had been changed past the point of recognition.
But then I went down to the basement, where the art classes are still spattered with paint and clay, where I sat with my former teachers talking and catching up and reminiscing. The school had changed, sure, and so had I. Some things, however had stayed the same.
Speaking to my art teachers, I felt at home again, even in a building that was slowly becoming unfamiliar. These people had made Archer my home. Even the rooms swallowed by construction had only felt like home thanks to the memories imprinted in the walls and folded into the foundations. Like childhood handprints pressed into wet cement: places have meaning because of the people who are imprinted into them.
I find, now, that I miss my dorm and my college friends, that I’m homesick for a new place. It’s a strange palindromic feeling, to be homesick for LA in the winter and homesick for Providence in the summer. People, too, are wet cement, subject to the scribbles and indentations made by people and places. I have been fingerprinted by other people, just as I have left my mark on them, on the places I have called home.
When my sister graduates later this week, she will stand on the same stage in a different white dress. She will be one in a row of girls dressed in white, flowers twisted into their hair so the distant picture looks almost like a human forest. She’ll cross the stage to receive her diploma just like I did. In a year, I can’t say whether or not Delaware will have become her home, or if Los Angeles will still feel more comfortable.
She will, I know, bear the handprints of all the people who’ve been home to her for the past 18 years of her life. She will also carry new imprints of all the new people she will meet in the coming months. Changing scenery will give her a chance to leave her mark on, and be marked by, new people. After all, construction often requires new cement.