I woke up disoriented, almost unsure of where I was.
Like a girl in the sort of novels I like to read who wakes up somewhere she’s never seen before after whatever horrible magical thing has happened to her and can’t quite remember how she got there.
I blinked into the dark.
I was myself. There was my husband sleeping next to me. This shadowy room was just our (actually very nice) Airbnb in Oregon—the halfway point between the cottage we’d left behind and Seattle somewhere ahead of us.
There’s something about waking up in a stranger’s house.
Even if they’re hospitable strangers.
It’s not just that the sounds and smells are unfamiliar or that the light falls differently here.
Those are all real, but I think it’s something else even less tangible that tells you that you’re in a strange place. Something you can’t see or taste, but that ripples its way across your skin all the same.
I think people leave energy behind like footprints in their houses—traces of themselves in every windowsill and side chair. A vibration of life that gets absorbed into the plaster after years of living there.
Maybe not enough to tell you who they were or are, but enough to feel—different—as you walk through the spaces you’ve borrowed from them for a night or two.
Because home is something special.
Not merely walls and roof and furniture, but almost an extension of yourself. Maybe nearly a living thing.
I once read a lovely article by Jennifer Trafton called “In the Light of Home.” In the article, she claims that “Home is sanctuary and story intersecting at a single point.” Somewhere that can both keep you safe from the world–a sheltering oasis–and that can contain the unfolding plot of your life. Somewhere where the changes of the light become beautifully familiar to you from your living there.
The little room in Oregon was shelter, but not story. Merely punctuation in our long journey north. The light would not remember us there.
The place where the light falls familiarly for me is still in my parents’ house in California. Sometimes when I’m visiting them, I think about needing something and before I know it find myself standing awkwardly in the middle of what is now my mother’s home office but what was formerly my childhood bedroom—having gotten there by muscle memory alone.
For Nic, I know that place is on Kodiak. Though, I’m not sure if it’s in his parents’ house or the harbor where his fishing boat ties up or on the beach of one of the unpopulated coves on the far side of the island.
We’re married, but the places that mean the most to us are not yet the same. When one of us is ‘home’ the other is a sojourner in a strange land.
Yet, every night we spend on the road and in a stranger’s house gets us closer to the day when we say ‘home’ and think of the same place and the same fall of light.
I got up and started repacking my bag, ready for the next leg of our journey.