Whenever I head into my office in Exeter, California, I’m bound to see at least one stray dog or cat roaming the streets seemingly with no agenda. Some are friendly, most are very timid, and I wonder where home is for those domesticated animals. Do they even have a home? Or did they wander too far and now belong to the streets. Upon reflecting, I change the subject of my questioning to myself, and I have no answers.
Where exactly is home when you’ve moved more than 10 times in your life, to about 10 cities, across five states? I currently live in a town where I know no one except co-workers, and I never planned to stay here long. So, calling this place home feels weird. So much so that I never bothered to put up decorations in my apartment. Although I’ve been here more than two years, I know it’s just another stop, and the bare white walls are a daily reminder.
I’ve grappled with the idea of home and what it means for a while. One may point to their birth certificate for answers, but I’m sure I’m not alone in having few distinct memories of my birthplace. For some people, home is an effortless concept to understand because they’ve never gone outside the borders in which they were raised.
As an extrovert, I talk to everyone I see in Exeter. Somehow, that is a dead giveaway that I’m not a Californian, and so I’m often asked where I’m from. The curious strangers are clueless as to how much of a loaded question that is. I claim metro Detroit as my home as it encompasses a wide range of places I lived during my adolescent years. It’s also where my parents reside with my little brother and sister. But how can a place be home if I haven’t lived there in several years and don’t plan on moving back? I guess it can still hold that title even though I relocated more than 2,000 miles away for college, with no intention of turning back. Maybe that’s why it took me some four years to finally experience the peculiar feelings of homesickness.
December 2019 was my first Christmas after graduating from LMU. That year was the first time that I couldn’t travel to be with my parents and siblings on the country’s biggest holiday. I didn’t let it show, but I was definitely sad about it. I was in my first full-time job in journalism — an industry that knows no holidays — therefore I had to work. On Christmas Day, I did travel to the Bay Area to be with my girlfriend and her family, which was a great time. But something was missing. I wasn’t awoken at the crack of dawn by my little siblings eager to open presents. I wasn’t greeted by the smell of bacon sweeping the house as my dad cooked his simple but signature breakfast: eggs, bacon, grits and biscuits. There was no snow on the ground, and the temperature wasn’t below freezing.
I’ve concluded that home is such a relative term, and everyone has their own definition. Some people cross the border into a familiar city, and a feeling of nostalgia alerts them that they’re home. For others, it’s not until they walk through the doors of a dwelling that instantly allows them to let their guard down. Because of my nostalgia for home, I’ve realized that I fall in both categories. While I work toward creating a new sense of home here in California’s Central Valley, there’s one place that I always find myself heading back to. I could be away for two years, but as soon as my flight lands at the Detroit airport, my brain knows what’s next. I hop in my parents’ car, we make that 45-minute drive back to their house, and suddenly I am home.
Jermaine Johnson II is a sports reporter for The Sun-Gazette newspaper in Exeter, California.