Though I think it could be both, for me personally, home has gotta be a place. When I think about home, I think about lush, green limestone islands, clean, white sandy beaches, and a lazy, laid-back atmosphere that’s conducive for lounging the day away.
Palau is home. It’s where I experienced many important “firsts” in my life. Things like my birth (though I don’t remember it happening, which is a blessing when you think about it), my childhood, my adolescence, my entering into adulthood. And with each stage came memories of happy times and heartbreak.
In that way, home is a place.
Having said that, all those memories, which have remained with me everywhere I’ve gone since, do evoke strong feelings of home within me. They’re like little mementos, locked away somewhere deep in my mind, that I sort of neglect.
But every once in a while, something happens, jolting me awake and causing a memory to come rushing to the forefront.
In fact, a couple weeks ago, on my way downtown to see a realtor about an office space, Greenday’s “American Idiot” came filtering through the car speakers from a random playlist on Soundcloud. I was suddenly back in Palau, a teenager all over again, free of adult responsibilities and stresses.
From behind the safety of my ride, I rocked out like it was 2004. Folks who might’ve seen me, from the street and the passing cars, must’ve thought I was a total idiot. But it didn’t really matter though, because for those 3 or 4 minutes, I was back home, in Palau.
I love how music can do that—momentarily transport us to a specific time and place, in an instant. Next to writing, it’s most definitely one of my favorite pastimes.
I remember another time, at an aisle in Walgreens, with my wife. She was buying herself underarm deodorant, seemingly going through every single one of them, uncapping and sniffing each and asking for my opinion.
Honestly, I was bored out of my mind. If memory serves, I think I might’ve told her liked all of them, hoping she’d choose one and we could get out of there.
Then she handed me a cherry blossom-scented Secret.
All it took was one whiff and memories of my first girlfriend, both sad and happy ones (but mostly happy), flooded my brain. It had been a long time since I’d thought about her, but that warm feeling of home, of Palau, came alive within me at that moment.
I kinda feel guilty about this last part, but I really wanted my wife to buy it and tried my best to convince her to. I’m not exactly sure why I did, but I did.
Could be that the smell made me feel homesick, and I thought that if my wife wore it around me, it would be as if I’m back home all the time. Maybe. In the end she decided on some other brand whose name I’ve since forgotten.
Upon further reflection, I guess I was wrong in my first assessment that home is more a place than a feeling.
Perhaps, home is a feeling, associated with a place, where important events in our lives happen.
I think of it like the proverbial “white room syndrome” in writing, where characters exist in a vacuum.
We all need a setting to ground our experiences. Some of my fondest memories here in the U.S. have been at loved ones houses, and even Airbnbs, just as those in Palau happened at parties and my ex’s place.
I wonder, whenever I finally do return back “home” to Palau, will I recall my time here in the U.S. and get those warm homey feelings? I think I will, honestly.
This place is, after all, where many important events in my life—raising a family, learning invaluable lessons, discovering my passion for writing, and many more to come—have (and will have) occurred when it’s all said and done.
Featured image by Peter R. Binter