What Is Home? || Jamison O'Sullivan



by Jamison O'Sullivan

Home is not a place but a very specific feeling, one that brings to mind things like sunset and crisp leaves, twinkle lights and blankets by a fire, a kiss pressed to your forehead. It’s mosquito bites and sunburn, the subtle discomforts that come as a price to simple joys. It’s the well-worn spine of your favorite novel, or lyrics to a song you haven’t heard in a decade but keep in your head; muscle memory. It’s staying out late and lights brighter than the dusk and the last tequila shot, salt on your skin.

Home is not a place but a collection of snapshots, moments of perfect contentment that we hang onto. Home is more easily defined by what it isn’t than what it is—the feeling of simple relief when you get to go back to what’s yours after leaving somewhere that isn’t. It’s the shape of the word “adventure” in your best friend’s mouth or the sound of your favorite person’s laughter.

Creating a home can be difficult; it’s all about putting yourself out there, finding a path in the middle of the unknown, and learning from the mistakes you make along the way. Home for me was always something I struggled to define; my parents divorced when I was in elementary school, so home wasn’t a single concrete location for me, (41.645850, -73.069500), a pin on a grid. When I went to college, I was offered a chance to remake that idea of home and redefine what that word even meant to me. I think that’s something everyone at some point in their life is offered the chance to explore, regardless of the situation they are in—though your situation may be unique, the feeling it evokes is universal.

I often catch myself referring to home as where I am not. “I’m going home for the weekend,” I tell my roommates when I book an Amtrak ticket from Back Bay to New Haven. “I’m just homesick for Boston,” I explain to my sister, five months into quarantine, while we stare out the windows, bored by 9pm. This is always a habit I’ve endeavored to break since I started, because I hated the indecisiveness of it.

I was raised by strict parents, the oldest of three girls. My mom and dad liked each other for the first decade of my life, until like turned into barely tolerate and “home” split into “Mom’s house” and “Dad’s house.” The idea of home as one distinct location is more of a memory than a concrete concept now.

At some point or another in our lives, our idea of “home” changes. We move out of a parent’s house, buy a place in a new town, sign a lease in a city we’ve never been to, throw a dart at a map. We grow up, spread our wings. We all end up in different places, but we all experience that type of change at least once. So, home is more than just a location.

When I moved to Boston, I wanted to call it home immediately, desperate to be something beyond who I’d been in Connecticut. I didn’t want to be a tourist in the city; I wanted to belong to it as much as it belonged to me. I memorized T maps and figured out how the silver line worked and developed an intense love for the Red Sox. I found a family in my roommates and the friends I made in my dorm. Maybe home is a person, I thought, counting down the days until I was back. But life went on, and friend groups changed. My new idea of home had been based around people who didn’t always have time for me anymore; once more, I had to reconfigure how I saw the word. So, home is more than just a person.

So, what is home? I’d thought I’d figured it out, but family and home are two different concepts, regardless of who or what they are comprised of. When I really broke it down, what made me feel at home with people was how I felt when I was with them. So there it was, a movie montage coming together, finally making sense. Being pushed back into the passenger seat of my friend’s Volvo as he drove ninety miles an hour uphill on Route 44 into Avon. Blowing kisses to Gabby before I hang up on Facetime, no matter if she’s calling from two floors above me or Buenos Aires. The collection of wristbands up my right arm from all the concerts I went to with Liz, voice so raspy people thought I was always sick. Walking back to my apartment in the middle of the night or while the sun was coming up, the route home from Davis Square as familiar to me as the tattoo on my forearm. Drunk Jenga on the coffee table and making eye contact with Meg before a shot, or scarring Madi’s roommates for life as we do a shoey in her bathroom at 10am after the last F1 race of the season. Laughter and kisses and 1am drives across the Zakim Bridge with the windows down and house shows in run-down basements in Allston, waking up with smudged Xs on my hands and glitter on my cheeks.

Home wasn’t any particular person or location in my life—home was me. For someone who often has a hard time believing in her own self-worth, it was a difficult concept to grasp, but there it was, plain as day.

So. Home is not a place. Home is not a person. Home is an experience. It’s a playlist on shuffle, the ever-changing and eclectic mix you allow yourself to be when you shine your very brightest. It is different for all of us, and yet.

And yet—it is somehow all the same.


Jamison O'Sullivan is a senior at Emmanuel College pursuing a degree in Writing, Editing, and Publishing. Her work has been chosen for publication in Schuylkill Valley Journal, The Scarlet Leaf Review, and The Saintly Review. She lives in Boston, where she enjoys wandering the city and curating her many Spotify playlists.

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