Although I've loved each of the four cities and regions in which I've lived and every one felt (and still does feel) like home, it's only recently that I've started thinking about what it means to be rooted in a particular location in the way that most people seem to be rooted. I've never had that kind of relationship to place and I'm not sure I ever will.
My parents weren't natives of the state in which I grew up, and neither were most of my friends' parents; indeed, on the rare occasions when I met someone whose grandparents lived across town or whose parents had attended a neighboring high school, I was astonished. Although the families I knew were all well-anchored in our community--our parents bought houses, joined churches, ran for office, and stayed put for 20 or 40 years--it just seemed to be the natural order of things that each generation moved elsewhere. Every summer of my childhood featured a rolling temporary diaspora as my friends and their families traveled to one state or another, or even overseas, to visit their grandparents and cousins.
And sure enough, I moved across the country for college--and moved again, to Manhattan, then back to grad school, then back to Manhattan, and finally to Cha-Cha City when I got this job. That's more or less what all my friends have done, though some have moved farther and some less far, some more times and some fewer. We've moved basically by choice: for school, for a job, for a partner, or just for a change of scene; our choices weren't infinite and were usually circumscribed in various ways, but moving somewhere new always meant doing something new, and usually something better. Haven't Americans always been a people on the move?
But as it turns out, Cha-Cha City isn't a place that people move to. In my first year or two here I was continually getting asked--by shop clerks, tradespeople, my students--why I'd moved here. When I told them cheerfully that it was for a job, they'd repeat the question. At first I thought this was about the local residents' modesty, or maybe low civic self-esteem: they didn't realize what a cool place this was! And so I talked up all the awesome things about the city, and why I loved it, and why I was happier here than I'd been elsewhere.
But then I realized that that wasn't it. It's that, for most people--not just here, but across the country--it's odd to move around a lot and even odder to decide to settle down in a random location to which one has no personal connections. Most people I meet find it strange that Cosimo and I grew up on opposite coasts, strange that we each at different points attended schools 3,000 miles away from our families, and even stranger that, now that our schooling is done, we live close neither to school nor friends nor family.
I'm tempted to call this a class difference, but it isn't, or at least not in the usual sense of that word: there are plenty of prosperous, educated, well-traveled people in this city and cities like it, people who may have lived elsewhere at various points in their lives, but who are here, now, mostly because they're from here. (And, of course, there are just as many people in my own "class" who have fled their childhood homes but now can't imagine leaving their adopted homes of New York, Boston, or D.C.; L.A., Chicago, or San Francisco; Austin, Portland, or Denver.)
It's that kind of rootedness that feels foreign to me. I'm ready to settle here. I could live here for twenty years. But at any point I could probably still leave on six month's notice--because I'm not from here and because being with my spouse and having a satisfying career is more of a priority than living in a specific place, even one that I love.
The thing is, I love lots of places. Lots of places could be home. But that means there isn't one, in particular, that is home.