They Say You Can’t Go Home Again.

My friend Ellen, I think1, once insisted on Twitter that your hometown is where you were born, period. No other place could be your hometown.

I viscerally didn’t agree with this, but didn’t say anything because I couldn’t figure out why. Much later, I think sometime in 2012, I realized what I was thinking. Namely, your hometown may or may not be the place you currently reside and it may or may not be the place you were born. Your hometown is the place you know. The rhythms, the roads, the speed traps, the truly unsafe places, the places people think are unsafe that are fine, the upscale places, the hidden gems. You know this place in your bones.

For me, while I deeply love Chicago and could happily live there the rest of my life, my hometown has always been Albuquerque, New Mexico. My family moved to a suburb when I was in my early teens, but placed me in school in Albuquerque proper. That’s where we spent most of our time, as they had purchased a small business in Albuquerque.

So, in many ways, Albuquerque is where I grew up; the suburb was where I happened to sleep and eat some meals. Albuquerque is where I got my first kiss. (And where I just, days ago, demanded Bill kiss me in the exact same spot. Yes, we were trespassing, briefly. I do not care.) Albuquerque is where I learned to drive. I know Albuquerque. I know where the best views are. I know that everyone should be eating at El Modelo, and also Jennifer James 101, and I know that one of those didn’t exist when I lived in Albuquerque, but I still know the place.

It’s still “Double Rainbow,” even though you think it’s “Flying Star.” They make the best eclairs in the world, but you need to share with a friend.

Back in April, I was visiting my family, and I spent a lot of time in the suburb. And when I told my mother, fairly early in my trip, about my thinking and how Albuquerque is my hometown, she just laughed. She said it was funny, because she’s always said to people that when I went to Chicago, I went home.

She wasn’t wrong. I want to know Chicago in my bones. I want to work to improve it. But, for now at least, Chicago is decidedly not my hometown. I still don’t exactly know when rush hour is. I haven’t found the best hole in the wall places. I haven’t tried the most talked about restaurant. I couldn’t tell you what neighborhood is what, sometimes. I’ve never had a Chicago Dog. I have eaten at Hot Doug’s, but I don’t feel the visceral woe that so many do.

However, I can get anywhere on public transit. I know that rush hour’s direction is “both ways.” I know to check the Bears’ schedule if I need to drive south on Roosevelt Road during football season. I know MY neighborhood’s name, even though a number of folks haven’t heard of it. I have OPINIONS on pizza. Despite not owning a car, I know the parking situation2.

And, funny enough?

I’m starting to get a little lost in Albuquerque. The city is changing, and so am I. Streets have changed. I can still sing the “Bob Turner’s Ford Country” jingle, but the dealership itself seems to have become a park and ride for University of New Mexico’s shuttle system. I still find myself singing Lights of Albuquerque on Tramway road, however the number of lights actually surprised me this time around.

I still know Albuquerque in my bones. But I can feel it changing. On this trip, I realized I don’t know where the Natural History Museum is, even though I bet I can get to the Field Museum from anywhere in Chicago. I don’t know where the best tea is; someone had to tell me. But I know new places.

I wouldn’t say I’m “hometown-less.” But I wonder if I’m getting there. And if I am, how will I know when I’ve found a new one? What are the chances I won’t? Will it be Chicago, as I currently want?

I don’t know. It’s a little strange, but it feels surprisingly good.

That said, I have to be honest: New Mexican food FOREVER. Nothing beats it.

1 I’ll admit, I could be wrong on who this was, as I cannot find the tweets in Ellen’s timeline. If I am wrong, Ellen, please let me know & I’ll correct the post somehow.

2 Always look for a sign before parking. Be incredibly cautious if there is no sign. It’s probably a trap.

6 thoughts on “They Say You Can’t Go Home Again.

  1. I like this post. I get it. When I was traveling in Europe (for 6 months) I had to distinguish between ‘home’ (my dorm/apartment/residence in PF) and ‘Home’ (Chicago) – because I’d say things like “I’m going home for the week and then off to ” and people would get really confused…

    Also, I was in ABQ for all of about two hours; but I really liked it and if I ever go back, I’m hitting you up for places around there to visit.

  2. I totally get that home-townless feeling. I’ve been on a bike tour for one month today, and every time someone asks me where I’m from, I have to pause and think. It’s a hard question to answer. I don’t have an actual home for the time being, so it’s weird. But I usually answer Maryland, because that’s where I grew up. Like you, I don’t feel like I know it as well as I used to, but its geography and places are deeply embedded in my brain.

  3. The hometownless feeling is weird, isn’t it? I remember writing a post about it back on my LJ or something from when I came home to Chicago from NM the first time. NM didn’t feel like home yet but neither did Illinois anymore. It was weird, and it left me a little bit depressive.

    I really LOVE NM and I feel like I’m opposite you here- I found home when I hit Tucumcari and saw the first hints of mesas rising from the grassless ground. It just…right away was like “Yes. This place. I want to be here, forever.”

    It just didn’t *feel* like home right away. And as much as I love Chicago (and I really really do) I tend to feel like I’m just biding my time until I can go back “home” to NM, regardless of growing up here in the northern suburbs.

    We’re opposites here! But at least I can count on you to get the same green chile cravings. 😉

    And honestly? I think the way you get out and do things here, it can’t be long before Chicago really feels like home for you. It’s obvious how much you love it, and you’re an explorer.

  4. As a person who has spent the majority of my early and recent years moving a LOT (from 7th – 12th grade I lived in the same house, and that’s the longest I can remember living in one place. My mom still lives there so I guess it’s the closest thing to “home,”) I totally get where you’re coming from. Especially since there’s still uncertainty about whether my current location will still be “home” or not after grad school. I too wonder if any place will feel as familiar as the place I spent my high school years. But if it’s possible, I really can’t wait to find it!
    I also contemplate this a lot when I think about the possibility of children down the road, and that my relocation decisions may have a huge effect on the place those future humans may call home.

    • It’s really challenging, isn’t it?

      I’m with you, though. I can’t wait to know where “home” is, finally. Again.

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