It started because of COVID, for me. The polite kick-out we received in March 2020 sent everyone into a frenzy as we tried to figure out plane tickets and carpooling partners. Where would we go? For how long? What was happening?
I answered these questions from my then-boyfriend’s basement in Cincinnati, a suitcase of clothes and textbooks (and a cardboard box of my plants) the only company I could bring from my dorm.
Four days later, I continued answering those questions from my friend Dean’s house near Columbus, grocery shopping with his mother while reassuring my own that Dean’s house was a safe place for me to weather out the pandemic-crazy. I still remember the clincher about his parents: Gary has guns and Jamie will force-feed me pasta before I go hungry. I’m in as good a spot as I can be. I stayed there for three weeks.
I’d slept in odd places before COVID: a peach-colored couch in Upland, Indiana; a rogue queen mattress (without sheets) in Peotone, Illinois; a camping cot, set up as a guest bed, in an Oskaloosa, Iowa, nursery; a pull-out couch at The Wisconsin Dells; a damp sleeping bag off the coast of Lake Michigan. These pit-stops always seemed to be conscious choices, though. Visits to friends and vacations to waterparks and nights under the stars were calculated hiatuses. I could leave whenever I wanted. Home was a known place, a definitive foundation.
Dean’s house was different. I had to learn how to use a new washer and dryer because I’d run out of underwear. I made the bed every morning because though claiming it for weeks, it still wasn’t mine. Very little was mine. I’d been evicted from my dorm room. My parents didn’t want me home if I was sick. Our plan was to find me a hotel room if I got the Rona (still not mine). I had few places to go, entirely dependent on the hospitality of others.
The world isn’t as fretful as it was in March. People are allowed back in the dorms. I’m not suspicious when my friends sniffle. My parents would welcome me home whether I was yakking or coughing or feverish. I have a consistent, predictable place to sleep. And yet as I return to my apartment each night, I’m struck by how temporary it still feels—year-long leases, holiday breaks when the village vacates, weekends where my peers sleep in cars and brush their teeth in gas stations. We are untethered, ever-moving, the generation yet to be bound.
I talk about it with my friends often. We’ll congregate around the couch that came with our fully furnished apartment (thanks Rob) and talk about how odd it feels to go home. Our bedrooms are being turned into offices and grandkid play-rooms. When we come back, there may be a mattress for us, but not the same space—physical or social—that was there when we left.
But this also isn’t a manifesto against empty-nesters moving on. Mine is also the generation that forgoes family Thanksgiving for a road trip to Daytona Beach. Everyone is adapting.
We feel it when we stop moving. When the road trips and camping weekends are over, when RA’s remind dorm-goers that they must be moved out by 3 pm, when our closets at home are filled with boxes that are not ours—we are facing the transition.
Home is more than the place we are welcome; my friends share more meals with me than my parents; my professors have been the ones offering advice and wisdom; I forgot to tell my dad that I was dating someone new; I buy shampoo and pay for it myself.
Let no parent read this and, in a rage, lament my critique of parents boxing children out of their homes. It is time for us to be boxed out, to endure the scraped knees and credit card bills of adulthood. We need calluses.
I was walking with my mom over fall break, pushing my niece in her stroller, wiping select tears from my cheeks as I teased this concept out. I love her. I love my stepdad. I love that I know my hometown without Google maps. But I’d also stood in my childhood shower the night before, the same height and weight as I’ve been since eighth grade, convinced I’d outgrown it.
It’s terrifying and exciting, sobering and exhilarating. We have the opportunity to build something new.
Might I encourage the college nomad, shifting between couches and bunkbeds and hotels and tents: taste the discomfort. Go home, sleep in the room that feels once-yours, and use the time it takes to fall asleep to dream of what you might build, where you might go.
Invite boyfriends and classmates over for Thanksgiving. Go somewhere new for spring break. We can build something new and still cherish our roots. They have earned our homage. Let’s tend to them as we also strive to put down our own.
Heidie Raine is a junior English major at Cedarville with concentrations in creative and journalistic writing. In addition to working for Cedarville public relations and the writing center, Heidie loves perusing her local Goodwill, drinking iced cortados, watching videos of sea otters, and caring for her small forrest of plants.