The One in the Window Seat

Where the doors are moaning all day long,
Where the stairs are leaning dusk to dawn,
Where the windows are breathing in the light,
Where the rooms are a collection of our lives:

This is a place where I don’t feel alone.
This is a place that I call my home.

–  “That Home” by The Cinematic Orchestra

I’m sitting here looking at all this delicious food I just made.  And eating it.  I was feeling lonely and depressed today… well, really for the past few days… and the audiobook of Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie I had checked out was due tomorrow, so I drove around quite a bit listening to the end of the book.  I went to the grocery store, and when I came back from returning the audiobook and checking out a new one, I had planned to make a chicken vegetable soup.  I started cooking frantically.  I boiled the chicken, then started to cook sweet potatoes and carrots in the water as I tore up the chicken.  Then my cooking plans changed completely.  I ended up making a sweet potato/carrot/almond/peanut soup and stir-frying chicken and vegetables on the side.  There wasn’t enough space in the pot for everything at once and the puréed smooth carby vegetable and nut soup just sounded too good to pass by.  When I cook, I often end up making something completely different than what I planned on making.  I will plan to use a recipe to try something new, and then change half of it around by the time I get to the end of my cooking endeavors, completely forgetting that I even had a recipe to follow in the first place.  Now I sit here with two delicious dishes, and I feel much better.  I cooked today more than I have in a long while.  I took out my anger and frustration and sadness on the sweet potatoes, listened to Mumford & Sons, and felt very stylish with a nice hairdo and a cute apron.  The only thing I’m missing are people with whom to share all this good food.  Then my house would feel like home.

I have called many places “home” over the years.  Really anywhere that I have people over consistently deserves the title.  My parents moved away from my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, when I was in university.  One time, I accidentally called Greenville, South Carolina (where I went to university), “home” in front of my mom and she actually got offended that I would call my school “home” and not yet call the home she and my dad were creating “home”.  When I still had a Facebook page, I called Birmingham my hometown.  While I now call my parents’ home “home” as well, it will never be my hometown.  I have only spent a few disconnected days, weeks, and months there over the past several years.  But now I have five or six places that I call “home”; I cannot pinpoint just one place.

Birmingham has never been a city about which I have cared much at all.  I grew up in the suburbs and did not spend time with people talking about how to improve downtown Birmingham.  And yet, as I drove into Birmingham this week and saw familiar signs pass me by, I felt giddy with excitement to be back after so long.  Why does a city I don’t care for and where most of my friends no longer live get me so excited?  I think it’s the familiarity.  I once lived there and called it my only home and, as I drove around and saw places that I passed every day, every week of my growing up life, I got nostalgic because each of them held a special memory.

When I was about nine or ten, I had a group of friends that all lived near me.  We would spend days riding our bikes around the neighborhood, stopping here and there to play or get refreshments from one of the girl’s houses, or to plan where we would stop next.  We may have spent more time planning to play than actually playing.  I knew (and know) that neighborhood like I know my favorite bread recipe, and that means I know it by heart, could quite easily draw you a map.  Once, when my friend and I were in second grade, we decided to have a midnight tea party on a hill we deemed to be halfway between our houses.  It was actually way closer to my house than hers, but I guess she was okay with that.  She agreed to bring her dad’s shot gun and I would bring the hot water, tea, milk, and sugar.  I woke up at midnight that night, was about to get out of bed to boil water, and decided that I preferred sleep to lukewarm, spilled tea in the dark.  And why did I think it was a good idea for my friend to bring the shot gun?  All that meant was that she would be protected, and I would only be protected while we were drinking tea, not before or after.  Maybe that’s why we chose the hill closer to my house.  That was a bad seven-year-old plan that never happened, thank goodness.  But still, when I drive my car over that hill, I think about our non-existent midnight tea party with great fondness.

Then there are so many places with high school memories.  I went to a very small high school (graduating class of a whopping five people) and we thought we were the coolest group of smart people we knew, while also realizing we really were not cool at all.  We wore uniforms, learned latin and logic, and made frantic almost-daily trips to Starbucks during our thirty-minute break each morning like our life depended upon lattes and pumpkin bread.  The three other girls in my class (yes, it did consist of only one boy) knew me so well that they could have finished most of my sentences.  They probably did finish most of my sentences.  I can be pretty slow.

This familiarity, these friends, these memories are what make Birmingham still “home”.  My friends’ families are like my families: their parents are like my parents, their siblings are like my siblings.  I can walk into their houses without knocking and that’s perfectly fine.  This week, I walked into the house where I was spending the night and my friend’s dad actually said, “Welcome home!” like their house was my house.  Well, it basically is.  There is nothing like home.

It takes a while to create a new home.  Some times it may be easier than other times, but it will always take time.  When I have found some good friends and had them over to my house quite a bit, that is when I can call my new residence “home”.  I dream about having people over to my house, planning parties, and cooking delicious meals that other people can enjoy in my house.  That just hasn’t happened quite yet.  I live too far away, and I work too early in the morning for easy home-making.

Today, as I finished Americanah in my car, I was reminded yet again just how great “home” is.  The main female character, Ifemelu, originally from Nigeria, spent thirteen years in the United States, starting with her university years.  She became more comfortable with the culture of the United States and got used to life there, eventually making blogging her only form of income.  She had a blog where she commented on race-related issues in the United States from the point of view of a “non-American black”.  But after those thirteen years, she decided to move back to Nigeria and, after some necessary adjustment to life in Nigeria, she felt like she was finally home again.  The familiarity of the culture and the people, and the disappearance of “race” in Nigeria made her feel at home once more.

It is hard not to idolize home and familiarity.  After moving around so much in the past few years, all I want is the comfortability that comes with calling a place “home”.  I am sure my new place here will come to feel more and more like home over time, but I sure do wish that could happen now, immediately.  I want people in my house all the time and I want people to know me well enough that I don’t have to explain myself to them.  I want a job where I feel I’m making a difference, where I don’t feel useless.  (I mean, would it really be so awful if people walked to their own table for a meal, instead of me deciding on a table for them?  I know the whole system would be thrown off and then the service wouldn’t be as good, but I still feel useless, standing behind a podium ALL DAY LONG.)  I long for a sense of purpose, reason, community.  I want my house to be a place for discussion, laughter, tears, tea, and togetherness.

I know I should not only want familiarity and comfort.  And I don’t just want that, I want to try new things and be faced with challenges; otherwise life would be so very boring.  But I do want the familiarity and comfort of “home”.  Then, it will be easier to try those new things and face those scary challenges and risk rejection.  With people eating my food, filling my seats (window seats are the best!), and enjoying my house, I feel as though any difficulty could be addressed, adversity could be faced, or dream could come true.


Read from the beginning:


2 thoughts on “The One in the Window Seat

  1. Betsy,
    The concept of home and the sense of place is important to me, too. I have found over the years that home really means to be in a place where those you love and love also are. I’m praying for a sense of settledness for you, too.



    • Thanks, Uncle Corb!

      Yes, I completely agree that home is a place where there are people you love. With people you love comes familiarity and comfort. But for me home doesn’t really feel like home until I’ve been able to show hospitality toward the people I love.

      Love you too!


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