Settle Down

When I was a child, reading was a favorite escape of mine. I would curl up in my room for hours, having tea with the Mad Hatter, surviving alone on deserted islands, and exploring hidden, magical lands. As I grew, the mystery and fantasy of travel stayed with me, taking me away from my Orange County home for brief stints in Asia, Europe, and Canada. But I never stayed long—it was always a trip, an exploration, a stop before the return home.

Home. The nondescript house my family moved to on my first birthday, the elementary-through-high-school building where I was homeschooled, the verdant backyard playground my parents developed thanks to their deep love of plants and animals. My brothers and I had countless water-gun fights in that backyard, and within the rooms of that house I first learned to pray.

But as childhood gave way to my teenage years, the secure walls started to feel too reliable, too known. “Home” implied the practical and mundane aspects of life adults complain about: work every morning, a lengthy commute, making meals, mowing the lawn. I was ready to wander, but my nomadic fancies sustained themselves on travel essays while I lived with my parents, finished college, and started full-time work. As the itch to travel outside my comfort zone grew, I found myself confronted with a new type of adventure when a friend began to move from outlier to endeared.

It was at the familiar yellow front door that he asked me on our first date. We made soft pretzels in the kitchen, and in the family room we sat close to each other on the couch while we ate. At the kitchen table, family celebrated us the night of our engagement, and my bridesmaids and I crowded around the living room mirror to put on our makeup the day of my wedding.

His career path required moving, and as we planned a Southern California wedding we also planned a move to Eastern Washington. It felt like a dream—we would be married, and together we would create a place for ourselves outside of our familial residences.

What surprised me after we moved was how unequipped I felt to start that work. Shifting from an inherited, fully-furnished home—complete with ingrained routine—to inventing a new home was a painful process. As unemployed newcomers to the city, we were mostly bound to our apartment. We aimlessly rearranged our furniture and assessed our possessions, unsure of how we should be spending our time at home while we looked for work. What did “home” even mean for my new husband and me?

My expectations and hopes for adventure seemed distant and unhelpful. My house plants withered despite my dreams of a thriving garden like the one my parents had. We quickly realized the Pacific Northwest valued different ideas and skills than Southern California. I couldn’t focus on our marriage because of how much internal turmoil I felt, which made me feel guilty and selfish. I wondered if my parents had grappled with the same sting of dissatisfaction and defeat early on in their married lives.

I was unprepared for the emotional cost of such a significant physical move. This new place held no history, and bore no connection to my significant memories. The pho place here didn’t remind me of the stories we told at 2 am while laughing over steaming soup bowls. The roads didn’t hold the familiar route to my best friend’s house or retain the pop songs we harmonized to while driving together. And most of all, Eastern Washington didn’t include my family home of more than 20 years, with the garden and the recollections of childhood capers with my siblings.

The location of my growing years is as much a part of my identity as the people I love and the experiences I’ve had. Moving to Washington suddenly took away all routine and familiarity, and I found that its seasons mirrored my own life through uncomfortably apt cycles of abundance and loss.

But slowly, the mere act of living in a new place has begun to naturally form new memories. I’ve submitted job applications across town, explored coffee shops, and grown attached to the local sushi bar. I’ve learned that my efforts to rush the process of homemaking cause anxiety, that trying to curate memories like Instagram profiles doesn’t work. I’ve learned to let history be made in its own time.

We’re beginning our second winter in Spokane, this time in a different apartment. Our new place is flooded with the gray-tinged winter light, thanks to ancient metal-framed windows, and the radiators clang loudly at all hours, announcing forthcoming heat. The top couch cushion holds the familiar indentation that marks our feline’s favorite spot. My ailing spider plants and succulents are cautiously beginning to grow after a careful diet of sunshine and frequent watering. Daily, we go to work, make meals, and brush our teeth together. Tasks that I once considered mundane now function as a welcome, regular structure with the one I love.

A few weekends ago, we went and bought a Christmas tree, just as we did last year. I remember anxiously grappling then with what I wanted our traditions to be, but this year is different. This year, I don’t care about how big our tree is, or whether our apartment looks like a home, because it’s finally starting to feel like one.

Lauren is a Fred Armisen fan, hot tea collector, and amateur cat paparazzo currently living in Spokane, Wash.