Does home mean decorating your apartment? Does it mean buying a map of the world to fill the empty wall in your living room? Does it mean running along the Oconee River and learning how many songs it takes to complete a loop? Does it mean adopting a gray and black striped tabby named Allie, who meows at your bedroom door in the morning, who falls asleep in your lap?
Does it mean receiving two homemade chocolate cakes for your 23rd birthday? One from your roommate Pooja, who uses frosting to write your name in pretty cursive letters. The other from your friend Scarlett, who brings the triple-layer cake to nonfiction workshop, and asks for a list of birthdays so she can do the same for everyone else. Does it mean gathering for Channing Tatum movie nights and Grey’s Anatomy nights, where you take turns bringing red wine, popcorn, pizza, sour gummy worms, and brownies?
Does it mean exploring the cities that surround you? Does it mean experiencing southern hospitality firsthand in Macon—where, in the parking lot of an outdoor shopping mall, your roommate checked her tire pressure and a couple in their 60s approached and asked if you needed help? Does it mean getting tipsy on River Street in Savannah and taking your first pickleback shot (a shot of whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice)? Does it mean trying the duck fat tater tots with blackberry thyme mustard sauce at a brunch place in Athens and feeling let down by the school lunch tater tots you grew up eating?
Does it mean discovering you and Morgan share a favorite book (Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld) and feeling bubbly, understood, grateful by this revelation? Does it mean speaking up in your fiction workshop? You’ve gotten to know the people in the class. The program feels less like school and more like a community. You know that sounds cheesy, but it’s true, because in undergrad, your heart pounded every time before you spoke in a workshop, and now you can speak without planning your words ahead of time.
Does home mean playing catchphrase and heads up and needing to pause the game at points because everyone is laughing too hard to speak? Does it mean shivering when the temperature drops to the 60s, even though you’re from Minnesota, even though Minnesota is already experiencing frost?
Home happens slowly. It emerges in the routines we establish, in the people we befriend. There are still days that the south surprises me. October 18th and I’m wearing short sleeves outside—and I’m sweating? In Minnesota, the trees are bursting into red and burnt orange; a chill prompts sweaters and gloves. I didn’t realize how much I rely on the change in seasons to measure the year. October in Georgia feels like summer in Minnesota, yet we are past fall break, past midterms. We are nearly at Halloween.
There are still days that my mouth waters for the veggie momos from Everest on Grand, the falafel wraps from Shish, the egg rolls from Indochin. There are still days that someone posts a photo of the trees aflame at Macalester (my undergraduate campus) and my throat clenches with jealousy and longing. There are still days I use Google maps, because I think I know where I’m going, but I don’t know. There are still days when I stand amidst the aisles of WalMart or Kroger and it strikes me, just as fresh as when I first moved here, that I now live in Georgia.