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Four Years at the Mount

The Graduate

This house is not my home

Nicole Jones
Class of 2014

"Every house where love abides
And friendship is a guest,
Is surely home, and home sweet home
For there the heart can rest."
           -Henry Van Dyke

(1/2015) it has been said that, "Home is where the heart is." I would like to know how the original author of this statement defined "heart." Did they intend the literal definition of one's physical heart, pumping loyally in our chests, in turn telling us that literally wherever we physically are is home? That a place is our home simply because we are physically there? Or perhaps the author meant the less literal, more romantic definition of "heart" that refers to our feelings of love for our family and friends or even the city itself in which we live, thus leading to a more internal and ethereal realization of home? If the first, then why do we ever become homesick when we can simply create home around ourselves, when we ourselves are enough to make a place home? If the second, is it really home that we become sick for or the people within it, the places and faces that made us who we are and gave us an identity? Of course, if these things made us who we are, then we are, in fact, an embodiment of those places and faces that molded us. Consequently, we then portray these ideals everywhere we go, thus returning us to the first definition that we are our own home. Sorry if Iíve confused anyone so far, but reread as many times as you need to, and youíll see Iím not purely rambling. I guess both interpretations of "heart" lead to a unique but true definition of "home," even if the logic is a bit circular. Glad we cleared that up.

I've been at the University of Virginia for two months now, and I must admit that the first few weeks were quite an adjustment. Between the new faces and places, the stress of school and the responsibilities of apartment renting, I was understandably a little overwhelmed. The city of Charlottesville is very unlike Emmitsburg or my hometown of Westminster. There is a bus system to navigate, a campus five times as large as the one I just graduated from with ten times the number of students, a lot less nature, and a lot more city. While that means there are a variety of activities one could be doing at any given time, it also means the locals (mostly students, of course) operate at a much faster pace with a lot less down time. This works for them, and that's wonderful, but this small-town country girl misses midnight horseback riding and star gazing at Echo Field. It's these various differences that make Charlottesville unique, but also makes me miss my homes. No, that's not a typo. I very much consider both my house at Silver Pond Farm and my alma mater, Mount St. Mary's, to be my homes. Both have brought me joys and memories that will last me a lifetime, personal growth in immeasurable quantities, and relationships that continue to bless me.

During a short fall break, I recently returned to the Mount. Since I pass right by campus on my way to my parents' house, I stopped in on a Friday night as the campus was closing down for its own fall break. Luckily, my remaining undergraduate friends are resident assistants (RAs), so their responsibilities kept them on campus later than most students. I found them sitting in the apartment lounge where I used to have my own RA meetings. I would say it was all very nostalgic, but honestly, it felt like I had never left. It was still my campus, my home. I'd sat in that lounge, on that particular sofa, with those faces a dozen times before. The only rather large difference now is that I don't pay tuition. I later visited the Residence Life office where I was hugged and hello-ed by my former coworkers and current friends. My distinct laugh drew familiar faces to me like a fly to honey. I told and was told stories, we laughed, and we reminisced of the things that were only five short months ago. These people were still my friends, this office still familiar. I sought out a quiet corner in one of the many campus chapels, a place I had knelt many times before. And still, it was my spot. That campus is still my home.

I made it to my parents' house where I was greeted with hugs, puppy kisses, and a place at the kitchen table with a hot quesadilla from the local Italian joint. (A confusing combination, I know.) I sat on the familiar black leather sofa in front of the perpetually recording DVR and caught up on shows that my parents saved for me. I slept in the bedroom of my own decoration surrounded by piles of books that I had spent my entire childhood collecting and now waited for me to find the time to read them. I sat out in the crisp autumn air and watched the blue heron fly away from the pond that we had had countless barbeques and bonfires next to. I walked out to the pastures where my own horse did a double-take, staring in disbelief as the long-lost two-legged creature she had once perpetually carried on her back approached her. Thatís when I knew I had been away longer than usual, but oddly, it still felt like I had seen her yesterday. Everything was as it always was. My saddle in the same spot I left it in the barn, my truck parked inconveniently behind momís car, the dogs sleeping in their usual spots by the master bed. No matter how much time passed, or how much I changed, this place was a constant. It was loyal to every memory. It had touched me and was touched by me. It is my home.

After four short days, I returned to Charlottesville. I pulled into my usual parking space, and turned off the engine, grateful that the three and a half hour drive was over. I grabbed my bags, unlocked the deadbolt, and dumped everything just inside the door of my apartment. Looking around, it was at that moment that I fully understood what a home was to me.

I had my own clothes hanging in my closet and my own furniture busily furnishing the small living room. My keyboard stood in the corner and my laptop rested on my desk. My poster from Austria decorated the wall, food I had bought filled the fridge, and pictures of my friends looked down at me. But these objects didnít make the apartment my home.

My books litter my apartment from the bedroom to the office. I took my classes just a half-mile away. One of my classmates just moved in down the street from me. I have a job at one of the fourteen libraries on campus that keeps my gas tank full and buys my favorite dumplings at the joint off of Elliewood Avenue. My church is basically next-door, my laundromat actually is next door, and my favorite spot at the soccer stadium practically waits for me whenever thereís a home game. But this familiarity didnít make Charlottesville my home.

This place is not my home because it lacks love. It lacks the people I love and the people who love me, the memories weíve made together, and their faith and fellowship. Yet, I am comfortable and successful and happy here. This is only made possible by constantly tapping into that source of love through texting, calling, emailing, and writing my friends and family. Every day I hear from at least two people and one day I even heard from as many as ten. Phone calls are rarely shorter than an hour, and an unexpected letter arriving in my mailbox can brighten an entire week. My homes have the power to sustain me from over 150 miles away because it isnít purely about those books sitting on my bookshelf unread or that favorite corner in the chapel; itís about the people who bought me those books and the person who first took me to that chapel. Those objects and places were expressions of love and were touched by that expression, thus giving them importance. This shabby apartment has ghostly signs of love in the furniture that was bought by my parents and the apples that I picked when my friend visited me, but there is a difference between a weekend exchange and an outpouring of love on a daily basis. As much as my contact with family and friends makes this place livable, the sheer lack of their daily presence means Charlottesville will never be home for me.

Returning to that dizzying opening argument, I can safely agree that home IS where your heart is, in both meanings of the concept. The places and faces of Emmitsburg and Westminster are my home because of the daily exhibitions of love that occurred there and the memories that go with them, but that love can be expressed even over 150 miles away, making Charlottesville just a little more homey even if it still falls short of the full title. There is definitely a sense of home that is carried with me, which is perhaps why when I returned to Maryland it felt like I had never left, because in my heart I hadnít. In my daily texting and calling I hadnít. I had never left that love behind, and it continues to stay with me every day, even as I flip through hefty textbooks a whole state away. Home isnít something so easily left behind because love isnít something so easily left behind.

Read other articles by Nicole Jones