By Kayla Parks
My first memories took place in a small, two-bedroom house in South Minneapolis. I remember holding a parasol above my head while clomping on the hardwood floors in plastic high heels, noisy birthday parties in the backyard, and talking to my dad in the damp basement while he did laundry. That house was my first home. When I was twelve, my parents decided to move from Minneapolis to Bloomington, a nice suburb thirty minutes away. At the time, the move didn't seem like such a big deal. I finished eighth grade at the same school I had attended since kindergarten. My parents kindly shuttled me to and from Minneapolis for sleepovers and trips to the mall, and life went on as usual.
Everything changed when I went to high school. I remember so vividly the hot afternoon in August when I went to Jefferson High School to get my class schedule and have my picture taken for my school ID. I signed up for the tennis team even though I had never played a game in my life. Tennis started the second week in August, and for five days a week, from 9am to 3pm, we practiced on the scorching hot tennis courts overlooking the parking lot. At noon on the first day of practice, the girls on the team hopped in their cars to go out for lunch. Meanwhile, I took my sandwich and walked across the soccer field. Hidden inside a brick alcove of another building, I ate alone on the cement steps--an experience that was completely new to me. Spending nine years at a school with the same forty kids in your class leaves little room for loneliness at lunchtime.
I soon realized that almost everyone at Jefferson came with built in friends from elementary or middle school. For them, ninth grade was just a new building, not a new life. If this sounds dramatic, I should divulge that I am not the best at “putting myself out there.” I am quiet and reserved around people I don’t know, and it takes a lot of time for me to trust someone enough to share my true thoughts and feelings. I’m better now than I was at age fifteen, but I still struggle with being open. Overnight, I had gone from being known and liked by my classmates to being invisible among 1,600 faces I had never seen before. My confidence was crushed, and I spent the next four years at school feeling pretty much invisible. Eventually, I found a small, core group of friends at Jefferson, and while I loved them, I spent every single weekend with my old friends in Minneapolis. To me, they were home.
When it came time to apply for college, I knew that I had to leave Minnesota. I haven’t been as sure about any decision in my life since then. I applied to three schools: DePaul, Loyola, and Northwestern. All of them were in Chicago or on the outskirts, but I chose DePaul because of its central location and small class sizes.
It worked out wonderfully. The summer before my sophomore year, I moved into a studio on Bissell Street that was so small I could basically reach the stove from my bed. None of my friends had moved back to the city yet, or had even started looking for apartments off campus. I spent that summer in my tiny studio mostly alone, but never lonely. It was a new kind of feeling. I walked for miles every day, looking up at the brownstones lining the streets of Lincoln Park, and at the skyscrapers lining the Chicago River. I swam in Lake Michigan, miraculously not contracting a single disease from whatever filth is dumped there on the regular. I started cooking vegan and worked out daily, just because I could (laughing so hard at how much things have changed--I had bacon and a croissant today). I got lost on the L, found my way back, and promptly got lost again. I read books in Oz Park, and gazed at my reflection in the Bean. That summer, I didn't feel invisible; I felt like I belonged. Chicago had become my home and I was so in love.
It was around that time that I started writing. I wrote personal essays and little stories and would edit them for hours, knowing full well that not a single person but myself would read them. Writing gave me focus and strength and restored some of the confidence I had lost in high school. My words were proof that I was changing - that I was becoming a person with a unique identity, no longer just a photo on a school ID. I wrote all through college, and eventually published* a blog that was essentially a long personal essay, titled “On Bissell Street.”
*By “published,” I mean that I posted the link on Facebook for a select group of people to see, and then immediately deleted it. Two weeks later I got the guts to leave it up for good.
In May of 2012 I made the decision to move back to Minnesota. While I had a decent job in Chicago at a law office downtown, I was becoming bored and unsure of what to do next. Sure, I knew lots of people who would meet me for a drink if I called, but I began to crave more authentic connections, both in my friendships and romantic relationships. Chicago started to feel less and less like home with each passing month, and after five years I knew my time there was done. When I left in July and packed up my studio, I remember ruthlessly throwing things away because I was so excited to just get the hell out of there.
When I returned to Minneapolis for almost a year, however, it wasn't the same Minneapolis I remembered from my childhood. Returning to the city I had first called home felt unsettling, as if my life there was temporary. At the same time, the familiarity of my surroundings felt stiflingly permanent. It was a strange realization: Chicago wasn't home anymore, but neither was Minneapolis.
A few weeks ago, I moved back into the same house in the suburb of Bloomington I had so desperately wanted to escape seven years ago. My move back home was sudden and surprising, but now that I've had a little time to adjust, it's not so bad. Each day I can't help but wonder, though: where is home? Is it where I grew up? Is it wherever I happen to be living at the moment? Is it the place I've had my best memories, or the place I've had the most? Maybe it's somewhere I haven't found yet. My whole life I've been searching for it, and for a while in Chicago I thought I had found it. Maybe our concept of home just changes with time, and we can have many different homes throughout our lifetimes. For now, I'm here in Bloomington, waiting to find out.