It is said that home is where the heart is, which suggests we can have many homes in our lifetimes. For many, “home” is one’s initial point of origin, the city, town, county, or state of one’s birth, but for others, “home” constitutes that place where one’s family resides at any given moment. For some, “home” is more of a concept, a state of mind, a feeling that one is safe and protected regardless of location.
I was born in Georgia, in the city of Atlanta, at Crawford Long Hospital, while my parents were living in the back apartment of a duplex on White Street in the neighborhood of West End. Since I never paid much attention to the neighborhood designations, we may not have been living within the actual confines of West End, but that’s how everyone identified the location, so that’s what I’ve always claimed as my home neighborhood. We moved around a bit; for a time, when I was about a year old, we had an apartment on Virginia Avenue in College Park, but my earliest memories are from the dingy grey house my parents rented at 879 White Street that burned down a few years after we moved out, and which was next door to Mrs. Roberts’s duplex where we were living when I was born. Finally, we lived in the house my parents purchased at 832 White Street, where I celebrated my fifth birthday. We moved toward the end of 1975 to our “home” on Sylvan Road in East Point, so I spent ages four through twelve at 832 White Street.
If I go solely by time being in a place, then the house my parents purchased in East Point is “home” since I lived there, off and on, from 1976 through 2000, when my mother sold it to our next door neighbor, so twenty-four years of my life was spent there. Still, when I think of “home” it’s always West End I gravitate toward. In 2017, my first full-length play, Another Mother, was produced in West End, at the Cultural Arts Center that in the 60s and 70s was the Uncle Remus branch of the Atlanta Public Library, where I learned to read as a child. Watching my work performed there is one of my proudest accomplishments. The area has changed a lot since I lived there, but I was pleased to note that many of the buildings are still there, which is often rare in Atlanta.
While I spent more time in the house on Sylvan Road, I was much younger in the house on White Street, so more of what I remember are happy times, Christmas celebrations and birthdays. I spent my angry teenage years on Sylvan Road, learned about alcohol, worked at Six Flags, lost my first and second jobs while living there, attended and graduated from Georgia State University, which is another of my proudest accomplishments. More of my formative life was spent on Sylvan Road. I lived near people with whom I attended school; found friends who didn’t always live up to the trust I gave them, went on my first dates with girls I liked and, after GSU, received the news I’d been accepted for graduate studies at New York University.
I lived in New York from 1989 through 1994, and while I felt settled there, I never really felt “at home”. New York, much more so than Atlanta, is the home of transplants, people who’ve come there from elsewhere, so encountering a native isn’t always easy. I would have to say, I didn’t make it there, and returned “home” to Atlanta, though the city I returned to was vastly different than the one I’d left, given that the Olympics were coming and many venues were being built, as was the transit system.
Atlanta is not an easy city with which to feel a connection. Buildings, especially sporting stadiums, are often temporary, and restaurants and stores open and close quickly. I learned, long ago, not to develop attachments to places that may not be there when I return. The main exception to this is the old Sears building on Ponce, which, over time, morphed from Sears Roebuck’s warehouse to City Hall East and lately into the Ponce City Market. Over time, I’ve learned to be “at home” wherever I am and content myself with more a feeling of home than an actual physical place. Perhaps, for me at least, “home” isn’t a specific place, but a feeling of being comfortable with myself, less a sense of where I am and more a sense of who I am.
I’ve learned a lot about myself in this last year. Until one is tested, one does not know what one is capable of accomplishing. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel settled enough in a place to call it “home” but for me, it’s less a destination and more a continuing journey. Let’s see what’s around the next bend.