A Place to Call Home

by Amelia Diamond
October 7, 2013
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Look, I don’t wanna sound cheesy, but it really is where the heart is.

rhodeislandnew

The thing about Rhode Island is that I had romanticized it before ever visiting it, the way many do with places like Paris, or New York, or San Francisco.

It seemed perfect there; an entire state imagined as the set of beloved movie Christmases, what with its twinkly lights and three tiered snowmen who wink if you look at them just so. Surely it snowed exactly one foot each year on December 24th and all lakes froze over for ideal skating conditions. Every home was an ivy covered brown stone with ceilings so high that the holiday’s once-a-year tree could afford to be as a tall as each L.L. Bean catalogue-dad could carry. In the Rhode Island of my mind, fall and spring began on their proper calendar dates with orange foliage for the former and lavender florals for the latter, then summer would come with a resounding splash — a seasonal belly flop into its own idillic water off the starboard side of the sailboats each family definitely owned.

When you’re young, specifics aren’t important, like the fact that Rhode Island is just another state in America with boring suburbs and regular cities, where Providence isn’t just a picturesque town of university students studying art and its history, but also one with economical divides as glaring as the trains that drive down the tracks that separate them. At 17 these things weren’t a reality. Even a rejection letter from Brown wasn’t enough to break Rhode Island’s spell, and when I decided instead on a school in New York the grass remained considerably greener there than at home.

Home was San Francisco. Save for summers spent on the east coast thanks to divorced parents and a bi-coastal upbringing, San Francisco city proper is where I spent the majority of my growing up. The question I always get — first when I moved to New York for college and now that I live here permanently — is: why on earth did you leave?

Why does one leave anywhere? A sense of restlessness and adventure, the need to define yourself, to discover yourself, to prove, especially in New York City, that you can not only make it there but thrive away from the coddling of mom and dad — that’s why. The funny thing is, San Francisco, for many, is what that tiny New England state was to me: a beautifully filtered projection of your best self. Songs have been written about it; Tony Bennett left his heart there, Otis Redding sat on its bay. Who could possibly leave a place where the only mandatory dress code is wearing flowers in your hair?

I could, and I did.

There was nothing pushing me away from the friends, family and all-around comfortable life I led save for that nagging voice in my head that told me I wouldn’t become the person I wanted to be unless I left everything comfortable behind. New York would be my new Rhode Island — tangible, twinkling, full of December snow and intellectuals and promise. I couldn’t wait.

The thing about leaving is…you never really believe them when they tell you that you can’t go home again. “But my ticket is already booked for Thanksgiving,” you may challenge the cover of Thomas Wolfe’s rudely titled novel as you sit cross legged on the floor of your dorm room, attempting to read in tandem with the din of your roommate’s awful choice in music. You do go back. I did all the time for various holidays and summer breaks. But the trips became less frequent as study abroads and a boyfriend in New York grew more enticing than my West Coast house on top of a very steep hill.

Then, after college, life really comes in and grabs you by the ankles. First it shakes you upside down like a freckle-faced bully and makes sure it’s taken all your lunch money, and then it reminds you over and over that you’re probably not good enough to stake claim in yet another new place. Determination, you’ll find, is merely a coping mechanism — but you better develop it quickly before your heart breaks and the city swallows you whole. And you will. We all do.

The funny thing about life is (says the girl who’s 25 and probably has yet to truly experience it) that just when you’ve more than gained your bearings and everything feels perfect, something will come along that shakes it all back up. Like when my mom recently told me she was leaving San Francisco and moving to Rhode Island.

At my high school graduation I gave our closing speech. I felt so powerful and sure of myself as I looked out at the crowd of fellow students and our parents, even with that stupid hat on. “San Francisco,” I spoke into the podium’s microphone — clearly, slowly, because if it sounds too fast it probably is per my English teacher’s coaching — “will always be our home. The city lights will always be our lights. The hills will always be our hills, its bay will always be our bay.”

I texted two of my best friends from San Francisco last night: “I’m going to write a story tomorrow, and I don’t want you guys to freak.” I wanted to tell them first before the internet did that my mom was moving and I didn’t know the next time I’d be home. “This will always be your home,” they both wrote me. “You can come back anytime.” And I will. But this year, as fate would have it, I’m finally spending Christmas in Rhode Island.

Illustration by Charlotte Fassler

REPLIES
  • Amatoria Clothing

    San Francisco is in fact my Rhode Island. I have been trying desperately to talk my boyfriend into moving there. He is not into the idea. It’s really tragic. I am sorry for your loss. At least you still have friends that you can visit there.
    I have lived in three different continents, and I know first hand how it feels to still feel like part of you is somewhere else. But when you go back, it’s not the same.

  • Claire

    Home for me is anywhere my family is. Locations can change but as long as you have the people that love you, whether it be your mom’s warm embrace or a sibling driving you crazy, that’s home to me. Although I have a place I could home and if that changes, it may just become where I grew up. Love your piece it warmed my heart!

  • http://madamecouture.blogspot.com/ Emma Hager

    Amelia — this piece made me cry! So beautiful and so moving. If there’s one thing I can say, it’s that SF will always be your home, no matter who is/isn’t there. I think the Bay Area in general — and I’m sure a handful of other places — has a tendency to grow itself inside of you in that there is so much culture, diversity, quirkiness that further shapes the existence beyond what living in another area could do.
    I lost my grandfather in January to an unfortunate surgery mishap. It was sudden and it was hard to deal with. This past summer was the last time I would step foot in his house in the quaint, beautiful Long Island town that my dad and his sisters grew up in. In a sense after all of the summers, winters, and breaks far too numerous to count spent there, I was having a really hard time coming to terms with the fact that this house was no longer going to be a comfort in my existence. It was a second home. It seems silly to be attached to a wooden structure, but it meant so much more because of the memories that were created. I still can channel that same sensation of pulling up on a hot summer morning after a red eye into JFK, wherein I was so excited I could pee my pants. So, this summer when I took the last swim in the pool and my aunt was closing the house up for good in preparation of giving it to the new owners, I sat in every empty room and put my face down to the floor to capture the slight musty smell I’d grown to love because it embodied those humid summer days.
    I guess what I am trying to say is that it is really hard to qualify or validate an existence in a place where we no longer have a physical standing — or at least someone/something there to represent that. I thought about that a lot for the duration of the trip, and realized that that house and its memories with my grandparents, and the cannon balls in the pool, and the hydrangeas will always be mine. The memories are no less important or less validated despite a lack of direct possession. And if I feel like driving past when I am out visiting my remaining family in their various locations of NY again (which is everyone on my dad’s side of the family except for him), that it shouldn’t elicit the need to stop remembering or solely sorrow.
    Enjoy your forthcoming Christmas in Rhode Island. X

    • http://madamecouture.blogspot.com/ Emma Hager

      P.S. Are you wearing a Prada coat in the above illustration?

      • Amelia Diamond

        Emma this was such a beautiful reply, thank you for sharing!

        “I thought about that a lot for the duration of the trip, and realized that that house and its memories with my grandparents, and the cannon balls in the pool, and the hydrangeas will always be mine.The memories are no less important or less validated despite a lack of direct possession.” — love that, so true.

        (And yes I sure am, Charlotte knows how to dress a girl)

        • http://madamecouture.blogspot.com/ Emma Hager

          Thank you always for your kind responses. If home is where the heart is, then I’m always home when I log on to this site. And Charlotte totally knows how to dress une fille.

  • Margaret Godowns

    I love this quote:

    “Then, after college, life really comes in and grabs you by the ankles. First it shakes you upside down like a freckle-faced bully and makes sure it’s taken all your lunch money, and then it reminds you over and over that you’re probably not good enough to stake claim in yet another new place. Determination, you’ll find, is merely a coping mechanism — but you better develop it quickly before your heart breaks and the city swallows you whole. And you will. We all do.”

    So true. I really enjoyed this!

  • In the mood for couture

    well, your thoughts join mines. I leaved my country 12 years ago and I never returned for Christmas… I LOVE your blog and your style but I find the pages take so much time to download, it is quite frustrating. Keep writing, though
    http://en.inthemoodforcouture.com

  • Pualani@TheRustedKey

    For me, home is Hawai‘i. I go to school in New York and spend breaks in San Francisco. People always wonder why I don’t go home because let’s face it why wouldn’t anyone go to Hawai‘i, but have you ever looked at plane tickets to there? They’re ridiculous. My family understands that home is expensive and that I most likely won’t settle there, and I know Hawai‘i will always be there if ever I feel the need to go home.

  • Hereshoping Themayanswereright

    Gorgeously written piece, really enjoyed it.

  • kirbybee

    Age is no precursor to life experience. Twenty five or fifty five, if you’ve lived it, it’s true.

    • Leandra Medine

      I love this

      • http://madamecouture.blogspot.com/ Emma Hager

        I second this. It just validated so many of my thoughts/ observances.

  • Annie Baccari

    Amelia, first of all what an awesome piece this is. This may sound a bit out of left field but I recognized your name when you first started writing for man repeller. I’m from San Francisco myself and I attended SI way back when.. being a couple years younger than you I’ve heard your name pop up here and there from mutual friends (all good things of course). Let me tell you that I am so happy for your success as a writer for this amazing blog and in this crazy industry. I am starting out in fashion and its so great to know that an SF native like yourself is doing such big things. Keep up the good work!

    • Amelia Diamond

      Thank you Annie! Such a small world too :)

  • Charlotte Fassler

    This piece really resonates with me. Having lived in the same home for the first 16 years of my life, it was hard to imagining living anywhere else and it feeling right. All of my memories felt confined to this one space, i did not know or really want to know anything else.
    However, in the past 7 years I have lived 9 places and for me the attachment stopped being about the physical space and more about the material objects that I could take with me regardless of where I went. They too had endured the same move, lived in the same places and were chock-full of memories that had somehow become tangible.
    While you can’t always take people with you from place to place or bottle up a particular smell or feeling, you can have these objects that you can move, subsequently providing some comfort from place to place.
    Hopefully this is not what breeds a hoarder……

  • Tamara

    My baby sis settled in RI 25 years ago…life is good up there. Don’t be an NYC snob about restaurants…RIers love to eat…my favorites are al forno and park side in providence.

  • Kait Caruke

    One of my favorites of yours thus far! I am also in my mid-twenties and I have been in New York for almost two years. I am from New England and whenever I go home to Massachusetts I feel this sigh of relief, “Alas, I am home.” Over time, I have also acquired the same feeling for New York. A different sense of home when I put my bags down in my Brooklyn apartment, “Alas, another home.” My home in the city promotes self-growth and development where my home on Cape Cod keeps me grounded, reminds me of who I really am. Thank you for this article. Recently, I have been wildly homesick, but in real-time, I am home. :)

  • Ching Llera Vilar

    When you get used to something, you tend to be very skeptical and afraid to go outside your comfort zone and in that case, home. But you must venture outside our world and color outside the lines in order to find yourself, chase your dream and know the true meaning of life. I just remembered the song, “Green, Green Grass of Home” and in a strange way, I can relate this piece to it that no matter how far you are, no matter how busy you are and you can’t find a time to go home. It’s okay because “home” will always wait for you to say “at last, I’m home.” Btw, thanks for inspiring me to write again! XO

  • disqus_kHkQi7Wx5N

    I’ve lived in RI/Prov aside from being a student it has not much to offer. And then add in that it’s economy is small and the city of Providence is pretty violent and you have all the reasons why I left as soon as I got a chance. It goes to show you that your fantasy was my not so good reality. So yes, I guess the grass is always greener.

  • aimee

    Amelia THANK YOU for writing this. I moved from San Francisco to Manhattan 6 months ago. I’m going back for the first time next week and realizing that the once familiar idea of San Francisco doesn’t quite feel like home right now, yet neither does my Lower East Side apartment.

    Life is weird as shit, I suppose.

  • http://www.thosethingstheysaid.com/ Melanie

    Ah, I don’t think I have a Rhode Island quite yet, other than the fact that I’m in Rhode Island and I go to school here…but I am from Miami. I’m in my senior year at RISD and while New York is probably my next destination, I do have hopes to be in London in a few years for grad school (so maybe that’s my Rhode Island.) With my twin nieces on the way, though, I’m so afraid to abandon Miami but it will always be home no matter what. My parents have made it so that I’m sure of that. With my mom as an immigrant and my dad a Chicago-transplant, I’m sure they feel the same way about their homelands as well.

  • Laura

    I loved this post. It reflects perfectly the feeling of us, those who have homes and live our lives away from home.

    My boyfriend and I left our tropical and precious (but also really, really troubled) Venezuela last year, for Spain, where my mom’s originally from. His family also moved (to Costa Rica) and my family is planning on moving, too… it leaves us with homes everywhere, but in OUR actual home: Venezuela.

    I guess this is just one of those things that suck of being an adult.

  • Gabi

    This is a beautiful post! I can definitely relate, being someone who moved hundreds of miles from home for college, and stayed there. Except I didn’t move from one fabulous city to another. I moved from a suburb in New Mexico to Newport Beach, California so the choice to stay was clear. And it’s only about a 12 hour drive so I suppose it’s not too bad. Not nearly as hard as moving to the other side of the country i’m sure! But I occasionally feel that same confusion over what is really “home”. New Mexico is beautiful place but my new life is here so I don’t think I could ever go back.

  • Karalyn Rae

    This was hilarious to me, someone who was born and raised in Providence, RI. It is far from perfect. Right now there are no jobs, the government is run by mobsters, and the weather no matter what season is unpredictable, like the rest of New England. I’m never going back. Nothing is as magical as NYC.

  • lauren

    i grew up in providence and currently live in san francisco.

    you are partly right about rhode island – it is a nostalgic place. i can smell the trees in the spring time. thinking about it now makes me sad to have grown up.

    but you are lucky to be from san francisco. its an amazing place to go home to.

    enjoy your RI holiday.

  • http://adeliberateimagination.wordpress.com/ CDJ

    This post is so beautiful, Amelia. I am so mad at myself for missing it when it was originally published. I think that was when I was away for work (in San Fran actually!). Anyway, great post. I love when you guys link to your previous pieces. Good ole memories.

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