My house has a certain, distinct smell. It greets me at the door each time I come home: a faint floral smell of the candles my mother burns, mixed with the warm, musty smell of a house that has been standing much longer than anyone in my family. Last May, as I opened the front door coming home at the end of my first year at Columbia, the scent was no different. My house, save for a few pieces of shuffled-around furniture, was no different from when I had left in January. The familiar smell still lingered, the stairs still creaked in the same places that they had creaked when I was sneaking out my senior year of high school, the same baby pictures stood in the same arrangement on the antique piano in our living room. But somehow, it was different. Being home was different. Because at school, I had finally settled in to a new home.
Halfway through my first semester, I found myself thousands of miles away, in this strange new place that was supposed to be my home, counting down the days until I could board a plane at LaGuardia and be back on Texas soil for Thanksgiving. I spent that first part of my first year at Columbia excruciatingly homesick, with the idea of transferring somewhere “closer to home” constantly hovering in the back of my mind. I found something negative in everything about Columbia. The weather was miserable. I hated the cold and the rain. I hated my tiny John Jay single. I hated how my heels got stuck in the cobblestones of College Walk. I wanted to go home, to my physical home: home to Dallas, to my house on the corner of Windsor and
Armstrong, home to sleep in my own bed. I felt like Columbia could never be my home, because my home in Dallas was so much better. But
most of all, I missed the people, my parents, my siblings, and my dogs. I missed the feeling of home: the comfortable, warm feeling of being surrounded by a tight-knit support system, of being close to the people I love and who love me. I did not need a physical place to call home at Columbia—I needed a family to call home.
Thankfully, I found that in Greek life. A sorority is so often represented by a house that in the South it is common to refer to one’s sorority generally as “my house.” And, of course, the Theta house, our little red brownstone on 114th Street, is a wonderful, warm, welcoming place that has come to be the closest thing to my house at Columbia. But, honestly, it’s not about the house. What has rooted me here, what has made Columbia my home, are my sisters, the girls inside that house. They have become my family. College has introduced me to a new type of family: a family based on bonds that are not biological, but that are just as strong. My sisters in Kappa Alpha Theta are now the people I am closest to; we have formed a tight-knit support system that has become my second family.
As crisp New York fall days slowly become cold winter nights, I still sometimes find myself homesick and missing Dallas, missing my house on the corner of Windsor and Armstrong, with its front porch shaded by the magnolia trees, with the rocking chairs where my father and mother sit with my dogs and drink wine in the early evening—even at this time of year, because the weather is still nice. I find myself missing my big, comfortable bed, not waking up in a sweat from the stale heat that has already been turned on in the dorms. I miss driving my cute little convertible with the top down with the just-crisp-enough fall breeze under the still-green pecan trees. Last week, as I walked through my front door to my house on Windsor, though I was greeted by the same warm, musty smell, coming home felt different. Maybe it’s because Texas is no longer my only home. My definition of home has changed.
Of course, I miss Dallas, and I will always miss my parents and my siblings, but now I feel stable and secure on campus. I feel at home. I might always count down the days until I can board the next plane at LaGuardia and touch down at DFW three hours later, to be greeted by “howdy”s and “y’all”s. There will always be something magical about getting on a plane filled with a disproportionate number of Texas blondes and heavy accents—it means I am returning to a familiar place.
Now, when I’m in Dallas and with my family, I refer to Columbia as “home” and my dorm room as “my room.” Going back to New York is now “going home.” It’s unconscious: the term always slips out, offending my family, and especially my father. He always corrects me, saying “your home will always be with your family.” But I have found that, in my year-and-a-half away from my family, even the definition of family has become relative. In Dallas, I have a younger sister and a younger brother, but in New York, I have 60 sisters.
When I was home last week for Thanksgiving, though, I realized that after I spent a week with my family in Dallas, I started to experience the pangs of homesickness. I am ready to come back to campus, to my other home and my other family. My father might not realize it, but he is right. My home will always be with my family.