“Where are you from?” is a question I dread. It’s also a question everyone asks within the first few moments of meeting someone new. I always ask this question, too. I’m a genuinely curious person, and a bit of an awkward conversationalist, so it’s a good and safe bet. But I hate being asked this.
I’m not from anywhere. I don’t have a hometown where the local dentist has watched me grow up and the librarian remembers seeing me move from picture books to chapter books. There isn’t anywhere I can go where someone in the grocery store will recognize me and want to chat about my Life and Goals for fifteen minutes because they remember when my parents sent out my birth announcement.
My family is scattered all across the country (and globe) but I’ve never lived with any of them. I usually respond to this question with, “My family lives in Maine!” which isn’t actually an answer but is true. I’ve never lived in Maine. I would never consider myself from Maine, but it’s a better response than any other. Perhaps the truest answer is, “I’m from the internet. Land of the meme, home of the lol.
I’ve lived in a few different places in my life, but always on or near a military base. Bases are worlds unto themselves. You can live on base in a thousand different cities without noticing a difference. And when you live somewhere just because the military says you should, it’s hard to feel like you belong in that place.
Where I am now feels more like home than anywhere else. I chose to live here, and that feels significant. But I can’t say I’m from here when people ask. When I leave, I’m sure I’ll cite this place as my home, but even that won’t be true in the traditional sense. When I leave here, I won’t leave anyone behind, and it seems that the people waiting for you to come back are a pretty big factor in your Home.
Of course, Home is an abstraction. Home is when you’re on the phone with a friend and everything is funny. Home is wherever you put your bookshelves. Home is holding your friend’s free hand while she hold’s her boyfriend’s hand. Home is that feeling of complete contentment and acceptance that comes from loving whomever you’re with- even when you’re alone. Of course all of that is true.
But when I meet someone new and they ask me where I’m from, I can’t very well go and say all that. There’s simply no good way for me to address this question. I don’t want to give a laundry list of my life’s locales. I don’t want to explain my history to perfect strangers. I usually stick with Maine, but sometimes I run into people familiar with the state, and it’s quite awkward when it becomes apparent that I don’t actually know anything about it.
We can’t control our histories. A lot of people are from places they hate or are embarrassed to be from. A lot of us aren’t from anywhere. We can still have homes, we can make them wherever we go… but that getting-to-know-you question is never anything but strenuous.