By Bobby Wagner
My mom is always telling me to let her know when I get somewhere safe. “Even if it’s late,” she says. Even though she smiles at me, her youngest, I can tell she worries. With ocean eyes and a warm kindness that permeates the room, she always worries.
Once in the spring of freshman year, I got back to my apartment from Penn Station. It was 2 am.
“Home,” I told her.
“No, you’re not,” she replied. I chuckled, but I cried, because I knew she was serious. And so I told her I was sorry, and that I loved her, and that I knew where home really was. But I was lying.
Every time I left the house when I was a kid, my dad would tell me to be on my best behavior. “Remember you’re representing the Wagner family,” he’d say. “Especially when you’re in someone else’s home.” His hugs kept me grounded like tree roots, and his thornbush beard always scratched at my face when he’d kiss my cheek goodbye.
I didn’t know why their houses were different than mine. I wasn’t a different person when I went to a different place. “Of course Dad,” I’d say. It wasn’t hard. It wasn’t until I became a different person in a different place that I realized why he had to tell me that.
He couldn’t say, “Don’t forget who you are, Bobby.” I didn’t know who I was anyway. I pictured myself as a little Italian kid wearing all black, who loved basketball and cared about school a little more than the rest of his friends. All I wanted was to finish another book and keep stats on the buzzer-beater shots I was making in my driveway.
I’m sorry Dad, that I never took you seriously when you told me to represent the family. I haven’t forgotten who I am. I hope you and Mom and everyone else can see, in me, the home you built.
And I am sorry Mom, because I wasn’t wrong that night. I was home.
And I’m not sorry because New York is my home now, that’s not what I mean. I’m sorry because you have to watch from afar
from a text
from a phone call
from a Facebook picture
the way I’ve taken the home you gave me to every new place I’ve gone.
Because home isn’t a place.
Home is the smell of pasta. Puppy’s breath. Emo music. Nicknames. Screaming at the TV when the Mets are on. Crying at the end of Field of Dreams.
It’s talking loudly, and in an Italian accent. It’s warm bread. Calloused hands. Craning my neck to see a nice car. Bad knees.
Home isn’t a place, it’s all these things I carry with me every day.