2020 Writing Contest Honorable Mention: Home is Where the Heart Is

Home is where the heart is, in the love. And we all know that those who love you the most are your family and friends — in that order in particular. But what if the family is too broken and bruised. What if they are generationally abused by the world, and not just by the world, but by each other. The love they have to express is then limited, twisted almost, by a force too great to see or touch.

They say home is where the heart is. In the love, and so in the family. The family which has been chewed up and spit out, time and time again, until they all look like a collection of people who vaguely resemble each other on the outside; in reality, they are the spitting image of each other on the inside. My inheritance, in this sense, is trauma and that’s about it. Yet my heart is with my family and in the love my family is my home. But by the age of 5 my mother and the world, taught me a lesson. The lesson that there is no home and no home away from home.

My thoughts became my home and let me tell you they race around never letting up, never not noticing the details, never not looking out for myself and for others. It keeps me safe. It keeps you safe. It keeps us safe. I love it like my family. My mind is a race horse running in a field with no end in sight. But my heart is the stall at the starting gate that stops that race horse in its tracks. Which is scientifically studied and proven by the way. As our emotions intensify our ability to cognate decreases. Our prefrontal cortex is overrun by our limbic system and the animalistic instincts kick in. Emotions cloud our vision and we can’t think straight. Why do you think they call them “rose-tinted lenses.” Because whatever the color, they tint the way we perceive the world. So my perception is my solace and my cognitions are my hooves.

But even in that field, as free as I feel, running takes a lot of energy. So it is nice to stand still. It’s nice to be able to stop and smell the roses. That’s my emotion. Powerful and all-encompassing, yet forever fleeting my grasp. I have to stop to notice it or else I’ll run right over it. And so anything that makes me feel can feel like home. And in that sense I have no explicit family. You are my family reading this now. This pencil I hold is my family. The thought I had yesterday is my family. It brings me pause.

I have a nuclear family and an extended one too, but the nuclear one makes me feel much more —  might even say the nuclear force could blow me away. I’m sure the seconds after an explosion are pretty quiet compared to the volume from the kind of explosion that throws you off your feet. But sometimes that’s what I need. To take a seat. To lie down. To rest. To rest my mind because it feels fatigued. And in that stillness I find the most home, the most love, the most family, the most sensation. To me, family is not given. Family is earned. What I mean by that is that your family is your family in so far as how they make you feel. And if they make you feel then they have the potential to be called your home. For some that is love. For some that is stillness. For me that is pause. Because in that pause I have the time and peace to find the love and in doing so I find my home. The reason I love the pause so much is because it’s the distance between the experience of something from my past and the comforting safety of the now. So let me show you my home, a lá MTV Cribs and by that I mean come meet my family.

Home is the place I search for in other people. Connection. And connection is that large cross sectional couch over there … the one with the abundance of fluffy blankets and pillows. Home is a song and the first note in that song is our first dog. I like that dog; he was adopted from the pound, just like me. I mean I wasn’t adopted but my first home was a kennel too; when I say first home, I mean after being placed into foster care. A group home. There were fences, tiny windows, pee smelling blankets and others like myself, trapped. We had feeding schedules, sleeping schedules, time to socialize, and everyone looked forward to the moments when families would come by to window shop their next kid … maybe this time it’ll be me. Stripped from my family and dignity, I cried every night. I cried the kind of tears that leave you gasping for air; the kind that leaves your stomach sore and tires you out. It put me to sleep every night. Pause. Notice where you are right now. Yea you. Reading this … you are safe. You are loved. You are still my family. Come back inside. It’s cold out, the rain clouds might have made you a little sad.

Home is that hole in the side of the couch where I used to hide my food. I was hungry. I still am. Hungry for connection. Home is the back of that patrol car clenching my sister and my teddy. Tears rolling down my eyes, I was scared. But here we are now in my house, my home, my fortress, and I’m safe.

See that corner over there, the one next to the kitchen … that’s the corner where my first foster mom made me sit for weeks on end. I was on timeout. I don’t really know what I did, I just remember I spent the majority of my time in that corner when I lived with her. The most home I felt there was when I was allowed a coloring book into the corner with me; the next day I even got a pencil too, for a moment they were my family. Home is when I flipped the page to an elephant and I knew it would look exactly like it was supposed to; nothing like the pencil-lead gray flamingo from the first page.

Come over here, see that music box on the coffee table. That’s the same music box from the movie Anastasia. The same one, directly from the set. When you open it, it plays the song Once Upon A December, and reads “Together in Paris.” Probably the most expensive thing I have in this house is that music box. Even when I’m not home I remember it’s always there and if I ever need to, I open it up and listen to its tune.

Let’s make our way to the guest room, the theme of this room is addiction. This room is open to family members and I guess pretty much anyone else too. I just know that a lot of family members have been in town at some point and have stayed in this room. I’m proud to say I’ve never had to use it myself. On that nightstand there are all the objects I saw used to do drugs growing up. Inside the drawer are the drugs themselves. It reminds me that they will always exist in my home. They always will have been in my veins as I came into this world.

Oh my god, I almost forgot to show you our little closet under the stairs, it kinda looks like a Harry Potter room except it’s way smaller. That closet is dark on the inside. That’s another place I was sent for timeout. There’s a pile of dirty clothes on the ground in there. It acted as a mattress in a pinch whenever I had to spend the night there. Yea it smelled awful but that’s OK because home in there was soft and kind of like a fort.

Dang, I guess we’re out of time. I’m sorry you didn’t get to see everything but if I’m being honest that would literally take forever. I’ll just show you one last thing. This is my backyard, pretty big huh? I know what you are thinking: What’s that smell? Well I own some horses. Don’t worry I have a shed behind that willow tree over there. They rarely use it because they are always on the run but that’s OK I think it keeps the herd safer if they have the capacity to roam freely.

That’s pretty much it for now, that’s my home. That’s what I mean…

My mind is my home. My thoughts are free from the burden of chains and so it runs like the horses. I told you that you would meet my family. My family, as any other, is the result of trusted connections. And if you noticed the connections here are to my past. And in this connection there is distance between the past and the present. Home is the trust I have in myself. I’ve earned that by now. I’ve proven myself…to whom you ask? To myself. I trust myself. And if I know anything about trust it’s that it is continuously earned, it’s a back and forth. It’s give and take. So although home is the place I search for in other people, I know that I always have the ability to make myself feel. I always have a home. A family to love. Because I love myself. I love what I’ve done for myself. What I’ve done to myself. And no one can ever take that away from me. It’s truly my own to have and to hold till death do us part.

Home is where the heart is. The heart is where there is love. And there is love in the pause, the stillness. My mind constantly wanders and in that, it constantly notices. So, now you know that home is where my mind goes and stays … where it goes and takes a break … allowing my heart to roam freely.

You now know that my family is a collection of thoughts, ideas, and moments that vaguely resemble each other. In reality those are the “spitting images” — on the inside they are the same. They are images that make you feel.

And that feeling is family. Things that feel like family are your family. People are not your family, your relationship to the feelings that those people give you, are your family. In this sense I have the most loose definition of what is a family, a collection of emotions. They all have their place and purpose.

Sometimes they say insensitive things at the dinner table. Sometimes they hug you when you’re sad. But never forget that home is where the heart is, in the love. The love you have for your family — your family of emotions. Because if you love and accept your family you will find a peace so great that no matter what happens to you, you can always weather the storm inside the shed behind the weeping willow at my house; as you are always welcome here — welcome home. 

Lino Martinez lives in Washington, D.C., working for the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce. He has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and the History of Art and Architecture from the University of California Santa Barbara. Prior to this, he was a caseworker at The Home for Little Wanderers. As a foster care alumnus with a passion for civic engagement, Lino understands the intersection of complex trauma and social welfare and is deeply committed to transforming systems. 

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