In The Journey Home, writer Melissa Naatz explores what it really means to go “home.”
But is that true? Don’t we always go home?
In June, I found the answer to that question as I set out on what was supposed to be a three-week trip from California to Minnesota. But I wasn’t alone. My husband, a cat who doesn’t understand personal space, and I all piled together into a 17-foot travel trailer.
Yes, you read that correctly. Seventeen glorious feet of space to roam. Because nothing strengthens a marriage like hearing your partner in the bathroom at 6 a.m. And like Gilligan whose three-hour tour ended on a desert island – our trip ended with us giving everything we own away, buying an RV, and hitting the road. Almost the same thing, right?
I should probably explain why in hell we gave away everything and moved into an RV. I’ll try to keep this part brief.
Prior to buying Monster (that’s what I named our 40 foot long, 13 ½ foot high, moving home), we were living high above San Jose, California. Right in the heart of the growing city. We made our little apartment feel like home. We loved that we could walk to our favorite restaurants, coffee shops, and even walk to get groceries. We could watch the sun set over the hills and see the city wake up each night.
And then March 2020 hit and so did the c-word (not that c-word! though 2020 has been a c-word). The other c-word. Covid. Corona. COVID-19… or whatever word you may have come up with. And like most, we were confined to our tiny home as every hour, we watched the death toll rise around the world.
I didn’t think things could get any worse. But they did. San Jose shut down. Store fronts boarded up. Businesses locked their doors. And companies sent their employees home. Each night the sound of choppers circling the city interrupted the rhetoric we watched on TV. Police patrolled the streets below. And those who lived on the fringes of society came to claim our barren city.
Our cozy little apartment no longer felt like home.
Which brings me back to our ‘three-week’ tour in a 17-foot camper. We thought all we needed was some time away from our home. Maybe if we weren’t staring at the same four walls day-in and day-out, maybe if we got out of the city, when we returned we’d immediately fall back in love with our home. But since you’re this far into my story, you already know that plan didn’t work.
By mid-August, we had to return to San Jose. We hadn’t prepared to be gone for 10 weeks. The mail had piled up. The one plant I owned needed to be watered (Don’t worry! He was fine and was adopted by a nice couple on the 12th floor). Plus, we’d left half and half in the fridge.
Yet, as I stood in the lobby of the tall glass building we called home, waiting for an empty elevator, I felt like a stranger. Everything that once felt warm and familiar, now – just ten weeks later – felt foreign and cold. Even my welcome mat didn’t feel like mine. The beautiful east-facing apartment I’d filled with travel mementos and memories felt empty.
Our little place high above the city couldn’t compete with the things we’d seen on the road. It couldn’t compete with the wild horses of Wyoming, the sunrise over Bryce Canyon, or the view from Horseshoe Bend. The setting sun we used to coo over now paled in comparison to the fiery glow of the Vermillion Cliffs. Even San Jose’s traffic couldn’t compete with the terrifying thrill of the switchbacks and hairpin turns of a dirt road aptly named Hell’s Back Bone. And that was only half of it. Living in the third largest city in California, you don’t meet a lot of people. We made dozens of friends on the road.
In Idaho, we met a retired Korean War fighter pilot who told us the same survival story each night when he shuffled by our camp site. In Nevada, we drank moonshine with a guy trying to forget that, at 65, he still had to work because his son had cancer. We toasted safe travels with a couple from England, and in Arizona, I finally got to see my writing friend (all from a safe distance, of course).
So, what does this all have to do with going home? Well, I learned I couldn’t go home. Not after seeing what the rest of the world had to offer. I couldn’t go back to those four white walls, back to a city robbed of its heartbeat. So that’s why we bought Monster.
But here’s a little irony – As I walked the empty space of our apartment one final time, I felt like I was leaving home. I could still picture where my bookshelves struggled to hold too many books (that’s an oxymoron because you can never have too many books). I remembered the feelings of excitement I had the first day I saw the view from my floor-to-ceiling windows. For a little over three years, that apartment had been my home. It housed all my things, my memories, my hopes, and even a few broken dreams.
After I turned in my apartment keys and carried the last box down to the moving van, I took one last look at the pink sky and realized my home hadn’t changed, what I needed my home to be had. As good as they were I didn’t need to eat at the same restaurants. I didn’t need to see the same sunset or smile at the same person across the hall. What I needed was to see it all, to taste the wild air, and to hear the stories of those around me.
I found “home” in the wide-open spaces and deep canyons of Wyoming. The pale rock formations of South Dakota called me to explore what they had to offer. A lush oasis in Nevada whispered that it had more stories to tell. All of them felt like home, my home.
Home is where I feel safe. It’s where my horse painting from Mexico hangs on the wall, where my books are piled up, where my Buddha from Thailand waits for my newest treasure. Home isn’t a place. It’s a feeling. It’s where I want to spend my worst and my best days. It’s that place that will always beckon me back, to have a drink or two, to share my stories.
And for right now, my home is in a 40-foot fifth wheel, parked where I can breathe in the wild salt air and watch the sunset over the bay.
Mr. Wolfe was right. You can’t go back. But why would you ever want to.
Melissa, her husband, and very demanding cat have been living on the road since June 2020. In November of 2020, they took the leap to full-time living and moved into their 40-foot Montana fifth wheel RV. Follow her journey on and catch up on all the places they travel on Instagram @thefurtheriroam, her blog The Further I Roam, and on Facebook The Further I Roam.