My eyes are wide open, intensely focused on the clock sitting at my bedside. Have been, point of fact, for about thirty minutes. I generally find it hard to sleep in around this time of year. The moment I wake up and see the sun making any sort of effort to rise, there’s no getting me back to sleep.
One more minute. Every year, my parents have to lay ground rules.
“Jared,” Dad said last night, “You don’t wake anyone up before eight tomorrow morning. Your mom and I are off work. We want to sleep in a little bit.”
This is the thing about me: you give me directions, and I promise I’ll follow them. But, I’ll use up every privilege I have directly outside of them and bang on the walls of acceptability. Tell me I can’t wake anyone up before eight, and I’ll see you at…
Already on top of my blankets, I kick my brother’s bed, bunked above mine, and run out of our room before he can grab me. I bang on my sister’s door as I tear down the long hallway to my parents’ bedroom.
“MERRY CHRISTMAS!” I yell,
As if I really needed to.
Amy and Josh, aged six and four years–respectively–older me, are scowling at me from the ugly, blue furry couch. My parents forbade them from bullying me because, after all, I had abided by their rules.
Mom is sitting in one ugly, blue furry recliner in a Christmas sweater and Dad, never the biggest Christmas guy, is sitting in the other with a cup of coffee in hand, eyes half-open, limboing in conscience.
To no one’s surprise, I’m wearing a Santa hat, sitting on the carpet and waiting to get the OK to pass out everyone’s gifts. The Christmas tree, set up a month ago by Mom and me, is fully lit, decorated with an oddly collected bunch of ornaments aggregated over the years between school and various organizations. There’s not really a theme to it.
The fire from last night is out, of course, but still warm. The deceptively warm-looking sun naturally lights the house. Cinnamon candles fill the room with a tangible scent and, somewhere, a nearly worn-out Mannheim Steamrollers tape echoes through the house for the eighth time this week.
Mom nods to me and I tear into the presents.
A live Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas album echoes along our hardwood floors. Dad has already assumed his position on one of the crummy blue recliners, the only old remaining furniture in the living room. Mom is wearing my old Santa hat, trying to make everyone excited that it’s Christmas morning.
Josh, Amy and I are crowded onto our new leather red couch, exchanging smirks at Mom’s enthusiasm. A blazing fire makes one side of the room disproportionately warm.
No less than ten different scented candles fill up the room with some sort of holiday mish mash, a blend of cinnamon and gingerbread and cranberries and only Baby Jesus knows what else.
I look around the room, the brilliant natural light from the sun; the half-awake dad, the shitty, synthesizer-powered Christmas music; the brother and sister; the over-bearingly strong candle mix; the dad snoring on the couch and the mom in the Santa cap; and realize the most present aspect in this room is the unavoidable feeling that, no matter what any one tries to otherwise convey, there’s nowhere else they’d rather be.
“Merry Christmas!” she says.
As if she needed to.
There’s something that distinguishes spaces from places – something more than the nebulous lines of nostalgia and unidentified areas.
There’s something that makes a place a place, and not a space. And it’s not just the identification with it.
When you envision an intensely personal space, say your home, it’s not just the home that you see. Sure you see certain inanimate things in it – hey there’s the corner where the Christmas tree goes! – that make you remember that place, but what is ground into your head isn’t that inanimate tree.
It’s the people that you’ve experienced it with. It’s the million times Josh and I nearly murdered that poor tree with a football. I don’t just see the fireplace; I see the 18 times my dad tried to show me how to build a good fire, and the fact that I never really got it.
I understand that place identification is considered a strictly personal thing, but – no matter your personal identifications with something – it’s still nothing more than an inanimate place. Everything – EVERYTHING – has some sort of meaning, some sort of connotation, but almost all of it is based on human relationships and interactions.
Using that as a qualifier, the home has to be considered the strongest place of all. It is there, after all, where you spend some of the most formative years of your life. It is there that you spend the most time you’ll ever spend with some of the most important people in your life. It is there where seeing things becomes a routine, something learned, something you identify with day after day, sometimes consciously and sometimes sub-consciously.
It’s where you learn the things that allow you to identify a place: relationships, nostalgia, communication, emotion – all things that involve other people.
Without human relationships, without those Christmas mornings, what is a home? Somewhere you watch TV? Somewhere you sleep? Somewhere you work? Nothing more than a glorified hotel room. It’d be space of transition. There’s the desk where I work. There’s the bed where I sleep. There’s the TV I watch by myself.
In some ways, then, place may come to be defined by human interaction. When I think back to my childhood, I can see the basic outline of the living room – the walls, the doors, the hallways and rooms that come off that room – but it’s the people and the moments that I see, not certain furniture arrangements or types of flooring.
With people, space becomes a place. With people, a house becomes a home.