For the past five years, my meaning of home is split into two. There's home, and there's Home - where my mother lives and my old bedroom sits, unoccupied. It's the same word, but with two completely different definitions.
The location of my home has shifted a number of times over recent years. It's had some excitement and a feeling of independence attached to it, but it hasn't yet fully deserved to share its name with Home.
In the world I've made for myself, Home is the only thing that's remained a constant - unchanged except for a new cushion, a new homely touch to my bedroom or a new candle that fills the room with a new scent that still manages to smell familiar. Moving to new places, living with strange people, Home has been a distant comfort, my only true comfort. It's only been since leaving it that I've learned what Home really means.
Home reminds me that I have a sense of belonging, tucked away in boxes on top of a half-full wardrobe - hanging inside which is a cardigan from my late grandmother, a once-worn prom dress, and a teddy bear that brings back memories of a four-year-old me sitting on the sofa, clutching him for company while waiting for my dad to come back from work.
Going out into the world and trying to start my own life, to one day fill my own home with warmth, hasn't been easy. But the struggle so far has helped me to understand and appreciate the battles that have helped build and shape my Home.
Looking through old birthday cards, opening doors every morning to catch that familiar night-time smell before it drifts away for the day, are simple pleasures I can only enjoy a couple of times a year. It's human nature to want the things we love to remain unchanged forever, but I remind myself that it won't as I make my journey Home, which means I spend as much time as possible being mindful of the smells and sights that don't deserve to ever cease existing.
Having a sense of belonging keeps me calm. When I feel a little lost, I know I have one room in this world that reminds me of the life I lived before flying the nest. Home is a benchmark. Every visit has me comparing how happy I was the last time I was there.
It's always a struggle to leave Home. At the age of 23 I wonder if that will ever change - but I don't think I'd want it to.