Finding a Home Within Her Family, Wherever They May Be

map of U.S.A.
credit: Jen B. Peters

I'll never forget our first apartment in Pittsburgh. Technically, it was my first apartment and my boyfriend, Justin, was there so much that I had to ask him — very romantically, I'm sure — if he planned on paying any of the rent. We couldn't stand the idea of being apart, so he moved in.

Except for one measly cabinet in our first official home, nothing was attached to the walls: not the bathroom sink, dishwasher, countertops, or a single door frame. Nevertheless, we enthusiastically decorated it all with a bunch of tchotchkes we found at flea markets and second-hand shops. Then, we adopted two cats and had countless parties. And when he proposed, I couldn't believe how lucky we were to have found each other.

Less than a year later, just before our wedding, we pooled our money together and purchased a modest house in an up-and-coming neighborhood in the city. To call it a two-bedroom is an insult to second bedrooms, but it technically did have two distinct areas where you could fit beds. We fondly recalled our recent vacation in Tulum, Mexico as we decorated it in bright oranges and yellows with pops of teal and fuchsia. We were happy, and the place looked it, too.

After we were married, we settled into our life together and did all the things that people who are crazy in love do. We liked the idea of starting a family, and so we had Damien. Once he arrived, we drove him home and took the best care of him that we knew how. And while my husband worked 14-hour days on film sets in Pittsburgh or elsewhere, I stayed home with our son. For the first year of his life, we operated like a well-oiled machine: bottle, nap, bottle, lunch, nap, dinner, bath, bed, repeat. But when our daughter, Lucy, was born just two short years later, we put her crib in our bedroom and I realized that those days were over: we had outgrown our home. Through the magic of gentrification, we turned a profit when we sold our little house in the city.

From there, we moved on to my dream home in a fancy part of Pittsburgh. Honestly, this house was too good to be true: there was original hardwood, a renovated kitchen, a large basement, a big yard, and a freestanding garage. The neighborhood was so nice that they filmed one of those cheesy Hallmark Christmas movies there! We decorated this address in a sleek midcentury modern style, and I could practically hose off the plastic Eames chairs after mealtime with our two toddlers. Justin and I made friends with our neighbors, waited in line for brunch, taste-tested at the craft beer shop, and settled in to this new phase of life as young parents.

We were just realizing what could be possible in this home when my husband made a whirlwind decision to take a job in Los Angeles. We only had 20 days to move, so we picked an apartment that was close to his office and had a friend check it out for us. He sent a few pictures and assured us that it was a "very nice first apartment in L.A.," so we wrote a soul-crushing number on a check and mailed it to our new landlord. It all happened so quickly, and there wasn't much time to think. So when I got to the West Coast, my first look around our new place was a real, genuine spit-take: I couldn't reach any of the cabinets, the windows opened to an elementary school yard, and there was an old piece of chicken in the oven.

It was tough that first week, but we got it all together. Justin and I bought the tiniest versions of what we needed, including a "dining room" table that was two feet wide. It felt like we were outsiders in a vacation rental, because we spent a lot of time at the Santa Monica Pier, or walking on Melrose Avenue, or eating an obscene amount of tacos. But a few months passed, and we were happy. So, after a lot of thought, we decided to sell our dream home in Pittsburgh. I went back there to do it, and I kept saying to our friends that I couldn't wait to get home — and I meant Los Angeles. My yinzer soul ached a little, but it was the truth.

More time happily passed us by. We spent a year or so in the tiny apartment, and then opted to buy a place on the Westside while we could still afford it. That, in itself, was a challenge. I had my heart broken by a pricey co-op in Brentwood, we were outbid by some jerk in Mar Vista, and then we found "the one" in Palms. Our kids are three and five now, and they love it. They have the space to enjoy themselves, I have a kitchen I can cook in, and we all have a table to eat at that won't buckle under four plates. It feels like we can finally exhale and make ourselves at home.

Who knows how long we'll stay. Justin and I knew moving in that this wasn't our "forever home," and that's fine. Over the past 10 years, my husband and I have carved out a life together that's ready for anything. If I peeked into a crystal ball and saw us living in a yurt next year, I know we'd make it work.

It's a cheesy saying, and yet I'm startled by the truth of it: home really is where your heart is. My heart belongs to Justin and our family — it always has. From a crappy apartment to a dream house and back again, they were my home through it all.

Nicole White is a finance editor and writer who lives in Los Angeles. She is currently working on a grunge rock cookbook.