Growing up, my house never seemed to measure up to my dreams of the perfect home. Throughout elementary school, I devoured books about pirates riding ships of mahogany and royals inhabiting majestic stone castles and worn Victorian buildings with secret passageways galore. Places of excitement! Adventure! In comparison, our plain one-story suburban house lacked… well, a lot.

Thus, during the summers, my three sisters and I would visualize our climbing tree into a sea-faring vessel, or our small shed into an abandoned cottage to hide from the evil hunters chasing us. Each night at dinner, we wolfed down our food and started planning the next day’s adventure. With my family, I always felt at home.

Moving threatened the security of my childhood, as my family needed to find room for our growing family of eight. Suddenly, free weekends disappeared into touring houses. Though I recall feeling wonder at the variety of houses we visited, most of the individual features, funnily enough, escape my memory. At their core, houses are simply wood, paint, and nails arranged in different formations. The qualities that distinguish one from another are the little details, the scratches and knick-knacks and pictures hanging on the wall that form the story of the people living there—exactly what every house we visited was missing. We decided to stay.

Enter my front door today, and I can proudly display any guest our story. Our house is lived in; messy, colorful, and lively, just like my family. Each part hides memories that are expectantly simmering beneath the surface, waiting to be revealed. Navigating the hallway, I could present our wonderfully ridiculous bathroom door (a painting collaboration between my aunt and my youngest sister), covered in cherry blossoms and a giant, blocky, neon orange and purple flower. At the end of the hall, another door shows a silhouette of a tree in front of a rainbow sky, covering up the spackled hole where my little brother drove a truck into the door. In the living room, one of my siblings is sure to be sprawled out by the windows, books in hand, on the cushions my mom painstakingly sewed. I could show a million other bits and pieces of my house that reveal my childhood and my present, all pieced together to form something beyond a house: my home.

Though I can connect my home to a physical location, that is not the case for everyone and does not have to be the case for everyone. Ultimately, “home” is a narrative, a place of refuge and nostalgia, a place of the people we love and have cared for. Those dream houses I longed for as a child would not have given me whatever happiness I thought I could achieve. Though it escaped me then, I already possessed my home: the security of my relationships and memories. Home, truly, is where the heart is.