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Heather Berry, Division 3, College freshman #ws16e-s2d3

Growing up in a home that was the true definition of broken allowed me, as an adult, to have a profound and strong depiction of the home I have always wanted to build. Marvin J. Ashton once said, “Home should be an anchor, a port in a storm, a refuge, a happy place in which to dwell, a place to where we are loved and where we can love”. The childhood home which I grew up in was the opposite of Ashton’s beautifully said description. Yelling and vulgarity filled my home more than love and acceptance. At an early age I was forced to drown out the screaming, the sounds of household items being thrown against the walls, and compelled to grow up far before I was ready to do so. In the midst of the fighting between my parents, my room became the ‘safe house’. My little brother would seek refuge with me locked in between those four walls. All of this, for a moment, allowed us to keep the monsters away. This room acted as a barrier against the terror that awaited us on the other side of my door. I was never afraid of Wild Things in my closet or seeing a pair of glowing eyes underneath my bed. My childhood fears were based off what happened most nights after bedtime, behind the closed door at the end of the hall.

This house was never stable. It wreaked of insecurity, and thanks to the yelling, the whole neighborhood knew it. I grew up envious of my friends. I would go into their houses and you could feel the love and admiration their family had for one another and if you couldn’t immediately feel it you could see it plastered all over the walls in frames. As I always tip toed back into my house, down the hall, and into the first room on the left I felt cold. My body shook with the fear and pain that seemed to engulf that house. I was a girl who desperately wanted the security and safety that everyone else so obviously had. When I was 16 years old, emotionally and mentally exhausted from the tension I had grown to accept as normal, I stood up and tried to fight back. I faced my inebriated father. As his right hand struck the right side of my face, I bitterly came to terms that this was too big for me to handle. I stared at him in fear and anger. In that moment my flight instincts kicked in and I ran. I wasn’t just running away from that moment. I was running away from the house that had begun to tear me apart. For the first time in my young life, I made the decision to no longer allow that house and the abuse inside to overtake me.

Most college freshman students stand at the steps of their dorms or apartments with conflicting feelings of excitement and fear. Overwhelming rushes of excitement and fear of the unknown. Outside Bowden Hall, I stood on the sidewalk overlooking campus at the University of West Georgia with no differing feelings. There was nothing that could happen that would cause me to miss what I was leaving behind. I was so excited to be living 98 miles away from the home that had beaten and almost broken me into nothing. Instead I was standing, alone, but happy because I had escaped the entrapment that my childhood house symbolized. I was free and beginning a new chapter in my life that only included independence, security and the only thing I needed to rely on was myself. As my hand push the heavy wooden door shut of dorm room 4B, my continuously fearful heart finally felt at peace. Tears fell from my eyes and landed on my lips as I smiled. These tears didn’t come from missing my family, they were tears of joy. For the first time in a long time, I felt happy and relieved. There was no longer a need to constantly watch my back. My dorm, my new home, didn’t just provide me with a desk and trundle bed. It gave me a resting place. A space to express myself on the white cinder block walls and the privacy to stuff my face with pizza while pulling all-nighters. My mind was finally allowed to think freely without feeling guilty or ashamed. There was no more fear of being beaten, verbally bashed, or mentally made to feel small. This new place made me feel strong, worthy, independent and slowly began to shape me into who I wanted to be as an adult.

My homes since my college dorm have played pivotal roles in shaping the confident wife and mother I am. A small chalet in the mountains watched me become a wife and welcomed my first daughter home. My townhome in Atlanta has witnessed my family grow into a family of four. My home on Carlisle Court has seen so many firsts; first steps, first days of school, first days at a new work position, and has housed us safely as we continue to build our future. These homes are simply structures placed at the top of the mountains and in the middle of cities. It’s what has happened within these structures that have made these houses, homes. They have never once seen an ounce of abuse or insecurity. These homes have housed love and milestones that my family values so deeply.

The first time my newborn daughter rested in my arms I realized something so profound. Something that up until that point had never run through my mind. All of the bruises and fears from my childhood prepared me for what I knew I never wanted. Everything before this point had equipped me for this new and hugely important journey. I was now responsible for my own home and not just myself but for another life. It’s now my turn to do what my dorm room, chalet and townhome did for me. My family deserved the security and safety those homes provided me. A clean and welcoming environment that allows my girls to play, learn, nourish and grow. It was in that moment I had flashbacks of what my childhood home was and what I knew my home would never be for my loved ones. Smiling, I knew I held the responsibility of providing my husband with a place he never wants to leave and can’t wait to come home to. A place in which my, now two, daughters can grow and develop into impeccable people. Offer a place where talking, opinions, and laughter are encouraged and not suppressed. Undoubtedly, I knew those feelings were the true definition of home. The feelings I had in my soul were exactly what Marvin J. Ashton described. It took me 21 years to accept my past and understand that what happened to me in my house growing up prepared me for who I am now.

What makes a house a home isn’t just about the small tokens of personality. Picture Frames, artwork on the fridge, hand chosen paint colors, and the plant in the corner make the square footage a comfortable living space. The people and the emotions that occupy the extra space transform a house into a true home. My house, whatever the address, as an adult will always be my favorite place because of who I share it with. My husband and my daughters have helped me fill my home with security, laughter and unconditional love. They have given me the necessary elements to make my home my favorite place. My girls have given me memories I will replay in my head and turn into stories that I share with future generations. Andrew, my husband, has loved me fully despite my countless flaws. These walls have never seen shame, abuse, or neglect. The feelings and emotions confined within these walls prove this home, with my family, is my favorite place.

The four walls I grew up in are simply that. It is a house on the left side of a cul-de-sac. I won’t allow myself to call it a home because homes are not cold and fearful nor do they provide closed doors for abusers; that is just a house. Homes are meant to be covered in love and warmth. What I have built with my husband and daughters is my favorite place because it is everything my childhood house wasn’t. My home is the structure that holds our absolute love. It wakes up with the sound of giggling daughters in the morning. It provides a safe haven from the daily grind and affords my family the luxury of security. This home is my favorite place thus far in my life. Mainly because it is everything I wanted as a kid. This home, in my opinion, deserves to be awarded, ‘Most Valuable’ simply because this place is everything I have hoped it would be.
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