There’s no place that feels safer than home.

The other night, Jena and I rolled into the city from our anniversary trip. Six hours each way, we’d locked ourself in the familiar confines of a family car, itself a home of a kind, landing in the grafitti art museum that is Montreal. Gone were the familiar movie posters shilling reboots and sequels, and gone were the ubiquitous billboards touting the latest must-have makeup or a zesty new flavor of cheeseburger. The spaces usually occupied by these advertisements were instead bathed in the warmth of artistry, almost every wall a canvas for imagination, celebrating creative talent rather than moving our ADD culture onto the next thing to buy. And even though Jena and I were only passing through, the place created an unusual kinship and connection with us immediately. Especially bizarre since I couldn’t speak the language – just parking the car was a challenge. But somehow, it seemed only natural to make our home for a few days on this strange planet named Canada.

We explored, we talked, we ate, we drank, we slept, and we survived as if Montreal was where we belonged. We were in a separate world, one where we had outpaced our problems, where we were in a constant state of celebration and happiness. We were in pure bliss as we savored a banquet of delicious foods, summer ales from our favorite brewery, “Dieu Du Ciel!”, and every inch of the city that we could explore. Though we enjoyed the same intimate talks that have come to typify our trips, our adventure really was what I had hoped No Man’s Sky would be: exploring an alien culture that felt more inviting than my own. We often fell silent in wondrous reflection, and for a change, there was no funhouse mirror waiting for me when I looked within. Instead, I found I liked what I saw, and instead of the insight I normally glean from these talks, I found a new ability: to hold onto that feeling of self and bring it back as a souvenir (along with art, beer, and a new dresser).

All too soon, our trip had reached its close, and we packed our bags and returned to the safety of our car for the trek home. We considered not going back so soon, hoping to retreat for one more glorious day in a place that had been such a magical experience for us. But real life called.

When we returned, New York was waiting, decked in all the grinning emblems of capitalism I had momentarily forgotten. We spent almost an hour failing to park our car, eventually settling in a lot, as though the city didn’t want us back unless we paid for the privilege. It was nice to return to our familiar apartment with our own bed and our own AC, but the city otherwise didn’t feel as inviting or homey. I felt more like the mouse I’d seen scurrying across the floor weeks ago – scrounging and surviving instead of living.

But the thing that never changed the entire trip, whether I was in the car, Montreal, or anywhere else, was the safety of that magic circle that was wherever Jena and I happened to be. That bubble of wonder that I brought with me on the trip. That sense of self, the one I hoped to preserve, made it back intact from the rough terrain outside. I had made it home.

Because I had never left.