[Continued from last week’s post]
Last week I wrote that Jack and I have figured out how to make ourselves at home in many different places, bringing along a few talismans to symbolize that this new space is our territory. Many a time have we found ourselves in some land far, far away, exhausted, jet lagged, grumpy from lack of sleep, food, tired of the vicissitudes and vagaries of travel, yet companionably so. Knowing somehow how to navigate the waves of each other’s moods — “somehow” being long experience and a fair amount of struggle and snappishness. Like turtles sharing a single shell, we’ve learned to make a home anywhere, be it a guest house in Iceland, a friend’s place in Victoria or Paris, a kibbutz in Israel, or our own place in Ottawa where we pay rent and utilities — if we’re together, that’s home.
I also wrote that I felt right at home immediately in a couple of places I’d never been before.
But if there’s more than one place that can “feel like” home, what is “home”?
Why does my old house on Holmwood Avenue still tug on me like a three-year-old when mom is on the phone, more than five years after I left that house with scarcely a backward glance? If it’s not the city, and it’s not even the specific house, what is it that tugs? What is it I am chasing?
You Can Never Go Home Again … Can You?
They say you can never go home again. It was true for me. I tried it.
I went home to mother, so to speak, broken-hearted and utterly empty after my first live-in relationship foundered for the third time. But I quickly found that I couldn’t stay. I just couldn’t stay. It didn’t feel like home anymore. Not just because my parents had moved since I’d left home some five years earlier. I’d grown up in a series of two-bedroom boxes, moving every few years to a new place that they thought would be better in some way that perpetually mystified me. Their new two-bedroom box was closer to dad’s work, but otherwise pretty similar to most of the apartments I’d grown up in, except of course my stuff wasn’t there.
But it wasn’t about my stuff or the change of address. It was that we’d all changed. And not just me.
Yes, I’d moved on, spreading my wings as kids do. This was expected.
But my parents had moved on too. Didn’t see that coming. It had never occurred to me that at some point my parents might actually have a life of their own, without me in it, in that solipsistic way of 19-year-olds everywhere (or maybe it was just me — I’m still not sure). It had never occurred to me that they may have grieved my departure, somewhat abrupt and painful as it was, and now it seemed to me that they were, well, more or less … over me.
In a way, of course, that wasn’t exactly true. They weren’t over me, exactly. Things had just sort of closed over behind me, like those self-sealing valves on a five-gallon water jug. Of course, there will always be a connection, a connection that I’ve found, much to my surprise, actually extends beyond the grave. The love will always be there. But this connection isn’t the same as that undefinable, fleeting sense of “home.” That sense of safety and familiarity.
Never mind that the familiarity might be as stifling as the too-small nest the baby herons must leave because they literally, physically, don’t fit anymore. Familiarity feels safe.
So maybe it’s that safety and familiarity I’ve been chasing all these years. All this time, I’ve thought it was Ottawa itself that didn’t feel like home. And to some extent that might be true. Maybe I would indeed feel more at home in some other city.
But what if home really can never be home again, not because you can’t go back to where you were when you were five, but because you can’t go back to the way you all were when you were five? Because mom isn’t mom anymore the way she was when you were little, for better or for worse, all-powerful but comforting? And dad isn’t dad, for better or for worse, and that’s entirely right and the way of the world and the way things should be, need to be, have to be? What if my sense of mislocation is something that’s been following me around my entire adult life — subtly, but always there as an undercurrent — because home isn’t home, mom isn’t mom, and dad isn’t dad the way they all used to be when I was little?
What if that’s why you end up seeking a partner who reminds you emotionally of dad-the-way-he-used-to-be, when you were five? What if it’s seeking this sense of “home” that leads us to marry our father or our mother, for better or for worse? So the parts of my partner that resonate with some familiar feeling that reminds me of how I felt with my dad when I was very little: those parts are what draw me to him in the first place and then give me a sense of “home” when I’m with him.
The Geography of the Heart
Of course, it’s never ever quite the same emotionally, nor would you want it to be, even leaving aside the romantic side of the relationship. I grew up. I don’t actually want a partner like my dad. I don’t actually want a partner that makes me feel like I did when I was five.
And I see now that even mom and dad never actually were dad-the-way-he-used-to-be or mom-the-way-she-used-to-be in any real way. They were never those people. They were my creation of how it felt to be around them. What I’ve been chasing all this time was never real, and catching it has never been possible.
What I’ve been chasing is a place in my own heart. A memory. A part of myself that remembers mom and dad the way they felt for probably only a moment when I was a child, frozen not only in time but in memory, frozen in this unattainable image of them as seen by me when I was five, or three, or twelve. A single moment in time when my heart felt safe and familiar and cared for in a singular way. Maybe that one moment is what I remember as “home.”
If this place called “home” is a place in my own heart, then I can actually return there anytime, no matter where I am. So it looks to me like home really is where the heart is.
And home really can be wherever I hang my hat. As long as my heart is there too.
Photo credit: Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash