Home is more than another word for family
In the early 1980s, my parents took me with them on a vacation to sunny California. I don’t remember a thing about the trip (thanks to my undeveloped, 18-month-old brain), but there is evidence that I was there. A photograph depicts my mother in her New Mom look of the 80s (very short hair cut close to the head, for practicality, or maybe to make room for her giant glasses); me, in her arms, chin dipping into bright blue, chlorinated pool water; my dad behind the camera, as usual.
I could argue that home is really another word for family: the smell of my mother’s hair, or my dad’s half-pieces of mint gum. A story my mom told me about our California trip hints that there’s something more to it, though.
Having arrived back from the American west coast to our humble home in Orleans, Ontario, my parents were tanned and rested. I was plopped down on the floor with my usual assortment of toys. (Sidenote: baby toys in the 1980s were weird. Recently I asked my mom why the heck I am holding a rubber carrot with a face in several pictures of me in my babyhood. She shrugged and told me that they were popular, that she’d had one as an infant as well.) The story goes that I looked around at my familiar surroundings and collection of personal objects, threw my head back and started to laugh. Uncontrollably. As if I’d assumed that I would never be back here, with all of my familiar stuff .But here I was, miraculously returned for what was, evidently, a joyous reunion. I was home.
Many years after the trip to California, I found myself in another warm climate. This time it was Costa Rica. Riding on a motorcycle, my husband and I would shout over the engine, discussing whether or not we should stop at the groceteria for Gatorade on our way home. It was so natural to use the word “home” when referring to the house we were renting during our three-month stay, but I always felt a twinge of guilt when I said it, as if my parents’ house in Ottawa might hear me and cross its arms in a huff. In a way, we were anywhere but home, in a whole other country with a different language and currency, where cheap coffee was fantastic, where nachos were curiously terrible. But, out of all of the familiar and unfamiliar in Costa Rica, our temporary lodging in Comunidad, Guanacaste, was, for all intents and purposes, home.
Like a soul mate, do you only have one true home, or do homes come in many forms at various points in life? Is it a place where you can always peruse the fridge without asking, or is it something more complicated than that?
Now that I have been living in my sixth “home” for over a year, I’ve been trying to work this out for myself but can’t stop asking questions. Even though I haven’t lived in my rubber carrot home for almost 15 years, it is the place my brain first identified as a sacred nest. But what about my second house, where I lived with my parents until I moved out, the one I had trouble defining in its cell phone entry? What if home isn’t about a particular structure at all, but about what I discussed above: is it your family that truly defines where you belong? In many ways, my husband has become a home, a co-heart, a shared life. But, is that to say that without him, I would be homeless? How do we cross the grey area between being tired and whining that you “just want to go home,” and trying to determine what it is that you ache so deeply for when you find yourself living out of a suitcase below the Equator and haven’t had email access in days?
I don’t have the answers to all of these questions and probably never will. Sometimes nothing feels more like home than being right where you are, driving down a country road at night singing “keep on rocking in the free world!” out the window, or in a laboratory at 6:34 am, sipping last night’s coffee and sifting through slides.
Maybe home is something better left undefined, a term that can be both a physical structure and a feeling at once, fleetingly or forever.
I have tried to define home as a person, place, or thing, which has always lead to more questions than answers. But if I remove the physical limitations, like skimming the proverbial fat from my thought process, I’m left with something intangible, a pure feeling of home. The thing which invokes this feeling, like eating baked apples or reading my favourite Tintin book (Tintin in Tibet), is constantly changing. I am the common denominator in the equation, so only I can feel the comfort of home in my own skin, whatever the trigger. In the pursuit of home, I’ve found that I am, and have always been, there.
Let’s hope that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy the delights of my parents’ fridge.