Technically the last place I rented and could call my own was in 2009. It was a sweet little three bedroom apartment that I shared with the girl I was dating at the time and another couple. With its hardwood floors, distinct white Greek pillar, and mirrored liquor cabinet, it was a place that I could call home.
But I’ve been bouncing around ever since. I moved to Ontario for a year to take my MA and lived between my Aunt’s house (which always felt like her home that she was generously sharing as opposed to a place I had dominion over) and my new Quebec girlfriend’s apartment (which she made very clear was her domain). I lived on a futon in August 2010, then various apartments and hostels in Europe in September, and then rented a room in my sister’s flat as I waited to hear back from job applications.
This sort of lack of place affects a person. You adapt and “home,” as I said above, becomes a more abstract thing. It becomes a feeling… a sense of place in the world. I’ve said for some time now, that arguably the last place I really felt at “home” was in Vatican City. I went with Andrew (my best friend), Natasha (a friend since elementary school), and Emily (the Quebecer I’d dated for around 9 months). We’d set aside a whole day for the Vatican, so when we arrived at noon to a line that literally spanned the courtyard, I was content to just stand and wait patiently.
And as I waited, I felt truly at home. It was a feeling I’d never felt before and haven’t really felt since. Reflecting on my history, I was content knowing that everything I’d done had led me to this spot. Projecting into the future, I was hopeful knowing that there was still so much more to see and once the trip was over the fulfilling challenge of finding a job and making my relationship work would be ahead of me. And in the moment, three of the people I loved the most in the world and I were waiting in line to see a place I’d wanted to visit my entire life. There wasn’t anywhere else I wanted to be.
That’s the thing about home. When it stops being a building, it starts being something else. Something internal. Something we create in our minds. Maybe it’s an event, a moment… a person. My home stopped being a building a long time before I visited the Vatican. It started to be a grad office as people entered and exited like whispering ghosts… barely seen and only noticed when they so chose. It started to be a girl in my arms, favourite movies shared between friends, or a nightly trip to 7/11 for soda-based Slurpees. It became the smell of Emily’s coconut body lotion.
Of course, circumstances change.
For the past six months, I’ve lived what I call a transitional life (a life of waiting… knowing that during any particular week I may get a job and move across the country). I feared setting roots knowing that I’d likely have to rip them up upon finding full-time employment. At the same time, everything that I may have considered “home” sort of stripped away. It was six months of break ups, unemployment, and job applications; I’ve felt for a long time that I wasn’t yet home.
Because of this, I find myself sitting in my boxers in an empty apartment with a dim light bulb in the corner, my mattress on the floor, and an otherwise empty abode and yet it does not upset me that I’ll be leaving this place for an unknown future. Instead, what I sit contemplating is the friends I’ll be leaving behind if I do move away. Because despite not being able to set roots, one does without any real conscious effort. Whether it’s watching girls belt out Hanson lyrics with obnoxiously catchy glee in the front seat of a maroon Civic, a weekly tradition that persists even when it seems to have run its course, or preparations for a wedding that’s been a long time coming; one finds him or herself in moments where home stops being a house and starts being all the little intricacies that make up our lives.
Maybe I’m getting sentimental given this new transition. Come April 30, I’ll officially be moving out of the flat, which has already been emptied of furniture. I’ll be moving into a friend’s basement for a few days while I fulfill my role as Deputy Returning Officer on Election Day. From there, it’s a mystery. I’ve interviewed for six jobs in the past two weeks, all but one of which will be out of province. So I continue to wait and in the mean time, I’ll live on couches or go to my family’s house in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Whatever the case, I’ll be building a new home soon enough.
I relate back to you, my audience, as you too may be venturing into a new unit or a retirement home. The building that you’ve lived in for a portion of your life… a building filled with memories… with nicks and scratches that make it yours and yours alone… may be sold and all your possessions packed and moved to a one bedroom dorm-like facility.
But I remind you, as I’ve learned over this past two years of nomadic living, that a “home” isn’t a building. It can be something so much more. Sometimes it’s your family who are there when you need them. Sometimes it’s a girl in your arms that makes you feel like yourself more than anyone else.
And sometimes, home is just a car full of friends uncontrollably singing “MMM Bop.”
“I am a writer, writer of fictions; I am the heart that you call home.” – The Engine Driver by The Decemberists