There’s a line in a song by the band Fun that asks, “Why am I the one always packing up my stuff?” I had an immediate connection with those lyrics the moment they touched my ears. Perhaps because I am, in fact, always packing.
My sister says moving is “my thing.” I laughed depressingly the first time she said this. I’m starting to think she’s right. Over the past six years, I have moved eleven times. Eleven. As a result of all these moves, I have precious few material possessions. Clothes and books, mostly. But, I do have a heavy collection of both—the latter of which got many groans from my father as he heaved box after box (that’s what you get for teaching your kids the joy of reading; parents beware).
I am okay with not owning much beyond the items my body wears and the ones my eyes feast on. We come into this world with nothing and will leave with the same, so why accumulate too many dust-collectors along the way? My problem arises from the question of “home,” because, for me, the term keeps morphing.
Last week, I packed up my meagre belongings, said goodbye to my former apartment in the Financial District of Toronto and moved out to the west end. I stood with my parents, amongst boxes and packing tape and let the tears fall.
The sadness came not from leaving the actual structure. Though I will miss the convenient location, it’s not the 600 square foot space that I was upset about. It was the thought that, once again, I had lost a home.
When I was a kid, this idea of home was encapsulated in our Orangeville house, a place that I can still see down to the last detail when I close my eyes—which way each door opened, where the furniture was placed, the pictures on the wall, nail polish stains on the carpet, even the smell of each particular room. I knew every inch of it. But that’s not what made it home. That came from the feeling that washed over me when I punched in the garage code and walked inside. It was sanctuary. It was safety.
As a teen, I moved with my mom and siblings to Waterloo, and my home got smaller. It was a long time before I felt comfortable in this new city—the girls wore pastel ribbons in their hair and seemed to shop exclusively at The Gap, both foreign ideas to me—so I spent a lot of time in my bedroom, with the door closed. I read books. I wrote short stories. I scribbled out poetry. I escaped from my paralyzing fear over not fitting in by making these four walls my new home. Again, I was safe.
Even after I made friends—life-long ones at that, so lucky for me that I did decide to venture out—that zone still remained where I felt the most at ease. Even just knowing it was there to come back to buoyed me up when the outside world seemed too much to take.
It wasn’t until university, when I started my perpetual moving habits, that I started to think of home not as a place—because that was always changing—but as a person. When I got married, one of my best friends sang Chantal Kreviazuk’s hit ballad “Home” in her beautiful, melodic voice. Home was what I sought after, what I longed for. I wanted to belong.
I don’t think it’s a unique feeling, that search for a place to belong, but issues arise when you identify home as a specific person. When the walls you thought you knew so well shift and reveal an ugly truth behind the mirage, you have two choices: make peace with a new reality or step out into the cold, on your own.
You see, if home is another person, then the common phrase “I’m home” because fairly problematic. You are that other person? Or they are you? A loss of identity or a projection of your identity onto someone else can’t possibly be a healthy mindset. Can it?
No matter what Justin Timberlake is crooning about these days, I refuse to believe that true love is a mirror, a chance to admire the qualities you like most about yourself as they manifest in someone else.
But as my mom held onto me while my shoulders shook in the middle of a mostly empty living room, one that used to hold happy memories of unconstrained laughter, random Friday night dance parties and frantic cake decorating fiascos, I realized I might have done just that: confused my own identity with that of a coupledom. When home is a person and you lose that person, you can longer utter the words, “I’m home.” Does that mean you become nothing?
For moments during that day, it felt like it. But then, as I settled into my new residence, I started to understand that I had it wrong all along. If I kept making home another person, I would always feel transient, my sense of comfort and security completely reliant on the state of another individual. Home couldn’t be another person, or a physical location; it needed to be me.
When I was little, someone told me that turtles travel around with their homes on their backs. I used to picture the tortoise shell as a kind of portable tent that they could crawl inside, put their turtle feet up on a chaise lounger, turn on the TV and relax (I blame Franklin books and an over-active imagination for this false image).
Obviously, I know now that the turtle shell is more defence mechanism than homey escape with an area rug. But the concept stays with me when I think about when I will next feel like I’m home. When I will feel safe.
I have a healthy body, an energetic mind, a searching spirit. Seems like I should have everything I need with me, at all times.
No four walls of a building, nor two arms of another, can ever compete with that.