There’s a song that I love, a song I don’t even know how it ended up in my orbit, on my phone. It was probably in a commercial or tv show or movie and we found out what it was called and downloaded it immediately. It’s the kind of song that would have disappeared into the auditory ether before the internet or Shazam, but now, you can get it immediately, and listen to it endlessly. I had never heard of the band, nor have I ever heard anything from them since. Less a one-hit wonder and more a one-song resonance.
The song is Home by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. Looking through my phone, trying to find who sang the song, I found a long list of songs with “home” in the title: Homeward Bound, Home for a Rest, Coming Home, Long Way Back Home, We’re Going Home, You Better Be Home Soon…
We just moved, again. I didn’t even visit the place we ended up renting before signing off on it; if the husband and kids were happy, then I was fine. It’s a place to lay our heads, to store our stuff, eat, watch tv, etc. It’ll be home because we’re together there, but it also won’t be home because it is still only temporary. We will live there, but it won’t really be home.
We’ve moved so much. Home is our family – mother, father, two kids. We make a home where there isn’t one, not really. We work at it, putting up the painting and other art created by extended family, pictures of the kids, feature our favorite books, make a place over in the image of us. We fill the space, with stuff and love, love and stuff, but it never really feels like home.
Last week, we were in Southern California. That place, that space, it felt so much like home, my heart ached. Watching my son “fall” into the ocean because he waded out waist-deep and waited for a giant wave to hit him and hearing him laugh, seeing the joy on his face, I almost wept. Seeing my daughter slide in with a girl her age she was friends with when she was a baby. Rather, her mother and I were friends because our husband’s were friends, studying together for their PhD. Getting to hold an old family friend’s new baby, the same way he got to hold our daughter so many years ago.
We started our lives, our family in Southern California. Newly married, we drove down the 15 all the way to the 10, heading west for just a few stops before arriving at our new home, our first home, and in some ways, our only home. I finished my dissertation there. We made friends, life-long friends there. I started coaching again there. I started teaching again there. I conceived my two kids there.
The freeways, the foothills, the ocean, the big blue sky, the endless lights at night…it all felt…right. My son, who wasn’t even born in California, never lived there, feels it most acutely – I can see him coming out of his shell, coming alive, becoming himself when we’re there. He is more at easy there than anywhere else. We all are. This is where we belong, our bodies say to us. Stay. Stay here. Your life is here.
But of course we can’t. We have jobs, responsibilities. So we come back to the place we just moved into and currently call home because there is no other word to describe our situation. This is the place we live. It isn’t home.
While we were in California, we got the date for our swearing-in ceremony; my husband and I will finally be American citizens, able (most importantly) to vote. We have lived in this country since 2005. First as a grad student/dependent, then for me under a TN work permit (thanks NAFTA!), then after a number of bureaucratic mistakes, permanent residents. And now, citizens at last.
The timing of the news was not lost on us, getting word about the date while in California, our first home here in the States. These are the people I most want to celebrate this milestone with, but they are there and we are here, and I don’t know who will be there to celebrate with us. We’ve just moved; I don’t have any friends or community here. I had just started to build something and then we moved again.
After my grandmother passed away, my aunt ended up moving in with my grandfather and massively renovated the house. It wasn’t the house my mom and aunt grew up in, but it was the house that I grew up in. My grandparents lived five minutes from our house, and we spent a lot of time there growing up – Christmas morning, holiday dinners, swimming in their backyard pool, sick days, and days just because. My mom hated the renovations – it didn’t feel like home to her anymore. She was furious. I was indifferent – I was already living in the States, after having lived in Sherbrooke and then Edmonton. I hadn’t been home, not really, for a decade, if not longer. After my grandfather passed away, the house was sold, my aunt and mother are estranged, and the house itself is a memory for me, a place and a goal, but it’s transient.
It all is. I wanted to tell my mom that how she felt when my aunt transformed the house is how I felt when I was a teenager and my step-father started making over our house. I wasn’t my home anymore. It went from being an unsafe place to being an unwelcoming place for me. There was a magical period post-divorce/pre-stepfather where the house my mom so desperately tried to hold on to, was actually a home.
And then it wasn’t again.
There were months I paid the mortgage, but it wasn’t my home. I spent as little time as I possibly could there. I left as quickly as I possibly could, moving away for school, and then further and further and further away. I always swore I would create a space for my family that was welcoming and warm and safe and filled with people and love. And I mostly have. Except when we move and all I have are the things but not the people.
The ways things are today, politically, most of my friends are wondering if I’m torn about becoming an American. I want to be a full member of society in order for this place to feel more like home – I really, really want to vote and participate in the democratic process, as flawed as it may be. It’s a privilege that because of how I look and speak I am already assumed to be a part of the country, but I’m not, and I cannot take that for granted. Canada has always been home but not home, given the complicated identity of being an Anglophone in Quebec, then a Quebecker in Alberta. Personal and political unease have always followed me and my sense of identity and belonging, so home is both home and not home always at the same time.
Next week, on Friday, I take an oath making me a citizen, making this country truly my home country. But I’m going to celebrate largely alone because the exact place where I live isn’t home, not yet, maybe not ever. So I’ll be there with my family, the people I love most, but missing the exact place I most feel like myself and where I am most at home, longing for the extended group of people with whom I can be most myself and whom I love. This is a moment where I will feel both a profound sense of belonging and pride alongside a profound sense of loneliness and longing.
My heart is in too many different places. I need to figure out how to bring it back.