Lately I have been thinking about the idea of home and the different houses I’ve called home and what home really means to me. My first memory of home, is my childhood home, the first house I shared as a young child with my parents and brother. I remember in the winter, my mom would wake us up in the morning, and, in the living room she had our clothes laid out on the fireplace so we could stay nice and warm as we dressed for the day. I remember spending Christmas morning as a family, sitting on the floor in front of that same fireplace, my parents drinking coffee and my brother and I playing with our new toys and laughing. I remember my mom rocking me in her rocking chair in that house, whenever I was sick or upset. That was home.
It’s not the house we shared that I remember as home, though I try my best to do that too sometimes, being thirty-something years since I’ve seen it. It’s the feeling I remember. The feeling of home; love, warmth, safety, security, and contentment, all combined. I remember being in my late teens, having moved out of my parents home and trying to navigate that sometimes scary place between adolescence and adulthood, and longing for the feeling of being a child, in my mother’s arms, in the rocking chair. I was searching for my new home.
As a gerontologist, I have worked with many older adults with dementia over the years. Often, they will repetitively say, “I want to go home” or maybe even pack their belongings in the middle of the night and try to leave. When asked where they’re going, they will respond, “I’m going home.” They may do this even while residing in a home they have owned for fifty years. A home they raised kids in and lived with their spouse. When they say they want to go home, they mean that first memory of home. A memory they still hold (longest held memories are the very last to go) or, more accurately, a feeling they still hold. They may not know what is wrong but they know something is wrong and they want to go home, to feel home; safe, warm, loved, at ease.
A good friend can certainly feel like home. One of those friends that you can go for months or years without seeing and when you’re together again, it’s like no time has passed. You get together and instantly it’s like you’ve climbed into your favorite pair of jammies and are sipping hot cocoa.
Phil and I bought our first house together in St. Louis and made it a home. That was the first place I’d lived since my childhood that felt like home. I was with my love, we had a cozy little bungalow filled with our personal belongings, and our dog, and it was perfect. I would come home from a long day (or week if I was traveling) of work and sigh contentedly as I opened the door. Home.
After my brother died in 2009, I lost my feeling of home. For about a year and a half, I didn’t feel at home anywhere; not in my house, my own skin, or my head. Let me tell you, that is an empty feeling. Actually, it’s not even a feeling. It is the total lack of feeling. Good thing I have a really awesome husband who never gave up on getting his wife back. Also good thing I had enough sense to find a therapist (who encouraged me to try yoga) and a psychiatrist. I eventually became accustomed to my new normal and found home once again.
When Phil and I were preparing to move from St. Louis to California, I struggled with letting go of our house. My cozy little bungalow and all my cool stuff that I had to get rid of before the move. Eventually, it clicked that all of my stuff was just stuff and my house was just a thing. Phil was home. Phil and I together made the home. The only other thing in the house that mattered was our sweet dog, Jebus, and he was coming with, so I had everything I needed. I have never once missed that house since we left. It was a good house and I’m happy we had our time there but I don’t miss it. Ever.
We had a couple of months of limbo before moving to Gijon while we were waiting to hear back from the Spanish consulate about our visas. Our apartment sat, half packed, in disarray and we split our time between Long Beach and Palm Springs (where my father-in-law had an Airbnb he couldn’t rent at the time due to covid restrictions). I remember being in Palm Springs and as I went to grab something out my suitcase one night thinking, “I’m going to be living out of a suitcase for a really long time.” The thought didn’t scare me or make me sad. It was simply a matter of fact. A permanent address does not a home make.
Gijon feels like home now. We didn’t realize it until a few weeks ago, after my cousin Hannah visited and we returned from a few days away. As we drove into the city and neared the bus station, Phil said, “It’s good to be home,” and it was. Home. It doesn’t feel like home because our stuff is here, because our stuff is in fact, not here (well, our clothes and shoes are here).
Maybe home is never a place. For anyone. There’s no place like home because Dorothy knows everyone she loves is there, not because Kansas is such a bomb-ass place to live. People can relocate. You can find new people. You can make your home wherever, and with whomever you want. The saying should really be “Home is where your heartbeat is” or maybe “If you lived here, you’d be home by now,” “Oh yeah, jokes on you, I live nowhere near here and I feel right at home!”