Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Finding Home

Growing up, my home life was much like living in a circus whose performers had recently escaped from the local asylum so, the subject of Home has always been a touchy one for me. What is it about Home that stirs within our hearts such emotion, such happiness, such bitterness and such angst?

In my 20’s, day after endless day was spent being wretchedly and miserably partnered to a wretched and miserable mate, and I often found myself longing for Home. After the initial trickle of tears would begin, the realization would hit me that I had no home to which I could go. This thought would completely break the dam, and all hell would break loose in the desolate cavern that was my heart. Where was Home?!? What was Home?

For a while during my childhood, Home was a place. Home sat at the edge of hundreds of acres of corn in Southern Illinois and was warmed only by a pot-bellied stove in the winter and cooled by open doors and screen-free windows during the summer. Home was the place I left every summer morning as soon as the sun lifted its fiery red head and to where I returned when it dropped its lazy round bottom below the horizon every evening. Home was where I ran barefoot, wild and free through fields of corn. It was where my sisters and I skated on frozen creeks in the winter, pretending we were beautiful ice skaters, despite the fact that our “skates” were Wonder Bread wrappers secured with rubber bands to hand-me-down tennis shoes.  It was where my mother made bath soap in a churn in the front yard and where we ate watermelon while sitting on the tailgate of my father’s battered truck. Home was this place…this ancient, run-down, dilapidated, beautiful place. And, as it turns out, this house was the last place I would ever truly feel at home…until now.

After moving from that old house when I was the ripe old age of eight, life became much more treacherous. Home became a place to lay my head at night, a place from which to flee during the day, and at night a place I feared to return. Details aren’t necessary to tell my tale. You’ve most likely experienced very similar bumps and bruises to body and brain, dysfunctions and malfunctions, loss of innocence and hard-earned gains in character. What I will tell you…and don’t act shocked…is that life is hard.  So difficult at times, in fact, that our brain boxes often seek refuge and sometimes in the most unlikely places. In retrospect, I look back on moments in my life and wonder, “Why in the bloody hell did I ever want to go home?!”

Now that I’m in my 40’s, happily partnered and the recipient of large doses of expensive therapy, I can sit back with relative ease and survey my past. I see much more humor in it now.  The harsh lines have softened and memories are seen through the hazy filter of time. My family has become what I refer to as a, “family by choice” and Home is an ever so lovely stained glass window made of places, people and feelings.

In talking to my friends and family over the years about what Home means to them, I’ve heard varied responses. A friend of mine grew up in the same house her entire life and, to this day still goes home with her husband to that same house. She says she gets excited that she’s almost Home as soon as the highway signs over I-35 say, “Oklahoma City.” Getting through Oklahoma City means she’s only about an hour away from her old house and the landmarks become familiar. Those signs tell her that Mama isn’t far away and, as she put it to me, “Home is where Mama is.”

My sister says that Home is where she’s created a history, formed relationships, become familiar with an area and has made memories. “Given enough time,” she says, “Anywhere can feel like Home.” Indeed, when you walk into her house, no matter if she’s lived there for ten years or a month, her shelves contain the same old familiar and comfortable books and treasures. She carries with her those tangible memories that make her feel at home.

My friend J.T., (and former Sadie Hawkins Dance partner, whether he remembers it or not!) says that because his family lived in several houses during his childhood, Home has become something all together different than merely a place. Home is when he’s with friends and family and the conversation turns to, “Do you remember when…?” “That,” he says, is when he’s “home.” Shared memories and shared pasts sometimes have sturdier walls than even the best built houses.

My cousin’s mother passed away last November, and she no longer feels a connection to “home.” Her sister attempts family get-togethers, but the sense of belonging remains lost to her. She has yet to be able to find her way home again, but I know she will because she commented to me, “home right now, is where my sister is.”  Home still exists for her but her heart remains much too broken to accept that Home will be different now.

My sister-in-law grew up in a crowded, loud and chaotic household (Actually, several crowded, loud and chaotic households). She now feels that, Home is where there is “peace, quiet and comfort.” I’m fairly positive that she would be perfectly at home if her favorite comfy chair suddenly took flight and landed in the middle of a jungle, so long as the Natives left her to her iPad (and chanted very quietly). Home for her, is being where there is literal peace and quiet.

Across the country in D.C., I have a soulful and beautiful friend who feels at home when she’s in the kitchen cooking for her closest friends and family. She’s a kindred spirit, she is! Home is not where she was raised, but who walks through her doors, eats her food, and who makes her laugh until she forgets that any variation of Home ever existed outside of her chalet walls.

Then…there’s my sweet friend I’ve known since high school whose longing for home is deep and intense right now. Her parents are fading, and her extended family is in emotional shambles. Mere photographs of her childhood home bring tears to her eyes, and even traumatic memories are all but forgotten to make room in her heart to remember Home as she needs it to be remembered. Although tragedy, pain, and misery happened within those walls, “Home,” is still that old house on Walnut Street where she felt safe and where there was a sanctuary from town gossip and judgmental peers.

In all of these stories, there are differences but, even so, the similarities remain. “Home,” it seems, is indeed, “where the heart is.” Broken hearts feel homeless even among the familiar faces of family. Gypsy feet may wander hither and yon, but always feel at home when planted firmly next to an old friend’s while swapping tales of yesteryear. Highway signs that lead us down well worn roads to houses we know our way around by heart, don’t tell us what really makes that house a home. What makes it “home” is who is behind the door waiting with open arms when we arrive.

Looking back on those times when I wondered why I ever wanted to go home again, I now understand what it was that I really wanted. It wasn’t the chaos, the shabby house, or the emotionally absent parents. What I wanted was comfort and the feeling that I belonged somewhere.  Now that I’m grown with a family of my own, and I’ve had plenty of time to sort through the tattered old memories which comprise the scrapbook of my life, it is clear to me that I am home. I’m home because I’m loved, and because I stay in touch with old friends with whom I share a home town and a heart-shaped box of memories. I am home because I have a sister whom I love, who loves me and who knows all of my secrets and keeps them safe. I am home because when I cook for my friends and family, we eat and laugh and share our souls with each other. Home is in my heart, and it abides there, wherever the road may take me.

They say you can’t go home again, but I’ll let you in on a secret: You can. 

As written by Amy Colclasure Warner for the inaugural edition of Hom~o Magazine, published October 2011. All rights reserved. Content may not be duplicated. Artwork by Alex R. Warner.