What does home mean to you?
To me home has a complex meaning. My university peers, when they would go home for the holidays, would disappear to brick-and-mortar buildings most had grown up in. Places with childhood memories stored on the walls; places their families had lived in their whole lives. That was their home and it was where they returned regularly.
This wasn’t the case for me. We moved a lot when I was younger. I don’t say this in a woe-is-me tone. I say it because I learned from an early age that home is a piece of time whose memory you pick up and take with you wherever you go next. Home for me isn’t a singular house, or even one area. Home for me is a collection of houses, a series of areas, of routines and people.
Some homes bring back memories of stairs that creaked regardless of how quiet you tread them. Other homes bring back memories of long journeys to school and cans of orange paint. Yet others bring back memories of coming home late on a school night and the excitement of a first romance. Then some bring back hazy memories of sharing a room, with cats and kittens and coal fires. These are the homes of my childhood and for a long time, the inability to get back to them made me sad.
Perhaps regardless of whether the house is still there, I’m not sure adults can return home. Not really. Even if we return to the same house, the time that constructed a home within the house has passed; those homes are not physical spaces but memories of a space. So, in adulthood we seek to build anew what has passed, using memories of home as cornerstones on our new plot.
My first experience of this was a tiny room with red carpets, a door that was always open and friends that lived there as much as I did. Then a series of apartments, small but all ours, built by a tribe of women I’m lucky enough to still hold dear. Each of these were shaped by our notions of home. We each brought memories of A Home with us. Together, we spent years weaving these together to make Our House. Although we haven’t shared a house in many years, the home we created during those years still offers safety, love and comfort. Albeit electronically in these socially-distanced days.
Of course, there are the homes that bring me pain to recall. Those bring back memories of loss, depression, periods of joblessness or listlessness. Those homes come with me too and they fill in the spaces of each new home that aren’t quite right, yet. The more I ruminate on the concept of home, the more I come to realise that the negative spaces have had less of a permanent impact on my own concept of home than I had feared. The homes that bring back pain don’t come into my new, safe spaces. They serve as a reminder of the homes I don’t want to recreate.
These sharp fragments of home have however, do obscure my memories of home altogether. Pain has become entangled with the joy and safety of home. So for a long time, I have looked away from both; avoiding the good memories to ignore the bad. Like an old house overtaken by ivy. There is a home to find underneath the mass of tangled vines. This has created a strange rootlessness that I am only now starting to realise threatens the foundations of any new home.
And now, here I am. I had to choose between my new home – all mine and under my control – and the home I share with so many, overgrown and tangled but omnipotently safe in uncertain times. The latter won out. The prospect of being severed from the land that holds my dearest people for who-knows how long, was inconceivable.
I feel like I’ve closed the front door behind me and realised only when the lock clicked that the keys are still inside. That ‘oh shit’ feeling is strong this morning. I left my apartment in Prague yesterday to return to Scotland.
Ironically, before the world stopped, I had been feeling out of place in Prague, questioning why I was there at all. I had longed for home, to return to Scotland in the hopes of feeling that sense of belonging, that all those cumulative homes have given me. But as soon as my apartment door swung shut, tears flowed fast. They haven’t really stopped since.
So here I am, wondering why. If home has never been one place for me and moving is as much a part of home as staying, why do I feel so lost having left? If my notion of home has always been centred around the people in it, why do I feel scared to have left my empty apartment? If my homeland is Scotland, why do I feel so alien here?
I don’t know when I’ll get back to CZ. I hope it will be soon. My heart has been breaking slowly for two days, made worse by the uncertainty of this whole situation. There was solace in the airports though. It felt exhilarating to be part of a mass movement of people. Airports often lack unity because everyone is moving in different directions, at different times. This time felt different. There wasn’t the usual urgency hanging thick in the air. So many different people, with various amounts of luggage; all going home. There is something comforting in knowing that this struggle to find home is physically manifesting itself as people transit home.
On the plane, I met a girl travelling from Spain. Her experience was similar to mine in almost every way. We talked about growing up in Scotland. She too had moved around as a child. She had moved to Spain to teach English, as I had done in Prague. She spoke of the same quarantine conditions, the fear and uncertainty of the last few weeks. We both related to the feeling of being torn; our families are in Scotland, our homes are not.
To counteract the rising sense of panic, I’ve decided to view this trip to Scotland as an extended holiday. A spiritual retreat, of sorts. Leaving CZ has brought into sharp focus, the beauty of my life there. Being in Scotland will now be an adventure into rediscovering the beauty of my first home. I intend to use this time to dig past the weeds; the pain and bad memories that have consumed many happy memories. Like ivy on an old house, now is the time to cut back the vines. Underneath, I’m not sure what I’ll find.