“But a chair is not a house, and a house is not a home…”
– Burt Bacharach and Hal David
Also with a respectful nod to both Dionne Warwick and Luther Vandross of course, I have to say – yes.
Until the age of twenty-three when I moved-out for good, I lived with my parents, more or less – that’s a very long story that can be summed up in a poem I wrote here. It was my parents’ home yes, but not mine. I lived there as a child as all children do because, I had no choice. Until I could afford to be on my own, I had no choice. Most parents, at some point, will explain the finer points of home ownership. It almost always comes first in some form of My house. My Rules. I had my bedroom, yes, but I never felt at home in my parents’ house. A stanza from the above referenced poem…
Where do I go
This was my shelter
It was all I’ve ever known
I’m taught never to be where I’m not wanted
But what do I do when I’m a child
And where I’m not wanted is home
It was an intangible difference, but one I innately, if not completely, understood even as a young child.
“Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.”
― Sarah Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye
When I moved out of my parent’s house, I moved into Bill’s parent’s house. They were both retired and aging, still for the first couple of years very much with us. Yes, it was technically the parents’ house and there was definite clashing of heads twixt all four of us adults from time-to-time, but there was a mutual respect companionship and love throughout those walls. As his step-father’s health rapidly declining and his mother was showing the very first hints of Alzheimer’s I found myself in the role of partial caretaker of the elderly parents. Living with them taught me that home and family is are relative terms less defined by blood, more defined by relationships. Bill has cousins, the family of his mother’s best friend. People he was not related to by blood, but were very much his family. That was the first place I felt at home.
“When I think of home I think of a place where there’s love overflowing…”
Home – The Wiz Soundtrack
Whether in an apartment, but especially when we actually owned our own house I learned home was more than my four walls and the roof over my head. Home is an environment. It was my dog I could hear happily barking and doing what we dubbed the happy-happy-joy-joy dance as soon she sensed my approach to the door. It was the feeling that greeted me when I walked through the door. It was my sons and husband who waited for me to get home. It extended out of the walls and windows of my actual abode to those we welcomed within. My sons’ friends who knew they better “greet an adult first when coming through my door” before going to play video games in their bedroom. Our friends and family coming over for barbecue and the annual Superbowl party. At long last I had found home.
And then I lost it.
“Home is where somebody notices when you are no longer there.”
― Aleksandar Hemon, The Lazarus Project
Through a series of events I’m not going into here, when my husband died I was no longer able to keep living in our home and long story-short I wound up moving in with the one person who always had my back, and opened her home to me when I needed one, my best friend. Coming from a life of being an only child, living with Bill who was estranged from his living sibling and myself having the two boys, I had lived in relatively quiet homes. The realities of living with a large family was foreign to me. It was one thing to know, or rather know of, a string of siblings and nieces and nephews of her family, but I had very little interaction with them over the years. I understood them in the Hallmark card concept of everyone was around for Thanksgiving dinner in which we showed up for an hour or so and then left to visit elsewhere. Still very much walking the Path of Grieving at the time, plus a series of other mayhem that befell, I was grateful, to have a roof over my head. I was grateful it was with my best friend, whom I love dearly. After a twenty years of finally having a true feeling of home in my life, being in a home not my own again was especially stinging. The day-to-day of always having people who were not my family, always around, and as I felt in my business, was something to which I had much trouble adjusting. I quickly understood that none of them would ever really understand how I could be in my room, reading a book not wanting any interaction just as I would never understand the sound and fury and a constant stream of people coming and going that was their norm. Over time I was definitely more at home there. A couple of her siblings have claimed me as I have claimed her as my sister on all legal forms. Still, for all of that, I could never really make the apartment we shared feel like my home. Because I knew from the onset, no matter how long I stayed there, it was always a temporary thing and she would likely be the only person to miss my presence when I finally left.
“Home is people. Not a place. If you go back there after the people are gone, then all you can see is what is not there anymore.” – Robin Hobb, Fool’s Fate
Twice times I rode the train and went back to my old block, to “casually” pass by my old home. The first time was maybe a year or so after the boys and I left. The house was empty of tenants, the fence needed repair, the yard was overrun with weeds. The second time was perhaps around the third year mark when I saw it in passing from a train. The yard was cut, a car was in the driveway, the house was occupied by a family not my own. Both times I was still in grief, so all I saw in my heart were how the Christmas decorations would hang from the awning. The football shaped balloons we attached to the fence for Superbowl, where the grill stood in the yard. I saw it while passing by in a car a couple of summers ago. The building was almost out of my sight before I even realized where we were. I understood I would have been immediately in tune with it before, it did not register because it was no longer home to me anymore.
If there is one thing we humans all have in common, it is that we all want a place to call home.
After several years of living with my best friend I am under my own roof again. I am on totally on my own, no children, no romantic partners, just me, but I feel it. I still have some furniture I need to purchase, some décor I need to work out, deal with a host of other changes, big and small, in my life because of it, but I feel it. The views are very different than before, how I move around is very different than before, it is a very different feeling than before, but I feel it nonetheless. And oh when I climb the stair and turn the key in the front door at the end of the day, yeah I feel it…
“Home is where the heart is.”
– Gaius Plinius Secundus
Writing Our Lives #52essays2017 challenge – Week 3
A year-long weekly personal essay/memoir/creative nonfiction writing challenge. To learn more about this challenge or to participate, check out Vanessa Martir’s website and learn about it.
And let’s see how others are slicing this week:
Slice of Life Writing Challenge|Two Writing Teachers