"There is a house built out of stone
Wooden floors, walls and window sills
Tables and chairs worn by all of the dust
This is a place where I don't feel alone
This is a place where I feel at home"
Sitting on the edge of the unmade bed, clothes strewn before my feet, the blinds and curtains half pulled open, body filled with emptiness, I longed for home. The familiarity of the things I grew up with; the same bed, smell of linen, sound of teaspoons swirling in teacups and tap tap tap on the edge of the mug. Shuffling up the stairs, along the hallway in woolen socks, avoiding any movements to avoid spilling tea on carpet. Scratching of excited claws at the base of the stairwell, waiting for a magical reappearance of aforementioned expert tea holder so morning routine of biscuits and walks could commence. Later the smell of home cooking, tomatoes, vegetable stocks, creamy soups and warm stews. The orientation of the sofas and the carefully adjusted gap between the armchair and coffee table so that hot beverages and after eight mints are always within arms reach. The familiar voices, smells, tastes, sounds, light.
When life gets hard this is what I miss, what I long for in my chest. These senses are nostalgic of a time when life wasn't so hard, of a space where I was safe within the bubble my parents had blown up to protect me. When life is hard I yearn to be back home. Of course, being an adult means I can’t always go home and more often than not when life is hard is when I really can’t go home.
When I left home I only considered the practicalities. Packing my belongings into suitcases and boxes, getting my stuff up to London, into my dorm, settling in and making friends. I was warned of the new challenges I was yet to face; how expensive things are, the tragedy of cooking your first meal without oil, salt or paper, having to make your own appointments, wash your own clothes, pay your bills. Of course, friends and family were right and I wasn't quite ready for these things. I did spend my whole weekly allowance in one day, I frequently underestimated the price of a drink down the pub and subsequently went without food or walked in the rain instead of taking public transport. I definitely burnt a meal or two and ate dry toast shamefully alone in my room. I neglected to go to the doctors and I forgot my clothes in the dryer only to come back later and find them dumped in a dusty corner of the communal laundry room. These things happened and they were expected. I wasn't surprised by them at all. These things, although tough to start, are quickly adjustable and I quickly adjusted. Three years later with a degree under my belt, I no longer burn my food or spend all my money on alcohol, or at least not as often… I go to the doctors, I don’t leave my clothes in the wash. The point is, I've learned and improved and adjusted.
An adjustment that took much longer (and an adjustment that no one warned me about) was that of the mental transition required when moving away from home. It became especially murky to me in second year when filling out the “home” field of a university form. I instinctively started writing the address of the family home I grew up in when I was younger. Obviously incorrect I then pondered what address to give, my student accommodation in London or the house my parents are renting in Auckland? What was home? I felt at that point an eery feeling of having no sense of home.
The thing is, home isn't really where you live permanently, is it? It’s a feeling bigger than that. A sensation of relief upon arrival in a space. Relief and safety define home for me, somewhere I can be myself completely. "Within the privacy of your own home” is a phrase that comes to mind. I feel home when I feel free to do literally anything, eat, sleep, dance, scream, cry. It makes sense that for many of us, our family home retains this sense of homeliness, as our parents have provided security and privacy throughout our upbringing. A safe haven, a personal space of sanctuary within the security of the family home. A bubble inside a bubble. It just so happens that this bubble has physicality and is quite often constant and so we come to associate home with its physical elements; bed linen patterns, the heaviness of crockery, side cupboards with odd coasters and mantlepieces decorated with various family photos.
Home isn’t always where your family is and when you leave home you leave the bubble. Eventually, the bubble bursts and you look for a new home. Finding home for me has always been a journey of acceptance, coming to face the fact that I’ve moved on and now I must invest in a new territory. A territory that is no longer within someone else's bubble. I have to make it safe, I have to make it free, I have to make it secure. It doesn't occur in an instant, as it must become a familiar constant it takes time, repeated entries and adjustments before it nonchalantly and surreptitiously shifts to home.