I am sitting in home central, home base, quintessential home. I have lived in this house for eight years, four in high school, and four after college. The only place I've lived longer, was in our first home in Czechoslovakia, the first ten years of my life. In this house my room faces west, and always had wonderful afternoon light.
A pencil sketch of Tom Cruise which I drew in Junior High, hung my wall, later to be replaced by one of Jim Morrison. I built a life sized, paper and chicken wire tree in the corner of the room, and wallpapered one wall with National Geographic photos, and another with a snowy scene mural of Mt. Ranier. A desk was by the window, a bed in closet converted into an alcove, a garage sale bookshelf painted white, and a gifted wicker chest of drawers, which is still elsewhere in the house. It was home.
And yet it wasn’t. We moved into this house just before my 14th birthday. By then, five moves through three countries and two states, over the course of five years, made “home” somehow less meaningful. I had been uprooted so many times, that I had lost the will, or desire, or ability to grow roots. I had forgotten what home really means and I stopped looking for it.
Now the room is pink, a color I would never have chosen back then, and a light olive green. A lovely combination. A painting of a bowl of white peaches that my great grandfather did, hangs on the wall next to a solemn etching of Jesus’ face. There is also a pencil drawing of my mom which I did in high school. As a model I used a black and white photograph of my mom, which was taken in Czech Republic when I was young, and it was home. Mom is in her early twenties in the photo, her hair is short and permed. It’s a three quarter profile, and she looks at the camera with a smile and a sparkle in her eye, so characteristic of my mother. Her left hand supports her chin, with the index and middle fingers framing her Sophia Lauren lips. Her simple, gold wedding band shows.
There is a colored pencil drawing of a Mongolian horseman which I drew in college. He is riding through an Asian steppe, with right arm extended toward the sky, urging on his animal. Another painting is an oil canvas I started five or six years ago, based on a photo I took in Honduras. A beach scene on the island of Roanoke, where the slave ships landed, and a black community has lived ever since. There are no black folks in the scene. Instead, white laundry hangs between two palm trees and is lifted by the wind. I see it as unfinished but also surreal.
Three photograph collages also hang on the walls. These are not my product, rather that of my mom. A collage of black and white photos from the home we had in Czechoslovakia: great grand parents, grand parents, friends, vacation on the Balaton Lake (or Sea as we called it), me on my fourth birthday, and my ninth. The other two collages are much more recent - from the last ten years: birthdays, weddings, visits from the Czech Republic, mom, dad, grandma, friends, dogs, me. My parents’ recent divorce detracts from the happiness conveyed by those photos.
Next to the collages, and in contrast to their multitude of stories, is one large photograph. Two faces, two sets of shoulders, two pair of eyes looking into the camera lens. Tom and I on our wedding day. So content.
The furniture has been replaced with a more mature version of itself. The twin bed has become a queen. Across from it is a couch I purchased for my own house three or four years ago; the first real piece of furniture I bought at a real store, not a sidewalk. It, a chest, a cabinet and a coffee table remind me of another home, my home, the one I own, and lived in for four years. The one in which I metamorphosed into an adult.
It’s all here in this room: many homes, changes, people and loves. Here they collide and coalesce, hang out together, the bits and pieces from my life: a testament to the constant metamorphosis of what home is, and its stillness too.
Almost four weeks I have been “home.” The use of quotation marks is warranted by the fact that the quest for home still continues, still being examined, still being defined, because home is not a static, geographic place.
In the most general sense, this is home: the place where my husband and I mostly live (when one or both of us isn’t away), where most of our mail arrives (sometimes it goes to our PO Box on L Street), where we have most of our stuff (some of it resides in storage on H street), where we cook familiar food, and know the exact position of the shower knob which determines the perfect water temperature for our bodies, where our closets smell like us. It is where we know the noises on the street, and feel comfortable going anywhere. Where we feel comfortable. This is home.
In recent days I’ve been waiting to hear from potential employers about job interviews I’ve had. I am hoping to hear from a school with an offer of a teaching position. While I wait, I feel anxious. I check e-mail, phone way too often, the way one does in an obsessive relationship. I keep waiting. Various mental deadlines I hopefully established, have passed with no words. Tom is still in Pakistan and I miss his physical presence helping me to feel grounded and normalized. The anxiety has pulled me out of myself, and therefore out of feeling comfortable. And even though I sit right in it, in these obsessive moments, home feels distant.