Thursday, February 16, 2012

no place like home

          “Where is home? I've wondered where home is, and I realized, it's not Mars or someplace like that, it's Indianapolis when I was nine years old. I had a brother and a sister, a cat and a dog, and a mother and a father and uncles and aunts. And there's no way I can get there again.”

Kurt Vonnegut said this in an article in the Globe and Mail, and the moment I read it, I felt my heart swell with understanding.

I’ve been thinking a lot about home, and the concept of home, over the past few years. The truth is, my home is disappearing. The people who I belonged to for so much of my life are growing older, forgetting, dying even. Some of us have moved on, moved away from the land we all knew and shared. And the farm itself… well. The barn is empty. The vines are ripped up. And one day, it will be sold. Other people will own those vines, other people will be living in those houses. That valley, those trees, the river – they won’t be mine to roam anymore.

So what happens when the place that has always been home belongs to someone else? When you can’t fall into your grandparent’s bed and soak up all the room’s memories? What happens when the people who have always loved and protected you no longer open their eyes, or breathe in the world?

A friend and I write letters sometimes (she lives across the ocean) and in our letters we’ve started giving each other three words, and with those words we each come up with a short, short story. Here’s an excerpt from the one I just sent her, about this very feeling:

            …I didn’t listen. The wind seduces. It made promises, and curled its fingers around my hair. It coaxed me away from the warmth and safety of the house. Away from my home. I lifted up my roots and danced away with it. And now, here, far away from my ancestral soil, I find myself looking back, wistful.
            Nostalgia is a tricky thing. You can’t catch it, nor cup your hands around it. It’s made of spider silk, fragile and fleeting, only glimpsed when the sun strikes it. It makes promises it can’t keep. It says that home is a real, true thing. An irrefutable fact.
            But from where I stand, looking back, I can’t help thinking I’ve been lied to.

And this is where Vonnegut comes in. This is why I love fiction, and writers of fiction. They speak the truth, even when it’s painful. But there’s something about speaking the truth in a way that is painful, but also connecting. It hurts to realize that this sacred, precious thing – this place and these people I belonged to – is disappearing. But it gives me comfort to know I’m not the only one who knows what this is like. In fact, maybe everyone knows what this is like. And that soothes, a little. It says that, in some way, I belong everywhere, to everyone, and they to me.

In the meantime:

I try to store up memories, and kisses, and conversations at my grandmother’s kitchen table. I store up as much as I can, before the winter comes and takes it all away for good.

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