Home. It seems to have been on our minds a lot lately.
Amber talks about the uncertainty that comes with living in Yellowknife – the choice between the freedom that comes with living in a small town where you can get comfortable with the rhythm of everyday life, or leaving it all behind for new opportunities, uncertainty included. Sara’s push-pull attachment to Addis Ababa is brought into focus whenever she travels elsewhere, to cities that are less challenging, but wonders how you learn to be grateful for the things you have when you live in a place where everything comes so easily.
The city I’ve lived in most of my life is neither particularly big or small.
It’s small for a city, but big for a town conjured up out of sheep paddocks when Sydney and Melbourne couldn’t stop arguing about which one of them got to be Australia’s capital. It’s quiet and pretty, has four distinct seasons, a lot of green space, and enough decent restaurants to keep the longing for more excitement down to a bi-monthly outburst.
But the place I think of as “home” is not the city I live in, but the block of land bought by my parents in the southern suburbs in the 1980s, that later held the house my brother and sister and I grew up in. Even after I moved out, almost a decade ago, it remained a comforting place – where I could visit my Mum, eat takeaway, and maybe loll on the couch and watch a bit of British crime drama TV. Long after I left, I kept it on my medical files as my “home” address, to save bills being sent to the rental places I’d since moved on from.
I’ve stayed in a number of places long enough to fully unpack a suitcase – sharehouses with an ensemble cast of mostly decent housemates, mismatched furniture and universally tight-fisted landlords. A studio apartment in Taipei that was completely tiled like a giant bathroom, where I remember my bare legs sticking to the faux-leather sofa in the heat and putting little boxes of charcoal in the wardrobe drawers so my clothes didn’t go mouldy. I’ve spent months housesitting in places nicer than anything I could ever afford – walking other people’s well-behaved dogs and making dinners in kitchens stocked with things I made a mental note to buy once I was a “proper” adult. And for the last few years, a little apartment close to many of the things I like in my city, with about 60% of the fancy cookware I plan to eventually own.
Earlier this year, my mother decided a 4-bedroom house was a bit much for just herself and the two cats, so decided to sell up. I helped her sort through the 20+ years of detritus – trying on my older sister’s prom dresses from the 80s and finally getting to throw away the ugly Christmas wreath my brother made in primary school out of a coat hanger and strips of white plastic supermarket bags.
The house was emptied, freshly carpeted and the place where 8-year-old Cheney scratched her initials in the bedroom windowsill was painted over. Someone else has bought it now, and while I feel a little sad that I can’t go back (though I suppose they are taking better care of the garden), it does still feel like home, in some abstract way. Like no matter who owns it, it will always, in the end, belong to our family because of the amount of living we did there. That there will be other places I’ll call home, but it will never stop being one of them.