I have lived in two countries, in at least sixteen different buildings and had over ten different postcodes. I have used the term home casually to refer to the dwelling I currently reside in or the grand overarching area in which I grew up. When I moved from America to England sixteen years ago I can remember feeling a twinge of excitement about starting a new adventure but mostly I felt as though my heart and soul was being ripped from me and being put through a meat grinder. I felt tethered to my home area as if the mountain, the countryside, the hill towns people… my people, my land, were woven into my very genetic makeup. Years later my heart still aches for them, my homesickness fully kicks in around September when it’s apple picking season and usually dies down when my friends start posting pictures of large snowstorms on their social media. Thank goodness I hate winters.
When I moved here I felt as if I no longer was at home. I was an alien, a foreigner, a loose end. Slowly over the years I started making mummy friends, coworker friends and established local connections, I started to recognise certain landmarks in the area I lived with a particular fondness in their familiarness as if they were new beacons signalling I was nearly home as I would pass them and so over time I began to tether myself to a new home that I began to feel part of. I think about six years after my arrival when I stopped being known to the locals where I lived as “that American girl” and just simply referred to as Billie, I felt fully accepted and therefore also accepted that area as home.
This past October I went through a very difficult time. The house that I had rented for quite a long time in the area I had adopted as my second home was being put up for sale and my landlord served me notice that I had to move by Christmas. This was a heartbreaking moment for me. I had become settled, I had brilliant neighbours and friends around that made me feel safe and secure. My children were happy and had their own friends nearby. I struggled to find a new and suitable place for us in the immediate area. As I packed up more and more of our belongings I grew bitter. I felt like the universe was deliberately out to get me. Through a work colleague and a friend I finally found a house a mile away to rent. It was smaller than what we needed and I had to sleep in the living room so the children could have the bedrooms upstairs but it was a sacrifice I was willing to make to stay relatively close to “home” and my people.
The most brilliant thing happened when I moved. I acquired more people to love and who supported me. My bitterness washed away and I began to see the so to speak silver linings in the situation. This was also brilliant because it helped me step out of my comfort zone and apply for a new job that was in an area I would have previously considered too far to travel to. I got that job and am very happy there. My coworkers are a fabulous team of individuals who also have supported me tremendously. Which is also brilliant because in May after only living in the new house For six months I once again had to move because my new landlord needed to move back in the property. This time I could not find any properties that were suitable in my home area and I had to search further away. I luckily found a gorgeous property that was large and spacious and loaded with period features just two and a half weeks before my family was to become homeless. It was not in the area though. The proximity to the bus station in town and the fact that it was in town close to all the shops were the biggest consolations.
The second move in six months left me questioning what makes a home. Is it an area or a building? Is it just the people you live with or also the ones who are supportive and live nearby? Home, I now believe is a feeling of belonging, security, familiarity. It’s where your family either biological or made up of people you have chosen resides. It is also the extension of that. It’s your community and your tribe and your area. I honestly believe I was lucky enough to have two homes at once. The place I grew up in and the area that I adopted in my new country both equally held my heart.
This leaves me now feeling a bit untethered again. I am no longer in the area where my friends and support network are, I’m surrounded by the not so familiar and I’ve only briefly met two of my neighbours. Although I love the house I am in and my children who are my world are with me in it, it does not yet feel completely like home. It feels like something is still missing.
I recently made the difficult decision to move my youngest daughter to the school just two blocks behind where we currently live starting in September. This means that in a way my last tie to the area I claimed as home will no longer be there when she finishes school in our old neighbourhood at the end of July.
I guess now that leaves me starting yet another new phase in my life. New job, new house, new area. It’s scary but it’s also an adventure. I hope that this new journey also leads me to a new and wonderful sense of home.
In 2006 just after my second child was born I wrote this poem and it reflects a bit on what home was to me then:
Home is full of chaos and continuous CBeebies noise.
It smells of strawberry yoghurt, dog food and that last dirty nappy wafting through the air.
A sea of plastic rainbow toys litter the floor and have claimed my chair.
I can taste the tuna from my lunch, I’ve never liked fish but for all this I am willing to sacrifice much.
Because none of the rest matters as I hold you two close, one drooling on my chest and the other on my leg as we have a much deserved rest. My body is so very tired but my heart is so full.