I didn’t go home this Christmas. Part of the reason is that I just wanted to stay in Calgary and take a break. Part of the reason is that I don’t even know where home is any more.
I left home in 1992 to go to university. I went back home several times a year while I was at school. Then in 1996, my parents sold the house in Hawkesville and moved six hours away to start a new life and new careers in a field that they love. A young family with young children moved in. That was ten years ago.
About eight years ago I went back to visit a friend that I’d grown up with. Together we went back to my old house, and since everyone knows everyone around there, the new owner gave me a tour to show me all the renovations. They had left nothing untouched. The house was bigger in every direction. None of the rooms were in the same place. My bedroom walls were knocked out, and a bathroom took its place. The stairwell was changed. The only part I recognized was the dining room floor, and that’s just because they hadn’t gotten around to refinishing that yet. I could still see the scratches in the hardwood where my family had dragged our chairs back and forth for 20 years.
That was eight years ago. I still dream about being back there. Often I realize it’s a dream, and I just look around remembering how things were, realizing full well that none of it exists any more. Occasionally I’m back there and I don’t realize it’s a dream. Sometimes I’m almost a kid again.
A year ago I went back to visit family and friends in the area. I borrowed the family car and drove through Hawkesville. I stopped and talked with my former neighbours across the street. Then the front door of my childhood home opened, and two strangers came out. It was the woman who had given me the tour 7 or 8 years prior, and her teenaged daughter. I’m not sure if the mother recognized me or not. I nodded in their direction while continuing my neighbourly conversation, and they kept walking.
At that point, I realized that my old home was not only not my home any more, but it was really, fully, someone else’s home. And that other children had grown up there. It was their childhood home, too. Well, not ‘too’. Just their childhood home. Not mine. No one else’s but theirs.
How do I say this without sounding ridiculous? Of course it’s obvious that someone else had grown up there. A young family with young children move into a house, and ten years later, voila, other children have grown up there.
But it’s not fair! My home has been taken by strangers! I have nowhere to go back to! I’m just a vagrant adrift in the world. Other people have a childhood home and I don’t.
It would be different if I had a real home of my own today. I have an apartment that I’ve been renting for the last two and a half years. It’s my “home” in a way. It’s where I live. My stuff is here. I’ve made it my own. But I won’t be here forever. I have no family here. It’s just my space. And I’ll probably move out and buy a place in a year or two. But even then, I don’t know if I’ll have a “home.”
I think I miss my childhood home because I have no other place in this world that even comes close to being my home. I don’t even really want to go back there. Last time I drove past it, I felt nothing for it any more. But it still haunts my dreams. The way it was. The only home I’ve ever had.
Some day, some Christmas years from now, I’ll be able to go home. I’m still waiting to see where that will be.