essay

Thoughts on Home

It’s a Very, Very, Very Fine House

In the life I lived before coming here, I dreamt of this home. Not precisely this little house perched on rock hanging over the ocean, but nearly. I want there to be space for family and friends, I want water, I want land, I prayed and somehow—in ways more magic than real—here we are.

Some days, I wake to the sound of the insistent ocean, thinking of all the thing I do not know. What is the name of that tree that sways in front of my window? Why are there seven dead snakes at the end of our trail? Where do all those yellow-jackets live? Sometimes the thinking is gentle, like the ocean on those days when I wake to find her face reflective glass. On those days, I am drawn into her, unable to resist the quiet pull. And some days are like today, my thoughts made of rougher stuff, like the sea when she picks up logs the size of grown trees and she throws them around on the beach and they tumble and fall, as if logs are mere thoughts, easy to ceaselessly turn, impossible to command to rest. On days when the ocean ceaselessly turns and the winds blow, some of my friends sleep under their stairs and I wish I could hide under the stairs from my thoughts.

“You are my home,” I told my husband during our wedding ceremony. “I wake with a smile on my lips because I wake by you.” Now I wake with the ocean whispering sweet somethings in my ear and my husband, still beloved, wakes in an apartment a world away. Here we have our children, the land we struggle to cultivate out of rock and dream, and the home which we endlessly improve. Here we have the two cats in the yard of the proverbial song, along with a dog,13 chickens, each with their own name, and the garden where after three years I finally successfully grew kale and nasturtiums this summer. I think often these days of what is to come and how well we are prepared for the hardships that we may not keep at bay in our lifetime and I wonder how long I could really live off of greens, endless numbers of sweet and spicy delicate little flowers, and the oysters that cling to the beach during low tide. And, then I wonder whether I could hunt and slaughter the deer that ate those hard-earned kale and nasturtiums once even they disappear into the belly of the ravenous, doe-eyed beasts.

But mostly I wonder what it means to call a place home when my beloved husband lives, most days and nights, nine hours and three ferries away. I watch my friends ask variations on this same question as their children age and leave, as their relationships tear and others form, and as they are forced back across borders to countries that claim to be their true homelands.“This is where I want to be, this is home,” my friend says as he packs up his children from their summer house to drive back across the border which despite money and skill and a great deal of time, still separates him from calling the place he loves home. “It’s not right without my children,” my brother says as he, too, prepares to abandon the place he loves for similar reasons. “But this will always be my home,” says our teenage friend as she leaves the island where she has spent her life in order to go to high school, and my daughter becomes one of those lonely and few island teens left behind.

Is it still home if one must leave a place to have a baby, a heart transplant, an education? Is it still home if the government bars a person at the border, if their children aren’t allowed entry, one’s mother can’t come to visit?

Today is a rougher kind of day, even though my kids have slept late and my husband is here to bring me tea. Blame it on the ocean singing her incessant song, not at top volume, but loud enough to send my neighbours down-coast for cover. Or, blame it on the light not yet broken over the pink granite ridge to the northeast, leaving me adrift in the eerie grey of the darker seasons. Or blame it on the wind on which the eagles and gulls swoop and play. Something is
tossing my thoughts around so that I am not just writing of the sentimental trappings of home of which I set out to write.

I meant to write about the 200-year-old black walnut tree that fell near where we lived in Chicago, that was milled in the park where it fell, and then was worked by my husband’s hands into the ten-foot table that has moved, along with us, between five homes and two countries, to come to rest here. Last summer, my father-in-law, brother, husband, and many friends came together to build a room onto our house, specifically so we would have space to hold this table. I meant to write about how this year, 15 years after our wedding, we set that table with the handmade pottery set—much of which has not been broken—upon that table to celebrate the Thanksgiving of two countries, with friends from all over the world, and our two children and we toasted who was missing: the friends that recently died, the ones that are sick, and the family members bound to another homeland. We feel we are the lucky ones and we mourn all that is sacrificed to be so lucky.

Today when I think about home I feel that longing so deep it drove me around the world, away from family and culture and the delicious familiarity of understanding a people so thoroughly that you laugh before the punchlines of the joke. A longing that drove me here: to this little rock on the side of the ocean—with space for family and in a community of friends— and it is to here that I cling. Here is where I want to watch my children grow and flourish. To hold my grandchildren in my arms. To be old with my lover of a lifetime, eating those endless kale salads spiced with nasturtiums. And, someday, here is where I want to die listening to the ocean reveal all it knows of longing, finding, holding, and letting go.

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