My childhood home was sold last week.
In some ways, it’s easier to be far away. I am not facing the boxes and the empty house. I didn’t have to meet the new owners. I didn’t see my room without the faded sunflower-shaped collage that’s been on its wall since before I can remember.
But it’s also harder, perhaps for the same reasons. I'm far away and I’m not forced to think about it. So when I do, the feelings are sharp.
Thoughts of home seeped into my consciousness at unexpected, often unwelcome times this week:
- While cleaning my room. Yesterday the song “Ghetto Superstar” came on as I cleaned my room. It brought me to 14 Ocean Street, sometime in the late 90s. My best friend Maya and I are in my bedroom. We’re wearing flared jeans and t-shirts from the Gap. We hold hairbrush microphones, squint our eyes and dance around my room, careful not to bonk our heads on my loft bed.
- While voting. I tear up when I fill in my absentee ballot. They ask for my address in The States. I don’t know what to put.
- While Skype-ing. My parents have stress and weariness in their voice each time we’ve talked recently. 25 years of stuff to get rid of, to sort through, to throw out and to pack up. It wears.
- While uploading pictures. As I upload my latest pictures into iphoto, I see the folder labeled “Home.” It feels masochistic to click on it but I do anyway. I tear up at the first picture: its a view of the sunrise from our deck - reds, oranges and pinks mirrored in the still morning water. The nostalgia builds as I scroll through the rest – dad sitting on the porch with a cup of coffee in his hand, a book in his lap; my family and the Loxtercamp/McGuires around our dining room table, celebrating one the what-feels-like-hundreds of birthdays we've shared together (the staple cake with Ben & Jerry's, party hats and goofy smiles present); Max sleeping in dad’s puffy chair in ‘the boat shed.’
Why do I care so much about this move? “Home is where the heart is,” right? Why is this physical place – really just four walls and a roof – so important? A few reasons come to mind:
- Home provided stability. My life is transient at the moment – I’m living in Nepal, but who knows where I’ll be in eight months; I’m working for an NGO, but I don’t know if it’s what I want to “do” when I “grow up;” I have friends here, but my closest and oldest friends are scattered about The States. Home countered all this flux. If I ever felt lonely or lost, I could come home to our fireplace, to my baby blanket, to pancake breakfasts on our porch. I could come home and find Colonel Bruce next door on his porch, ready with a virgin Shirley Temple and a story from ‘back in Korea.’ “My surrogate granddaughter!” he’d say as I walk across our adjoining lawn. My home represented security, stability, comfort. Now where to run if things get tough?
- Home provided identity. “I am a Mainer” and “I am from Belfast” are phrases I’ve been saying since I could speak. They are as automatic and engrained as “My name is Rosie.” I also feel proud saying them. I met a lot of people in college who grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey or in high-rise buildings of Manhattan; I felt unique to be from a small town, from a community, from a place where everyone is connected. A place where my third grade teacher is also my mom’s best friend; where my next-door neighbor was a City Council member and taught my middle school-band class how to march; where my doctor is also the owner of the local diner where I go for pancakes on Saturdays. Belfast and its people shaped me. If Belfast, Maine is no longer my home, who am I? Am I now someone who simply grew up in Maine? As McCain has done so much this past month, I’ll have to change “my narrative.” That feels about as hard as changing my name – maybe harder.
- Home represents innocence, childhood. My freshest memories of home are these: racing barefoot along the hot beach rocks with summer-friend Paige, telling secrets with Maya under a sheet-fort in my living room, sipping hot cocoa and munching cookies by the fire after an afternoon of snowman-making, running inside the house dripping wet, pulse racing, after a morning of collecting crabs, swimming to the dock and making floating inner tube towers on the beach, and on and on… My memory is certainly rose-colored, tinged by nostalgia. But it is what it is. At my most melodramatic, it feels like I’ve lost not just the house, but my youth too.
As these questions float in my mind this week, I read an email from the IRC. The headline: “IRC suspends programs in North Kivu, Congo, following renewed fighting.” It goes on to say that approximately 36,000 people have been recently displaced from their homes. I follow the link to read another article, this one by a reporter who traveled to formerly war-torn Western Congo. The family he stayed with the first night –poor and war affected – insisted on offering him rice and sardines. The man's wife had given birth to a daughter by a C-section earlier that day.
Then I think of Mary, a Liberian woman I met in Ghana who’s lived a third of her life in a refugee camp. She sells donuts for a living and raises her fatherless grand daughter, Lisa, in their little cement house. She keeps a garden in a dirt patch next to their house.
Their stories put my home-aches in perspective. And remind me that humans are good at adapting. Those who survive the current fighting in Congo will continue to gather firewood, to nurse their children and to seek work after the conflict is over. And Mary is still planting flowers and sending her grandchild to school.
I will adapt.