My mom used to have this saying (it sounds better in Ukrainian), Everywhere is good, but home is best.
I always squirmed uncomfortably when she said it.
Everywhere was my home. As a young girl I strode confidently and alone through strange city streets lined with hookers and sketchy bars, or hiked for hours through dim suburban forests. Just as soon as I was old enough, I got myself a passport and a plane ticket and hitchhiked through Europe with another girl as wild as me.
Home was house arrest. Home was convention, gender restriction and all the subtle spoken and unspoken messages of homophobia. All through those silent TV-lit suburban nights, I dreamed of escape.
But home also contained the comforts of tradition: my mother’s borscht, my father’s kasha and the paintings of cossacks and Ukrainian villages that covered the walls. Daughter of immigrants, heir of long, traumatic histories and unending stories of colonization, I sensed home’s uneasy meanings for my parents and grandparents, too.
In short, home was confusing, confounding. It only made sense to leave.
Like an orphan, I traveled the country and the world. During my adult life I moved eighteen times. My existence was made richer, and more difficult. There was no physical home. Home was my friends, my art. My lovers. And whatever shabby apartment I could make beautiful with rugs and pottery and the smell of new recipes, spiced with the delicious aromas of liberation.
Ten days ago, I moved into a new house. For the first time, I own a home. I live in a new neighbourhood: different trees, strange neighbours. I feel like I’m starting all over with the meanings of home, learning to read that word all over again. Home is stress. Home is pleasure. Home is independence. Home is privilege. Home. Is. Strange.
Like a new lover, I can spend hours gazing at this house, loving it, making it mine. It is a needy lover indeed. Money seems to flow directly from my account into the coffers of Home Depot. I have had to learn a new vocabulary. Mortgage. Amortization. Premium. And all the mysteries of heating, plumbing, and garbage vs. recycling day.
Because or in spite of this, I have been cooking up a storm. My hands crave the simple logic of recipes, the familiarity of baking tins, the plainness of eggs, butter, and flour.
The first thing I baked in my new home was banana bread. The walls were bare, and boxes, not furniture filled the living room. A bird tapped insistently at the bare window of the bedroom upstairs. But once the perfume of baking filled the house, I knew I was contingently, warily, reluctantly, proudly – home.
I packed that banana bread into a plastic container and went back to my old neighbourhood (which I miss terribly). I knocked on my Ukrainian neighbour, 86-year-old Kataryna’s door. She smiled widely when she saw me. Her eyes filled with watery light. I realized she thought she’d ever see me again.
Home is still here, and there.