I’m 34, and for the first time in my life, 5 months ago, I bought my own bed, with my own new mattress, and I am now sleeping in it.
I’ve never had a home the way most people understand it. My one living grandmother lived with us, and our family travelled the world (in a completely unglamorous way) at the whim of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Greece. There was no home to go back to at Christmas or for the summer holidays. If we ever went on holiday, I scared my parents by calling the hotel “home”. I still do that.
At the age of three, we were living in a short-term-rent flat, and looking at apartments. I still remember being allowed to press the button in the lift of the one we were to rent out for 8 years, and going to see a place that was still being painted. I was 3.5 years old. I already knew we weren’t going to stay there long. I chose the blue room.
At the age of eleven, we were told we were moving to Switzerland. Within a month, that changed to Holland. Before the end of the school year, we were gone. I remember writing my address on the chalkboard at school in Athens for my classmates to find in the last few weeks of the year, so they could write to me if they wanted to. I can’t remember if any did. In Holland, the house was all furnished. We slept in whatever beds were already there that weren’t broken. The walls had flowered wallpaper, on its 5th layer, which in idle moments we peeled from the bottom. We got cats, and bicycles which we could ride in the gigantic garden. I learned to ice skate.
At the age of thirteen, barely 2.5 years later, we were told we’d move to Switzerland again. Within a few weeks, it had changed to Montreal, in Quebec, Canada. We packed up in under two weeks, and left two days before Christmas. I didn’t have a chance to write my address on the board at school. We didn’t have an address. There was no house expecting our arrival. 21 years on, I still remember that bleak Christmas in a foreign frozen land, in an impersonal beige hotel, without a tree or presents. And I have not yet forgiven the persons responsible for doing that to my brother (8 at the time) and me. I’m scared I’ll never be able to.
13 to 26
In Montreal, after we found a house (which took 8 months), things were a bit more stable. We were always in the same neighbourhood. We still had our bicycles. My dad was called back to Greece. We stayed. The apartment didn’t allow cats. I studied. The furniture we had was the cheapest scraps from IKEA. We knew we’d leave it behind, throw it away. It wasn’t home. It was a temporary encampment. For 13 years.
It’s been 8 years since I left Canada. 21 since I left Holland. 31 since I left Belgium. I am still looking for the definition of “home”.
I have shared a house in East London with students and other young people, a pair to each room. I have shared a furnished flat with my partner. I have lived alone (in that same flat, which never felt like home). I am now living in a 2-bedroom flat with a new flatmate, a friend of 15 years. The rest of my life, I lived with family in apartments or houses, in various places. Having tried all scenarios, my favourite is living with a partner. Annoyingly, it takes two to tango.
what is home?
I thought it would be having a bed of my own. It wasn’t. I used to think it’s having the entire space to myself, but I tried that in the big flat on my own. That wasn’t it either. I was constantly lonely. Could it be choosing the space myself? But I tried that with the new, shared apartment, (well, chosen in tandem, I suppose) and it still doesn’t feel mine at all. None of the furniture in the living room is mine, aside from a bookcase at the far end of the kitchen. Could that be it? Owning furniture?
I can’t seem to be able to figure it out.
is it… an armchair?
For my next attempt, I’m going to try adding a reading / writing corner to my room, by the means of an armchair. I need to be able to hide in my room when my flatmate needs the living room to himself (or for guests, or is watching a noisy film or cooking something terrifyingly smelly), and as a starting point, I need somewhere comfortable to sit. So I have collected photos of armchairs I like on pinterest. Some are flamboyantly out of budget (Sofa workshop, I’m looking at you!), some are too big, others not comfortable enough to spend 4 hours in with a laptop on your knees. I have to start somewhere. Maybe if I have a little nest to hide away and curl up in, maybe then I’ll feel like I can stay, like I’m not constantly being kicked out.
I’m scared I’ll have to continue holding my breath, for maybe another decade, until I’m 44, in the hope that by then I will have found someone to set up a home with from scratch, just the way we both want it.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to explore what “home” means for me. I’ve never had an answer that wasn’t snarky. “Home is where I sleep”, I’ll often say. “Home is people”, like my brother and parents. Maybe it’s true. Maybe my idea of home has nothing to do with geography, construction and interior decoration. And if that is the case, I cannot wait to breathe out, because it feels like I’ve been holding my breath forever…