I found my favourite mug just where I left it, on the shelf with the all the other cups I never use. I had plopped down my suitcase at the top of the stairs, inhaling the smell of home, rather musty after five days with the windows shuttered.
Ottie and Portia ran circles around the spot where I keep their water bowl: their way of asking me to replace it with fresh fare. The mail sat stacked on the counter, surrounded by the bags of food and leftovers I had brought back. Frankly, the thought of going out to a movie, that seemed such a great idea on the drive back from the desert, held no appeal.
The clothes and the mail and the food could all wait. I reached for my favourite mug, lit the kettle and made myself some tea. Perched on the couch, I looked around: the yellow roses that has sucked up all the water and were now fading; the blanket I cover myself with on particularly cold days neatly folded; the counters free of clutter; the tv remote controls hidden away. Everything was the way I left it. Everything felt familiar and comforting – even the champagne stain on the ceiling, from a popped cork all those years ago, we never bothered repainting. Even that bit of missing grout I keep on threatening to replace. Even the fancy fridge I insisted on and that has now decided to stop dispensing ice. It’s home and, between sips of tea, I let that feeling of belonging wholly to a place wash over me.
I spent years, no, decades, in grim, then less grim and finally pretty apartments that were always temporary no matter the things I bought to make them more comfortable. No object or plant or curtain could disguise the impermanence. I would come back from my frequent travels, collect the mail, shove the wash in the washing machine and plot the next activity, whether friends to see or an office to go to. The fridge existed in a time loop of near emptiness, always too big for my paltry meals. Everything felt untouched, by hands or feelings.
Now, I crave home after every single trip. On the plane home from London, I thought of my bed and its unscented sheets; of how good it would feel to sit on the stoop surrounded by the dogs or to step out of the shower and reach for my lavender lotion. I spent years checking in and out of fancy hotels, more at home in a Four Seasons than in my flat. Now no 5 star hotel can hold a candle to the smell of home.
A friend from elementary school I reconnected with while I was in Italy, after a 45 year hiatus, told me that she remembers my childhood home as if it were yesterday. “I close my eyes, and in my mind I can re-enter every room, recall all sorts of details.” I loved that house and, at 19, my parents’ marriage already crumbling, I felt “robbed” of it when they decided to move. That house lived in my dreams for decades; I even went to look at it recently, and I saw geraniums on the balconies. We never had geraniums but it made me happy to know that, whoever lives there now, cares.
Since then, I savored the impermanence of my abodes – they were shelters, not homes. Until now. As much as I still love to travel and find myself in different surroundings, now coming home doesn’t hold any sadness, any “end-of-vacation” feelings. Is it age that has changed me? I prefer to think I found my home again.