Home has never been an easily defined place for me. Like a complex chemistry equation I’ve never quite grasped how to solve, I continuously strive to ‘get it right’.
On a basic level, I belong. I have a loving family that I’ve lived with the majority of my life. I have extended family that have taken me in. I have friends whose beds and couches I’ve spent plenty of nights on. I have a loving boyfriend who I share a house, two cats, and an abundance of house plants with.
For all intensive purposes, I have a home. And yet, I burn. I pine. I perish. For something that I can’t quite explain. An intangible reality that may never be mine.
In the formative years of my life, until nearly seven years old, I grew up surrounded by mountains and rainforest. A small town where everyone knew my family. In houses that were old and unfinished, alluring in their incompleteness. I can only recall glimpses of home during that time. A fractured memory here, a faded photograph there. Stories told by my father woven with shards of recollection.
Stain-glass windows. A sugar cane train. Fish ponds. A tin roof. Private creeks and swimming holes. Trusty dogs and rescued baby kangaroos.
It was a joyous simple time, from what I have chosen to remember, that ended in the same way many children’s lives are changed: my father got a job in a different town.
This town was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Red dirt and weary trees for kilometres. No traffic lights or peak hours. An ocean that we couldn’t swim in.
I transitioned as well as any six year old does, we slip into the moulds created by those before us. We are the new kid, until someone else comes along. We make friends as soon as possible, for that is the only way one can ever hope to flourish at a new school.
I spent the next 12 years in that town. I had all of my significant experiences there, well, most of them. I learned to drive on the worn roads, and spent countless hours pedaling across the hot bitumen as I embarked on adventures with my friends.
We had a certain freedom in this town. It was completely isolated, for one. For six months of the year we would be flooded in, the only escape via a very expensive plane flight. To avoid going mad, we, like most of the population, went camping.
It was a relatively cost effective way to get out of the house and go on a holiday. Two hours of narrow roads, ant hills, potholes and near-bogs led us to a picturesque beach where we spent every Easter holiday.
That beach felt like home for a while, and our annual trip north always gave me something to look forward to. I could escape the suffocating heat for the ocean breeze. I still couldn’t safely swim, but at least there was the prospect of fish.
So many things happened in that town, both good and bad.
I, like so many before me, went a little mad from living there too long. Mad isn’t exactly the right word for it. Stir crazy, perhaps. Itchy feet.
Much like how the perpetual summer weather suffocated my lungs, burnt my skin, and dried the washing faster than you could blink, my very existence in that town was beginning to wear me down.
So, I left. At sixteen I moved in with my aunt and uncle in another small town. This time I was back in the mountains. I experienced the changing of seasons for the first time in a decade. I made friends and had experiences so technicoloured that they made the past fifteen years of my life look like a pitiful grey.
The harshness of what I would eventually accept as my hometown had driven me out. I gulped in the clear, dust free air like my life depended on it. I put myself back together and contemplated the meaning of home. I felt more alive in a place that I’d only visited fleetingly, than the town that held the bulk of my memories.
I called this mountain town home for six months before I had to return back to the red dirt.
There, I once again wrestled with the idea of home and belonging. I went so far as to vow to get “when will I find my way home?” tattooed on my body, as a symbolic gesture of my love for The Amity Affliction, and my forever yearning for a place to truly feel like home.
At 20, I moved to a city. Well, they claim it’s a city, but it really just feels like a very large small town. Everyone still knows everyone here, and I still feel self conscious walking down the streets in a particularly jazzy outfit (small towns, big opinions, ya know?).
In this city, I went through some big things. I fell in love. I mourned. I lost friends. I made new ones. I spent many nights stumbling through the streets just before dawn, off to our local Maccas for chips and lemonade before the taxi came.
I’ve had the worst hangovers of my life here, met my baby brother hours after he was born, and moved into a house by the beach with someone I could very well spend the rest of my life with.
I have had big moments here, and yet – it still doesn’t feel like home.
Something about this small city doesn’t quite click with me.
Sure, the lack of interesting experiences definitely contributes to my boredom. And knowing that the best of my friends aren’t here doesn’t help either. But again, my family is here. My partner is here. I have spent the last four years living out my twenties in this place, yet never confidently called it home.
As I type this, Brisbane feels like home. Melbourne feels like home. Byron Bay feels like home. New York feels like home. Queenstown feels like home.
I’ve visited these places over the years and have felt instantly connected to them. The architecture. The people. The night life. The food. I call them my Soul Cities, because I have this unexplainable longing for them, constantly.
I’ve made plans to move to one of these cities, as soon as next year. It’s a decision that I’ve been toying with for the best part of two years, and I’m finally committed to doing it. Because I have to.
The suffocation that I felt so intensely in my teenage years has crept up again. It’s squashing all that is comforting about home, and projecting all that is unsavoury.
It’s not a bad thing, per se. It’s just illuminating what I can so often disguise or cover with temporary fixes. A gig here. A staycation there. Lots of online shopping and eating out. Anything to dull the pain of living somewhere that feels foreign after so many years.
Dear reader, I hope, for your sake, that you’ve found your home. Maybe it has a heartbeat. Maybe it has a postcode. Maybe it’s your passport.
However it manifests, I hope that you’re home. And I hope that you’re happy there. I’m working on both counts – wish me luck, will you?