"I'm just an animal looking for a home.
Share the same space for a minute or two.
And you love me till my heart stops.
Love me till I'm dead."
- David Byrne
I put my folks on a plane yesterday and sent them off to California to spend some time with my brother, Steve, and his two boys. Most of the time I forget what their real names are because I call them Zippy and Seven. Zippy I named before he was even born, based on an intuitive sense I had of who he was going to be. Turns out I'm either gifted with pre-natal sensibilities or with naming abilities because that kid never stands still. Seven earned his name because he's the seventh grandson and he was born on 7.1 and weighed seven pounds. That's just too many sevens to be ignored. Anyway, Mom and Dad are out there now for a while, trying to bring some peace and relief to those hard days of new parenting. The boys are 3 and 1 and their mom, Erika, needs a break, so she's coming home to Briarcliff tomorrow. Sam left for Tortola the other day, to spend time with his grandparents, who have been there for a few weeks. It feels like there's a lot of movement in the family at the moment. And so I'm taking care of dogs and cats and hustling people to and from airports. And spending time in big, empty houses.
I noticed, the other day, that the Canada Geese are making their way back north. It seems quite early for that. Coco saw it, too, and we both squealed with delight. Are they going home? I don't know. I'm not sure if they consider the northland to be their home and the south to be their winter vacation place, or the other way around.
What is home, anyway?
It's been almost a year now since I move out of the little white house I was living in in Charlotte and became a wanderer. Almost all of my things are in a storage unit in South Burlington. They're nice things, I'm sure, though I'm starting to forget what I have. This life, this weird, gypsy existence has been both a blessing and a challenge. Mostly it has caused me to think deeply about the idea of home. What it is, how we manifest home, what it looks and feels like. Where it is. Even...if it is.
I've been house-sitting, for a few weeks, at Marion and Lee's, my former in-laws, whom I greatly adore. They built a home from an old barn, high on a hill in southern Vermont, with a tremendous view. It's a funny thing, to wander through there and look at the photos of my boys, whom I share with their son, Scott; to live, for a while, in a life I left many years ago, drinking my tea in the morning from a Marion mug (she's a talented potter) I held in my hands twenty years ago, remembering the many happy times we shared.
Dad told me yesterday that they had talked with my sister, Kristin, who is a professor at the University of Alaska. Apparently Alaska is in financial distress and the University may be making some cuts. "Good," I said, "maybe now she'll come home."
I want them all to come home: Kristin and her boys, Lars and Quinn; Steve and his rowdy crew; Tommy and Stacey. They're all so far away. I don't live anywhere these days; I live everywhere, bouncing from place to place, tired some days of hauling my things in a duffle bag, happy other days, to be living unencumbered by things, free to keep moving. Still...I want all those people to come home.
Because what this year has taught me, of course, is that home isn't a physical location. Home is us. And sure, we need some walls around us when we come together. We need beds to sleep in and something to make the coffee in the morning. But most of all we need each other. Because life is so goddamned short and uncertain.
Almost every week someone asks me, "where do you live?" and it's still the strangest thing...I hesitate for a moment because I don't really know what the answer is. I live all over the place, largely by the grace and hospitality of friends and family. And I keep thinking it's time to settle down, to find a place, to empty out the storage unit and unpack the boxes. And then I get a little panicky. "We're not trees, we don't need roots," someone said to me once, and I remember feeling a distinct sense of relief, that it was OK that I seemed to have been born with a heart full of wanderlust and an inability to place myself anywhere for any length of time. For a very long time I saw this as a character flaw because we're so deeply conditioned to find a home, settle down, fill it with stuff and stay there forever, dusting and polishing. Houses, of course, come in handy, but what I understand now is that "home" is my people: my brothers and sister and Mom and Dad and our kids and dogs (and fine, Marion's cat, too). Home is Mark and Margaret, who used to be my brother and sister-in-law, and are now just two humans that I love -- and their kids -- I love their kids so much. Home is my friends. Houses are nice, but they need so much: a new roof, a new furnace; the holes in the driveway need repair and you have to keep adding wood to the woodstove. You have to mow the lawn and shovel the driveway and vacuum and mop and clean the toilets and sinks and empty the dishwasher, over and over and over.
I like the way the geese live, the way they follow the weather and hang together in creative formations. Where do I live? I live in the stories and in the warmth of all the people I love, and all I ever want is for them to come home, to be close enough so I can smell them and hear them breathing. I don't care what building we're in; home is right here, by my side, close enough to hold my hand. Amen.