I feel too much the harmonious nearness of home to be able to brood over any sorrow. In the past I wept. I was so far away from my native country… (Robert Walser, Little Snow Landscape, trans. Tom Whalen)

“Home” was a word that had no personal meaning for me for a very long time. I grew up in Halifax and lived there until I was 24. There were times when I worked very hard to convince myself that the houses or apartments I lived in were homes but I never quite succeeded. Various things, healthy and unhealthy, kept that understanding at a safe-ish distance for a while.

One morning in the late 90s, though, I had the misfortune or fortune (both, really) to notice while B. slept next to me that he had something of home in him, something of a home where I might belong and be safe.

That moment made the inclination I’d always had to escape the east coast more urgent; the knowledge that I’d never had a home became more excruciating as I realized there might be a life for me that was the opposite of emotional homelessness. At the end of my MA in Halifax, I headed straight to South Korea, which in 1999 felt as far, both physically and culturally, as one could get from Nova Scotia.

I did not find a home in Ansong or Seoul, but I did start to comprehend more of who I was, and of who B. and I could be together. These seeds took quite some time to grow and led to or included a corollary thought: Maybe it was okay for me to want things and maybe it was okay if those things weren’t what others wanted for me.

Post-Korea, I still started and completed the PhD in English others wanted for me; and I suffered a lot for it, and not only because I should have gone to veterinary school instead. However, and very happily, I recently realized that I’m glad to have had that experience, for the amazing, lifelong friends I made because of it.

But I’m also grateful to my extended grad school experience because I love books more now than I did when I began that degree, and I loved them a lot beforehand. Now, I love books in a joyously complete way I didn’t before: I truly enjoy a robust introduction and associated foot- or endnotes.

One of the greatest gifts my English PhD has given me is the delicious understanding of how little I have actually read so far, how much there is still to read. If when I shuffle (or ride my bike) off this mortal coil, I haven’t yet read even half the books we own, I’ll consider this a life well lived. (My plan is to read and collect books exuberantly well into my 90s! Why not aim for the stars?)

Like Dobbin in Vanity Fair, books were my closest things to a safe place when I was young; I spent a lot of time feeling “lonely and almost happy” with them.

Leaving Halifax was the beginning of my finding a home for myself, both physical and metaphysical. For a long time, visiting the friends and few family members I have there simply hurt every part of me. At some point, however, I began to notice that pain was less intense each time I went; I began to enjoy much of that truly lovely city in an uncomplicated way.

Then last month, during my most recent trip, an amazing thing happened: I realized it no longer hurt me at all that Halifax had never been a home to me. Further, I understood that I had become my own home, a home that B. and the many other loving forces in my life and I have all built together.

This was borne in upon me during a pleasant amble towards Dalhousie University—the place where I discovered that my brain, hitherto only another enemy, might be my key to a different life that would not drown me. 

I still don’t know if I was grateful or disappointed that passing students couldn’t see me grinning like a silly fool at that moment; I was double-masked to ward off and/or not spread the damn plague. 

Probably the latter; once upon a terrible time, I almost never had cause to smile with my whole self; if I did, I most certainly didn’t feel safe enough in my skin or in the world to let others see it. But I’m smiling now. I am a person who smiles, now. My life is buoyed by safety and love and beauty, other words that once meant nothing to me.

Books and tea and the mug B. bought me in the Vienna Christmas market many years ago. Forever.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Angeline Judge says:

    I love this so much. And you. Start to finish. And all the pages in between.

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