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?)
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.