A friend of mine is currently the full-time caretaker of her elderly, Alzheimers-stricken grandmother.
“I want to go home” her grandmother keeps saying, even though she’s living in the same house she’s lived in for years.
My wife’s grandfather did much the same thing as arteriosclerosis steadily choked off the blood flow to his brain. “When are we going home, Mum?” he’d keep asking his wife of 60+ years as he sat in his favorite chair in the living room of a house he’d been living in for the better part of a decade. “Isn’t it time to go home?”
My friend’s family thinks grandma is trying to tell them it’s time for her to go to heaven and that she’s asking for their permission to go - to die.
I suspect that the destruction of her short-term memory by disease has merely left her confused and longing for a home she knew in the distant past, exactly as seems to have been the case with grandpa.
I can’t confirm this suspicion, however.
Instead, I am moved to wonder what I might mean were I to say “I want to go home.”
Am I at home as I write this?
No. I am merely in my current residence. Although I’ve now lived here over three years, it simply doesn’t feel like home - and I doubt that it ever will.
Because it’s a soulless ranch house with nothing to distinguish it from a thousand others. Because there are no unique nooks and crannies in it that I might call my own. Because it’s situated on a lot that was stripped of its top soil before construction began and there’s no sense of its being grounded in a natural past. Because it’s set in a thirty-year-old development that seems to have dropped out of the sky without much thought or much connection to anything else. Because even after three years, I do not really know my immediate neighbors and have scant expectation of ever meeting the other people who inhabit the houses with a view of mine. Because the area I happen to live in now happens to be part of a town I’d never heard of before I moved to it in 2001. Because the landmarks and long-time businesses and power structure and history and topography of this town have nothing whatsoever to do with any of the areas I’ve lived in before.
I suppose a real estate agent might refer to my residence as “a starter home in a bedroom community.” I tend to think of it as a cookie-cutter hotel room designed as a temporary resting point for people in transit rather than as an end in itself.
Thinking about all this a bit deeper during my free moments recently, I realized that home for me in many ways is the antithesis of where I am right now.
Home requires a history. A long-term future. Some stability. Broader social connections that make sense.
Home fits into time and space and society in a way that’s understandable and reassuring, and that offers the possibility for me to make a positive contribution. To fit in. To give and to get.
The place I live in now is simply too disconnected from everything else - from past and future, from memory and expectation, from others and self - to ever be home to me.
Can any place ever be home for me again? I don’t know. At this point, it doesn’t seem very likely. Too many connections have been ruptured. Too few resources to establish new ones remain. Home is a state of mind I can only halfway obtain in my dreams. A succession of more or less worse hotel-like residences stretches out ahead of me until the day I die when I awake and try to envision the future....
Have I ever really had a home in my life? Probably not. Perhaps the closest I came was in 1967 when - all of 8 years old - I first felt the sands of time shifting in a big way and realized that the world I knew at that moment was a world soon to become extinct. The only residence I’d ever known was a small apartment above a hardware store. The hardware store was in the process of closing and being replaced by a bar. The friendly proprietors of the hardware were soon to be replaced by cold and distant Italian liquor distributors. The building I had come to know intimately was soon to be transformed in a way that would render large areas of it forever off-limits to me....
In retrospect, it really wasn’t much of a home. Set in an inner city, mostly commercial area, with a sidewalk and a busy road for a front yard and a dirty alleyway for a back, it was perhaps one of the least nurturing environments for a child I can imagine outside of West Side Story, a refuge camp, or a Romanian orphanage.
And the half-crazy mother I lived with simply lacked the intelligence and emotional stability to make up in love what my environment lacked.
Nonetheless, when I’m old and muttering “I want to go home,” that’s probably the place I’ll have in mind.
Is it because we humans are like baby ducks for whom home becomes whatever place we happen to be living in when we reach a certain age and the brain naturally imprints that place in long-term memory? (Or am I unusual in forever associating home with where I happened to be when I was 8?)
Is it because that childhood home of mine simply made more sense in more ways than any other place I’ve ever lived? Is it because I knew that neighborhood and the people in it better than any others I’ve encountered since?
I suppose I could ask such questions forever without ever coming to any firm conclusions. Suffice it to say that things - people, environment, history, geography, past and future - seemed more unified back then than they ever have since.
And even though I almost certainly felt more or less homeless back then, too, the relative unity of that time and place now seems to point the way towards the real meaning of home whereas the places I’ve resided in since have increasing pointed away....
Perhaps it’s now best to think of home the way a snail or hermit crab does - as the shell I carry with me whether I go.
Perhaps it’s best to dispense with the idea of home altogether and just live as fully as I can in the here and now, content to focus on THIS word, THAT tempting cookie, all the while simply being grateful that “home” isn’t a prison, an asylum, a hospital bed, or a crypt.
Perhaps cyberspace is my real home - a timeless, worldwide placeless place of fleeting yet meaningful images and ideas....
All I can say for sure right now is that this entry seems to have provided me with a very nice home for the two hours or so I’ve spent writing it.
Thanks for visiting.
I’ll try to have something a bit nicer thrown up on the walls the next time you stop by.