It’s that time of year again: men with clipboards roam around our houses, tapping their teeth with pens as they contemplate our possessions, mentally fitting them into boxes and judging shipment sizes.
A time of moving on, or moving back. And as we arrive in new destinations, it’s also the time of year when impossible questions are asked. Questions like “Where’s home?”
For many home is where they were born and bred, for others it is where they feel most comfortable, for still others it is wherever they happen to be living at any given time. Like many questions there is no right or wrong answer, and like many questions it seems rather pointless. Because home as a sedentary point doesn’t necessarily define us. Our parentage, and birthplace, might give clues to certain behaviours but we are the sum of all our experiences, and that I think is particularly true of expatriates. Snails carrying our homes with us, not just in shipments but also in our memory banks.
Tears often accompany the packing cases. Tears at the thought of goodbyes, of the possibility of never seeing someone again, but if we can put those friendships and relationships into our home file, that one we keep in our head, we can bring them out whenever we choose. We need never regret the falling away of a friendship because the pleasure felt at the time will remain, will provoke a smile or a rueful grin.
Home is the curiosity answered, the experiences lived through, and the people met. When my mother aged she stopped reading. I worried about her sitting still, gazing out of the window seemingly at very little. Tired of my incessant efforts to chivvy her, she said, “I am perfectly happy. Stop fussing. I’m replaying all my memories.”
Perhaps it is a recent return to the country of my birth but rarely my living, which has made me question home. A beloved aunt has crossed into the swirling vegetable soup of Alzheimer’s. Bits and pieces spiralling around her brain like peas and chunks of ham. Once an expatriate herself, her memories of home either in Britain or in the Caribbean, merge like chocolate being added into a floury cake mix, except for her there is never a perfect blending. The people she associates with both places now fit into neither. Sadness is fleeting. Before the question is asked again. “Who is my brother?” “Is he here?” “Are you my husband?” And sometimes the momentary delight of recognition, only to be swiped away seconds later with the words, “Who are you? Where am I?”
And so as I loftily expound on my version of home, my memories of living in 12 countries, of relocating 26 times, of peoples met, liked, loved and sometimes left, the thought of moving on holds no fear. Rather anticipation at the new experiences and people that will form another chapter in my mind. Home is with me wherever I am, I say to those who question my willingness to move, my acceptance of family spread around the world.
What though will I answer if my replay button faults?