What is a home? Is it a place where childhood wonder is as light and jolly as a cotton candy? Is it an embrace of your loved ones after a long day? Is it only a memory that soon will wither? What would you do if after years of leaving home you have stretched yourself out in so many ways and now you can no longer fit in?
I’ve been pondering these questions ever since I came back to live with my parents. I do love my parents, but living with them when I’m in my 30s poses a real challenge. For the past 10 years I have lived far from home for study and work. It’s no surprise that I always treat places I visited as my home. I feel I belong anywhere, yet I also feel I belong nowhere. If I were a riddle, I have long given up solving it.
And here I am now, at my parents’ house: emotionally scarred, mentally jaded, and intellectually washed-out, far away from “home.” The last two years I lived in Melbourne to study journalism and during this period I made Melbourne my home. I tried in so many ways to do things like locals do, applying for housing, setting up my own electricity, advocating my rights to have internet access at home to my real estate agent, mingling with locals. I came as a total stranger , but left as part of a family. So leaving Melbourne feels like leaving home.
All my life I always feel a sense of empowerment in leaving my parents’ house. It’s not about spurning my roots and identity. It’s about discovering and enriching myself and being able to grow out of many labels that people put on me. Living far away from my parents actually gave me more opportunities to reflect on my choices and to be responsible for whatever paths I chose. But every journey has to end, so did mine.
I recalled crying in the plane that took me back home after reading a few lines from a book a good friend gave me. The book, The End of Belonging by Greg Madison, tells stories of people around the world who move around and are always in search of a place to belong.
We are living paradoxes. We need to feel at home but have never done so, we need to belong but renounce opportunities for belonging, we venture out into the unknown in order to experience the homecoming that will finally settle us, but doesn’t.
I cried because I knew that homecoming would be difficult. I am no longer a person that my parents dropped off at the airport two years ago. I am forever their daughter but I’ve learnt not to live up to other people’s expectation. Homecoming is difficult because I find myself in a different time line from my friends. I’m still tenacious to try out things differently, to at least do small things that matter to me. Some of my friends are already jaded and struggling just to make ends meet. I feel like a stranger in my own country.
I was stuck at home for weeks trying hard to fit in. It was difficult to re-connect and get out of my shells. I got irritated easily when relatives visited over asking questions like, “So you’ve got a master’s degree now. But when will you get married?” I got emotional easily and I was thinking of seeing a counselor. But one thing I realized is that I now have more time for myself. In my solitude, I have actually learned things to help me cope and hopefully help other people too. And these are some of them:
- Give yourself time
Transition period is never easy. I have a friend experiencing depression for six months since she returned to her hometown. Most people can’t see the undercurrent of emotion you are feeling, so they think you’re just fine. You know you’re not and it’s okay to admit it to yourself. In fact, I find it helpful to acknowledge this intangible monster within me in order to help me understand why I feel that way. I also find it useful to give time for myself to not think about the future. Someone told me years ago: “When agitated, pause.” So I stop from trying and planning my future. You may need weeks, months or even years to recover, and it’s important to allow yourself to just feel and delve into yourself.
- Don’t deny your surrounding
It’s always easier to be bitter when things do not go as you plan. You start blaming others and complaining a lot about people around you. Believe me, I have an arsenal of criticism of every living thing in my neighborhood and my hometown. I had a period when I detached myself from this surrounding, instead of re-bonded. I think it did more harm to me since I felt more isolated than ever. I’ve tried again to mingle and to learn again from a place that used to be so familiar. If I can be curious of strange, foreign places, how can I not be curious of my hometown again?
- Reach out to a friend
If things go really bad, maybe it’s time to talk to a friend who also goes through a transition. I’ve talked to several friends who also were struggling to fit in to their hometown after leaving for years. We all feel we no longer feel “home” even though we live close with our families. But we are making attempts to be part of the community again, by getting on with life. The best advice I got from a friend living in Brunei is: “Do not see yourself as trying to fit in, but see yourself as offering so much experience”.
This is my third week at my parents’ house and I am actually feeling better. I do still cry sometimes but I am just fine. I still am not feeling at home totally, to be honest, but I am willing to accept that this is what I have now. So what is a home? To me, a home is always in the making and now I’m trying to make this one – at least for now – my home again.
Maria Serenade likes to write, read, and ponder. She is still looking for a place to belong where her dramatic, imaginative and philosophical streak can come in handy.