By: Paige Mueller
Sometimes home is a place I’ve been thousands of times before. A place I know so well I can tell you what time the sun hits the couch at the perfect angle or which of the floorboards creak.
Sometimes home is a place I’ve never been before. A place where if I were stopped and asked for directions, my response would be that I’m new here and don’t know where anything is.
Sometimes home is an in-between place. A coffee shop where they don’t quite know my order yet but recognize me enough to say hello with something approaching a genuine smile.
Sometimes home is nowhere at all. A smelly tent pitched in a gravel pit in the middle of nowhere, hours from the closest town but surrounded by other tents that smell and look just like mine.
Honestly, home isn’t really a place at all. At least not for me. Home is where my people are. That’s it. That’s all.
In the past five years, I have moved 13 times. I’ve lived in seven different towns and four different countries. This does not include the time I spent living out of my car/tent and the three summers of tree planting that would add at least six more towns to that list.
Half of my belongings are in a storage unit in Ottawa, a quarter of them are in my parent’s basement across the country in Alberta and the other quarter are with me, in Nigeria.
“So, where’s home?” is a question that crops up way too frequently for my liking because my answer doesn’t fit into a neat little box. But since I’ve got your attention, let me tell you.
Home is my parents. Not my parents’ house but wherever they happen to be at any given point in time. It’s the grocery store where my mom shops, as long as I’m there with her. It’s the natural conservation area where I go with my dad to walk the dog.
Home is also my sisters. My youngest sister’s apartment that I’ve only visited a handful of times but every time I do, she’s there, showing me her new plants and her collection of beer coasters. It’s also my middle sister. Us sitting together and listening to music at max volume in my (sadly departed from this world) 1997 RAV4, Tiny Hulk or her 1989 Ford Ranger, Jason.
Home is the Starbucks on Carling Avenue because it’s where I would meet Nikki once or twice a week. We would sit across the table from each other, headphones in, typing furiously and drinking tea. Speaking once every 15 minutes or Facebook messaging funny memes from less than two feet away.
Home is Whitehorse, where I’d never been before going to visit my friend Sam in August. Her little cabin on the lake made me feel instantly at home because it was filled with her things, her dog and most importantly, her.
Home is any place I’ve ever pitched my tent surrounded by other tree planters. It’s the fire pit we tiredly gather around every night, slumped into plastic chairs or wooden benches and the mess tent where we pick up our food at the end of the long, hard day. It’s the steps in front of the cook bus where we gather to share a cigarette and a bit of camp gossip. It’s the line in front of the shower trailer on night off where we sip warm beer or two-liter ciders and say, “this is my last season and I mean it this time” even though we hardly ever do.
Home is a huge, ugly armchair with the top sawed off that my friend Tara and I struggled for three days to get up the stairs into her apartment.
Home is Alex, one of my oldest friends in this whole world. That’s it. Just wherever he is. That’s home.
At one point home was the University of Victoria parking lot where I camped illegally for a few days with Stef and Sam. We would brush our teeth on the tarmac, grinning with foamy mouths at the students rushing to their 8 a.m. classes all while trying to dodge security.
For a while there, home was my rooftop in Kathmandu. It’s where my friends and I would gather to watch the sunset together and to talk about everything. Our favourite books and movies and songs. Our hopes and dreams and fears. Our latest Tinder dates. Our weird rashes. (Usually unrelated to our latest Tinder dates).
Every now and again, home is The Royal, a dive bar in Fernie, British Columbia where I’ve gotten freaky with my friends on more occasions than I can count. We’ve danced until we got kicked out (gently though because we’re friends with the bouncers), dripping in sweat and beer and glitter. Oh, so much glitter.
It’s exhausting sometimes, not having a single place to call home. Always being on the move, never having all my books together in one room. I’m still registered to vote in my parent’s riding in Alberta, despite having moved away almost nine years ago, because I still use theirs as my permanent address.
On the flipside though? I have homes all over the country, and sometimes all over the world. I can go somewhere new and instantly feel connected to the place because I’m seeing it through my loved one’s eyes. I can also go somewhere utterly mundane but feel completely comfortable there because I’m with a friend.
My friends and family are the absolute most important thing to me, hands down (other than fighting the patriarchy but that’s a given), so it makes sense that my ideal home is anywhere that they are. The exhaustion that I sometimes feel at living such a transient life is wiped away the minute I step into their presence, no matter where in the world that happens to be.
So really, I’m lucky. I don’t have just one home or two. I have many homes in many places. And with each new friend I make, every connection I deepen, I gain another. And that’s really quite a beautiful thing.