Home is a kind of messy memory. Breaking down what home means isn’t linguistic anarchy or creative licence. It is an act of noticing, of accepting what we already know but haven’t taken the time to understand. And home is different for everyone. So I can only say what it has been for me, how I have come home and gone home throughout the years. Some of my homes may seem like some of yours. And there is sweetness there, in comparison, in recognition. But, of course, our homes are always our own.
For a long time, home was ours. It was a building we were tethered to at the beginning and end of every day: Come home when it gets dark — Dinner’s at five, so don’t be late — Right. Bedtime! — Who wants ice-cream? — You’re grounded — Wake up. It’s time for school. Back then, home was our Mummy, our brother, our sister, me. It was our two Jack Russells. It was our pebble dash end-terrace in the council estate with the big tree in the centre of the walled front garden. It was summer holidays that lasted decades. It was Mummy bathing all three of us at the same time and drying our hair roughly with the towel, rattling our brains around in our skulls.
Later, home was a bigger house, and I had my own room. We all did. Except for my mum, who shared with Fitz, her new husband. Fitz was ours too: my brother’s, my sister’s, mine. We all loved him. And home had grown beyond one building. It was holidays in Normandy and ice-cream on Sunday nights. Home was easy and obvious and we all knew who we were.
Home became us four again. Home after Fitz died. Home in the same big house where my room was my own and I didn’t let my brother or sister come in. I wasn’t allowed in their rooms either. We sat together so that we would not cry. We watched episode after episode of Friends, laughing together, and I guess those six New Yorkers stumbling through messy careers and messier relationships were our home too. When the television was off, we tiptoed off to our beds, to our grief, which was also its own kind of home.
Then home changed again. It transformed into a roving troop of dishevelled friends who depended on each other for everything. We spent summer holidays skating and blading together, worshipping the same rock and metal bands together, swapping boyfriends and girlfriends together. Home was spending every waking hour together, affirming and reaffirming each other, learning everything we had in common. At the end of the day we had to leave the roving home we had outside and return to our families and our beds.
I walked the streets of home with my transient family and I found music and books and poetry along the way. We built bases from CDs, DVDs and books, and called it our house. We were critics, artists, musicians, writers; home was the book I’d just read and the album I’d just fallen for.
Then universities around the country plucked us from our home. I left the streets of my Northern Irish town and found my feet in the West End of Glasgow where home was cheap pints in the student union, pretending I’d read the books in tutorials. Home was making new friends and losing touch with old friends. This home was my first big break up, my first depression, my first presentable poem.
After university, I told people I was going home for a few months. I meant that big house where I had my own room. I meant my mum. And I did feel that I was going home. But then I realised that I’d left home in Scotland. But then I realised that it wasn’t quite my home anymore either, because my friends there had scattered back to England, to Edinburgh, to Wales and Ireland. And I too was scattered between Britain and Ireland, between home and home.
Then home became the North of England, with Nessa. It was Durham, then Bensham, then Sunniside, then Bensham again. It was a frenetic scrambling of failed attempts at life, jobs, relationships. Home was anxiety and depression and buying my first house with my girlfriend only to realise that we were wrong together in ways that could never be fixed.
Home became writing. It was the times after my nine-to-five job when I could finish my novel and plan my dreams. Home was redrafted every few months as I obsessed over the first really good idea I’d ever had, terrified it might be the only great idea I’d ever have.
When I moved back to Glasgow, home became my masters; it became reading lists and writing assignments. It became this insular, co-dependent group of writers trying to support themselves and each other—to bring out the best in one another.
As I write this, I’m on the ferry on my way home to Ireland to see my mum, our dogs Izzie and Watson, my sister, brother and his new little twin boys. In my mum’s house I’m home, but it’s smaller, somehow, even though it’s only her and the dogs. Or perhaps I have grown too big for that house, its connotations and memories. When I leave in a few days to return to Scotland, I’ll say: ‘I’m going home’. The next time I head back to Ireland I’ll tell my flatmates: ‘I’m heading home for a few days.’
To home. Back home. From home.
Home is a mess. It’s in constant flux. It is a dog. A kiss. A single day. Wherever I am—whenever I am—I will always try to go home. There are no maps or compasses for this. There are no keys. I don’t always know when I have arrived.
Peter McCune has been writing a strange mixture of science fiction, fantasy and literary fiction for over a decade. He is interested in tales about ordinary people and he sets his stories in the places he has called home over the years: Northern Ireland, Glasgow, and the North East of England. Peter’s stories look at how we cope with problems: with grief, with depression, with unrealistic expectations, with regret, with a raw deal. If you’d like to find out more about Peter, visit his writing website; here you can read a few of his short stories and blog posts.
Photo credit: Angie Spoto