“You are home, love,” I tell her.
This is a memory from a few months ago, when it was two in the morning for the second time (daylight savings) and V was sobbing. After a hard night, she’d finally gone to bed, we thought, but then there she was, standing at the door of the bedroom I sleep in at her house, telling me she needed to go home.
It took me a minute to realize she meant Mom & Dad’s house, the house we grew up in. In this particular middle-of-the-night, she’d already called Mom, who couldn’t say no to her tearful daughter. So we found shoes, and Billy and I helped her put on clothes and a hat. I remember thinking she looked like herself as a five-year-old, herself in 1986.
She and I drove the familiar path to Mom’s and Vanessa was beside herself — death, being alone, losing. So I told her in simple phrases that she will never not be with me, and I will never not be with her. We are parts of the same whole.
I didn’t cry till later, when I was alone in my childhood bed, when I felt the boundaries of time and my timeline merging around me.
The next morning Vanessa was crying again. “Take me home,” she said. This time she meant the house she shares with her husband, a home full of pictures of the two of them and empty bedrooms for the children that never happened. So we found our shoes, collected our things and got back in the car.
It really strikes me, this word: Home.
I would say Vanessa’s use of the word as such is the tumors talking, another manifestation of her confusion, if I didn’t also find myself aching for homes in too many places. I’ve realized I call everywhere “Home!” When I’m in Terre Haute, “home” means the Cincinnati area in general, or Mom & Dad’s house. When I’m places in Cincinnati, sometimes “home” means Vanessa’s house, where I stay most of the time. But there “home” also means Terre Haute, my apartment and my husband.
Sometimes “home” is not the houses but instead the familiar roads — the feeling I get in my heart when the roads start getting curvier as I go East and then around the bend the hills of Kentucky emerge in tree-filled hellos. But even there I find myself missing the flat wetlands and cornfields of my adopted home in western Indiana.
There are so many cliches about home. There’s no place like home. Home is where the heart is, or where you hang your hat. Some say home can be a person, the feeling you get when you finally meet your person for life or when you sit next to your one and only mom.
I don’t disagree with any of these sentiments, really, but even in typing them it’s not entirely the full picture to me. Sometimes I think the only home you can ever really create for yourself is the one you go to when you close your eyes and have only your thoughts and your stories. Because the places we know as home will change, and over time you leave pieces of your heart wherever you have found things that matter. And hanging my hat? I don’t usually even pack a hat! These days I trust that if I need a hat on a winter’s day, I’ll find a hat wherever I happen to be.
And absolutely, home can be found in the people you love — but what is left when even your people cannot be your home in the obvious ways — when you can no longer sit next to them or call them up? How do you find home when death takes the people you love away?
I don’t have all the answers, but I think of what I told Vanessa: “You will never not be with me. I will never not be with you. We are parts of the same whole.”
Because what I was also saying is this: “You will never go anywhere without taking my love with you. When you leave, you are still here, because you have a home in my heart.”
It’s what e.e. cummings said:
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)