Someday you find yourself in a moment where you get to simply stand still. Remember. Maybe even smile. Find a time before a destroyed childhood. Before two hands and a continuous flow of beer and whiskey obliterated your life and finally your home.
The years that have passed often made me ponder upon the concept of home. There were times I thought it was a place. Sometimes it I felt it was a person. I had moments I quit believing there was any such thing; we are here for a while and that’s it.
I still don’t know what I believe about the concept of home. But this past week on my honeymoon, I had the eerie opportunity to revisit my home town. I even saw my old elementary school where I met my first friends and made my first enemies.
Those were the “good years” as I refer to them. Before violence shattered my family. Before ever watching my step dad throw my mother around like it didn’t matter. Before ever watching him strangle her on the couch. Before ever getting bullied the first time at a different school. Before sexual abuse drove me into some frighteningly demented crevices of suicide and self-hatred.
I think abuse victims and survivors alike forget something: there was a time, preceding it all, when the abuse wasn’t there, a time when it didn’t exist. There was a place of love and warmth and safety. After the fact, we move on and do our best to re-create that place, that feeling.
For me, it was a house on 13 acres in British Columbia. It was where I learned to horseback ride on the slowest, most stubborn black horse named Jasper. It was the creek where my brother and I played hockey on the ice during brittle cold months. His slap shot knocked out my front tooth. He went back out on the creek to find it for the tooth fairy. We spent hours on that hill racing toy cars around dirt tracks we made.
I remember living within walking distance from my beloved British grandparents. It meant afternoons of tea and visiting. I remember Grandpa’s distinct English laugh, his accent echoing through the house and the smell of his favourite pipe tobacco.
I would laugh when my brother and I got home from school to find Mom had rearranged the living room every other day. I never knew why she did it. I still don’t.
Hubby and I drove past that old dirt road; still there, yet nostalgic, comforting even. It was reassuring to know there were still these places holding pleasant memories, that not every street or house I ever knew was haunted.
As the Miranda Lambert song “The House That Built Me” goes:
“You leave home, you move on
And you do the best you can
I got lost in this old world
And forgot who I am
I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
This brokenness inside me might start healing
Out here it’s like I’m someone else
I thought that maybe I could find myself.”
You really can’t go home again. I didn’t go drive by the house but simply knowing it’s there is reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter’s memory palace. No matter where Lecter finds himself, there are spaces and moments he can access mentally that makes ominous places easier to cope with.
We all have our abandoned ruins of insanity. But we also have a memory palace of our own.
Pulling out of that town felt like leaving home behind again, shrouded in nostalgia and a longing for what has been gone for years. We don’t get our childhoods back. We only get what is ahead of us.
It’s hard to say what drew me back there again. Maybe I thought I’d find some pieces of me that blew away with the ashes of the house my step dad burned down 11 years ago. I have spent so long not knowing where I belong, drifting in a nomadic haze.
I am a small town girl at heart, as much as I have tried to get away from it. But somewhere between concrete sidewalks and bustling city streets, it never felt right. I have never seen the appeal of living in a big city with people in your space and flashy billboards in your face and you can never see the stars. As much as I have tried to get away from my roots, they are planted as sternly as my mother entrenching respect into us kids. I don’t know why I always tried to leave it behind. Bar lights and night life is alright when you’re single and young. But as I get older, I find myself looking for something more. More than a bottle and more than stumbling home drunk every weekend. Especially in getting married, that life style loses its appeal.
A quote from my mother comes to mind, one she said her mother told her: “You can be happy but you are never content.”
I’ve toyed with the saying before, the way wildflower petals are soft between fingers. Happiness can be temporary; a front for what lies beneath. But stability and roots. Do we spend so much time chasing dollars and material things that we lose sight of who we are and where we come from?
Maybe the memory palace is home. If it isn’t a place or a person or a thing, maybe it is a realm of our lives we return to when we need somewhere to turn to, even when there is nowhere. Maybe it is just us. Maybe it is me remembering that before the agonizing storms, there were bouquets of dandelions and daisies picked for Mother in a glass of water on the kitchen counter. And that there were so many blooming in summer I could always go back for more when they began withering.
Dead flowers could be replaced by little hands then, innocent and wild-spirited. So while the idea of what home truly is remains unknown, all I do know is that there is healing in rediscovering a time and place when pain didn’t exist for a little girl. There was a time for horses, wildflowers, butterflies, family, impromptu hockey games, and tea parties.
I took over 100 pictures on our week-long road trip. I didn’t take many there though. It will still stand should I go back, should I need to stand still as a reminder of who I am.
I am that little girl.
“Just before nightfall Hannibal approached Lecter Castle through the woods. As he looked at his home, his feelings remained curiously flat; it is not healing to see your childhood home, but it helps you measure whether you are broken, and how and why, assuming you want to know.” ~ Thomas Harris, “Hannibal Rising”