Which place do you call home? | Cup of Jo

baby climbing into the fridge

Every July since my nine-year-old was born, I’ve taken my little family of three back to my hometown of Montreal for a few months. Last summer, we hadn’t been back since she was six (pandemic and all), but we immediately fell back into old rhythms (long dinners with my parents, endless coffee dates with my oldest friends, summer camps in French) and new rhythms: we letting Noa do a lot more on her own than she can in LA where we live. She walked across the street for croissants, down to the stationery store to browse, all the way to my parents’ apartment alone.

One evening, close to 10pm, on the way home from another dinner a familyshe wanted to play in the park across the street from our rented house.

Of courseI said and she slipped off into the night to climb the jungle gym.

I took the compost out through the cellar door. Tuesday: compost; Wednesday: recycling; Friday: garbage. A city at work. Common agreements. Poles on the curb. It was so quiet outside, so calm. I could live like thisI thought.

It took Noah a little too long to come back. Panic rose in me and I shouted out the front door for her to come back. Coming! she shouted back. Nothing had happened; my mind just flew with fear for a moment. She was absolutely certain. She walked in the door, I sent her to the shower, and I thought about how many versions of a life one person can choose.

***

Like so many of us, the question of home rings louder over the summer and after Christmas because I return to where I’m from (I can only think of Didion’s Where I came from). Part of me belongs most comfortably in Montreal—the two languages, the accents, the country itself—but also feels an uncomfortable level of dissonance when I return.

For years—decades, really—everything felt claustrophobic and all too familiar: the faces, the parties, the stories. Province is what we all said to each other as we left for New York and London and Berlin and Johannesburg. In our twenties and thirties, we threw ourselves into bigger places that could hold so much more of who we wanted to be. Places that would allow us to grow beyond ourselves, our city could accommodate or witness.

After college, I envisioned no other place than New York, and in the 12 years I lived there, that vision never wavered. There was no questioning its homeliness, its correctness. That didn’t even change when my husband and I moved to Vienna, Austria when I was 34 and spent the entire first year across the ocean wishing I was back in New York. I saw my life abroad as a kind of strange interlude, not the actual truth of it. It took ages to settle, to accept that the real thing is mine genuine life, not the imagined one I had left behind—was quite good. Little did I know then that I would never go back to being the young woman who only wanted to live in Brooklyn.

Last summer I went back to New York for the first time in five years, and there it was: my old life, in the same streets, and yet I didn’t feel at home, not at all, even though it’s still there I’ve spent the most piece of my adult life. I looked into my dilapidated apartment building with my best friends and it all felt like so long ago. A friend who lived through that period saw the pictures of me outside that door—the one I pushed open for nine of the 12 years I lived there—with nothing but a tote bag on my shoulder, and she said it made those years into our shivering, hilarious twenties and early 30s, when we had nothing but the bags on our backs and the imagined weight of the world on our shoulders—came rushing back. Who were those people? What were they running after?

***

Every time I go home to Montreal (or now, New York), I see how far my life has traveled from that city of my childhood and the other of my young adulthood. I say this with no hint of snobbery or condescension. I spend most of our time wishing for us did living in Montreal: the simplicity of it all feels spectacularly easy and sensible after braving the traffic and highways of LA, the weekly US mass shootings, the tearing down of reproductive rights. The Canadian pace is slower, calmer. Summer is so green and lush. People sit out on terraces and eat and drink. A friend once said, Montreal is full of Type B people, and I think that’s both funny and maybe true? And was that perhaps also why, as an 18-year-old, I was desperate to leave?

What do I want here? Maybe it’s this: that “home” now feels like a fragmented reality—many cities on a pie chart, each an incomplete splinter of a whole. Nothing significant enough to outweigh the other parts.

This is where I default to using sappy: home is where the heart isor home is wherever you are [cue: husband, daughter] is, a roaming (wandering?) device. But that’s not what I’m looking for.

Yes, Montreal will always be where I’m from: its cold winters and terrible drivers and Franglish are in my bones. But if I now speak of a self in one place, and I am unwilling to resort to the idea of ​​family as home, so what? Can I accept that I will never again find The One Place that feels just right? Where am I my most complete, whole, integrated self? Does such a thing exist?

That home to drink wine with my oldest girlfriends while our daughters, who barely know each other, play together like sisters in a park from our own childhood? That home will sit on a beach in LA with friends who will only ever know the grown-up versions of each other, yet feel deeply, soulfully connected? That it will be those walks along Smith Street in Brooklyn, coffee in hand, tote bag on the shoulder? Bus number 13 in Vienna, the F train in Brooklyn, the Atwater stop in Montreal? That home has to be everything and none of that?

What about you? Do you have one or more places you call home?

Abigail Rasminsky is a writer, editor and teacher, based in Los Angeles but currently living in Cambridge, England. She teaches creative writing at the Keck School of Medicine at USC and writes the weekly newsletter, People + bodies. She has also written for Cup of Jo about beauty, marriage, teenagers, lossand children only.

PS Home as a sanctuaryand where would you like to raise your children?

(Photo: Kristine Weilert/Stocksy.)

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