*the pun is intended!
The lease on the room I was renting ended yesterday, and my next lease doesn’t start until October. This kind of homelessness is quite familiar to me. The five years of my PhD work will have been the longest I ever lived in one location, and I moved three times while I was here. There are often gaps between leases. I intend to fill this particular one with couch surfing (I am an expert couch/floor surfer), pet/house sitting, and camping.
I inherited this skill from my military family and I’ve been trained to move since I was just a wee babe. I was born in a transient military hospital and my first move was two weeks after that. I have many young memories of watching the sky pass by outside of car windows (I was too small to look out at the scenery).
Between the completion of my high school degree and the start of my college career, my mother and I were homeless for three months. We had sold the old house, but we hadn’t bought a new house yet. My father was stationed overseas, and we were waiting for him to return to his new assignment in the States before we settled down. She and I lived in her car for the gap, driving around the country, visiting relatives. We stayed two weeks here, two weeks there, a weekend at my grandmother’s, a night in a motel. We put more than 3,000 miles on the car.
I’ve spent more than four months at a time traveling and staying in backpackers around the world.
And so, when I finished cleaning my flat yesterday, a friend asked me if I would miss the place. “How can you miss a house?” I asked, “It’s a house. There are trillions of others like it. I’ve lived in dozens.”
My flatmate was sad to leave, though. He’s never moved before in his life (which, by the way, I am incapable of imagining). He was also uncomfortable living in the house with no furniture, which I had not even considered to be a difficulty. I made a little rat’s nest of blankets in the corner of my barren bedroom and slept on the hardwood floor with no problem.
And now I am house and cat-sitting for my adviser (in spite of terrible cat allergies). Exploring new houses is one of my favourite activities, so I spent the night meandering through her narrow hallways and low staircases (bumping my head occasionally). It does seem so comfortable here; I am reclining on an old couch with FOUR superfluous pillows. If I get tired of this one, I can go sit on any of four other couches in the house.
There are books, glorious books, filling bookshelves from floor to ceiling, lining the hallways, piled up in corners, stuffed into cabinets, hidden under laundry. (Books are always a black market commodity in a military home. They are heavy and cumbersome for moving. We kept very few in my childhood, so you can imagine my love for libraries.)
I spent an hour last night looking for the perfect book to read during my stay, hopefully something I could only find here that would be new and different. As I ran my fingers along the dusty volumes, I stopped on a book by an author with the same last name as my adviser. I knew that her father had been a writer, and wondered if it was by him.
Looking for clues, I carefully pulled the book free and opened the cover. There was a loving note from her father, signed simply “Dad” with a smiley face. The book was dedicated to her. I felt a little twinge…her father died three years ago and she had been absolutely devastated. I returned the book to its place and studied the other books next to it. Every book on the shelf was by him and, one by one, I opened them, read the signed note and the dedication, and replaced them.
I had an immediate urge to read one of these books…what amazing insight it would give me! To read the writing of her father, a book dedicated to her with such obvious love.
My hand lingered on one novel, and then I slowly pulled it away. In the pit of my stomach, I could feel the horror of accidentally damaging one of those precious books. I knew the risk was not worth my gain.
The books made me miss my own father keenly. I could imagine him writing these notes (“already a best seller!”) with obvious pride. All this made me realize something, which I felt very profoundly, and which has been a central tenant of my life (and perhaps of military families in general). I can move from house to house and it does not matter. I feel no sense of loss in a place. For me, and for my family, home is familiar faces and smiles in a sea of strangers.
How much the people we love shape our lives!
But I do often wonder if those who are not itinerant have a stronger sense of place.