It’s been nearly five months since I moved to Norway from the states. One would think I’d be well situated in either The Honeymoon Phase, in which everything about my new home seems exotic and charming, or the Homesick Like a Mofo Phase, in which I long for my homeland, what with its large grocery stores, hair products for women of color, and a language I knew so well that I got paid for that knowledge. And I’m not gonna lie. I really miss Target. (And corn tortillas.) Obviously, I really miss my friends and family, too. I mean, I’m not a sociopath — I have feelings. But believe me when I say it’s easier for me to stay in touch with them than it is for me to find Kinky Curly Knot Today in this country full of straight-haired Scandinavians.
Those early weeks after moving here found me considering for the first time where my home is thanks to a rather horrifying thought: What if something happens to Espen? I shared my concerns with my friend Rachel. Where would I go?! I implored. Do I stay here? I don’t feel like I have a home in the states anymore, and I haven’t been in Norway long enough to have put down roots. Even now I continue to struggle to find my footing here, what without knowing the language or having a job or identity, but here in the safety of this apartment, those feelings float away. I have stepchildren and two really adorable grandsons here, but I have parents and cousins and friends there. Where is my home? It was too much — and too scary — to think about, so I buried those worries so that I could focus on more urgent matters.
Going back to the city of my birth for Thanksgiving unearthed those feelings and forced me to think about what “home” really means to me. People kept bringing it up! “Welcome home!” “When are you coming home again?” “It’s so good to have you home!” It’s especially hard for me because I’ve never really felt like I fit in anywhere. When you feel that way, what exactly is “home”?
I was already turning this over in my mind when my friend Nick asked me during our language class how it felt as the plane took off to head back to Norway, whether I felt sad to be leaving the states. Like me, he’s a recent immigrant to Norway. But there are some differences: He’s Canadian and has lived in many places around the globe over his 40+ years. In fact, he’s not even new to Norway — he met and married his Norwegian wife several years ago when he was here working in the oil industry. A father to three kids, he has several properties back at home, including an empty and available cottage just waiting in the wings in case shit goes sideways here and they want to go back.
And then there’s me. Until I moved here, the biggest thing I’d ever done was move 200 miles away from my hometown. Sure, I still have my condo, but I can’t move into it. I don’t have a job here (or there, for that matter). I have my dear friends and family members, but even when I lived there, I was hardly a social butterfly and didn’t see them as often as, in retrospect, I now wish I had.
I think part of my struggle with “home” is because I grew up in such an unhappy one. It’s a hard thing to grow up in a house where the parents do not like each other and make no secret of it. I spent so much time navigating the waters of their marriage that I never got to know my capital-S Self, much less what home should feel like.
Fast-forward a couple of decades and there I am in a rental car with my husband after just having left my parents’ home. Despite all the shit that’s happened in the house over the years, it’s still hard to say goodbye to them. And now compounding it is the guilt I feel for having moved abroad.
“How do you feel?” Espen asked after some prolonged minutes of silence. “You’re quiet.”
I struggled to articulate my feelings. And given how long it’s taken me to write this post, I’m still struggling. I guess the short answer was that I was sad. Other than the big family dinner on Thanksgiving night, which was a lot of fun, it wasn’t an exciting visit with my parents. As I told Espen, the dread of worrying that it could be the last time I’d see either of them coupled with the regret that neither of them had ever found genuine happiness in their lives made me unbearably sad. Their house isn’t a home. It is an amalgam of explosive arguments, disappointments, and spite. That fact hurt, too. As the saying goes, you can’t go home again — especially when it never felt like a home to begin with.
The subject of home came up again Saturday night as I strolled D.C.’s streets with my friend Genilson, who, with his husband, is busy preparing their new home for their twins, arriving in just a few short weeks. He asked me how it felt to be back home — or if it even felt like home. And that’s when it crystallized for me: I wasn’t home in the states. I was home in the states with Espen. Home for me, it turns out, is wherever he is. Here I am living in a country where I can barely speak the language beyond some rudimentary sentences and I feel more at home sitting beside this man than I have ever felt anywhere else. And it’s because I’m with him. As Nick encouragingly pointed out, it said a lot that I wasn’t sad when the flight took off for our return to Bergen … our return home.
Home is love and trust and knowing someone’s got your back. It’s having someone rub your forehead when you’re pretty sure this cold you have (and that he probably gave you …) is going to kill you because OH MY GOD YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE RAZOR BLADES IN YOUR THROAT AND WHY DOES YOUR SKIN HURT?! It’s being able to share your fears without judgment. It’s knowing you look to’ up from the flo’ up and still feeling beautiful because the person beside you makes you feel that way. It’s knowing you’re loved all the way to your core and, importantly, loving as ardently in return.
Home, my friends, truly is where the heart is.