Is it fair that Anne Frank’s house is invaded everyday? Ironic, isn’t it, considering that’s exactly what she didn’t want.
What if people came into your home without you wanting them to? Sometimes a house is not private or comfortable. Sometimes the people you live with are not nice or invite unwanted people into that space. Is that fair? Can your really call that place . . . a home?
I mean, what is a home? How do you define it? Is it somewhere you stay? Is it long-term or short-term? Or is it the people that you live with? No wonder I’m all confused. In the last year I have lived in five different houses, in five different locations. Some people who shared these spaces I had never met. Some became friends, others I called family and some I never saw again. They were my houses. But none of them I called home.
The first was a house in London. It was temporary, eerie, full of odd antiques and creaky doors. A jobbing actor, I took what I could. The rehearsal space was even more odd; a dusty room and a toilet without walls. That was strangely more of a home to me; the cast were like my family.
The second was in Chatham, Kent. Buzzed at moving for an acting internship as a theatre company member, I thought this was my route to stardom . . . I was wrong. My first day involved receiving two cat calls in the street, a dreary walk to work and a warning from an old man not to walk alone at night. I proceeded to pay five pounds a day for parking five minutes from my house, in fear for my life. The room was freezing, the shower didn’t work well, but the people there were nice enough, despite the standard ghost house member who I never saw in the two months I was there. Highlights of the internship included being patronised, overworked, underpaid, told I made a disgusting ‘sleeping beauty’ and getting bitten by the office dog. Safe to say I quit and cried at my landlord, begging him to reconsider my contract. Thankfully he did so I moved back to my mum’s for Christmas and got a job working at a cinema. My degree and three years in further education was proving worthwhile.
Then I moved again, a job doing administration, in sunny Norwich. I moved to an island. An actual island. I had my own boat and kayak and rowed across the river every morning and evening. The job was fine and the city familiar, since I’d spent my university days there. I lived with a Brazilian family and it was summer. Things seemed good. But . . . I never felt completely comfortable there. It wasn’t home. It was always going to be temporary. Temporary contract. Temporary home. Besides, the island flooded in autumn. So I went with the tide.
Then . . . Vietnam. Why not? I was uprooted and had savings. I’d always wanted to travel. Maybe I’d stay there for a while. Maybe a year. Maybe not. I stayed in a volunteer house in Hanoi, teaching English and meeting a whole collage of faces. I was appreciated, but people left as I got to know them. Travellers . . . well, travel. The intention was to get a job there and live cheaply but my heart pulled me back to the UK. Why? Because of a person.
I was in a different time zone and was craving to be seven hours earlier just so I could talk to them properly. The experience made me appreciate what I had back home and there it was that word ‘home’ came into play for the first time.
I realised home was not a house or shelter. No bricks or carpet or bed had embraced or warranted that word. I realised that home was in fact where I felt loved. I hadn’t known what direction I was going. I was running, hoping that somewhere might stick. But the truth is, I don’t think we feel at home anywhere until we find a sense of purpose, a security and a space to share with people we truly care and feel comfortable around. In my eyes, home can be a person.
A few may know that in every house I have lived, I place a picture of Anne Frank on my door. Some think this is odd or depressing. But it reminds me that I have the freedom not to be trapped anywhere. We have not been bombed, we are not refugees, we are not living in fear of being murdered in our shelters. That picture forces me to get up, knowing I have the ability to choose where I go, live, love and explore. I am lucky that in theory and within reason, I can place my roots anywhere I wish. I don’t know where this might be yet, but I have a pretty good idea it’ll be close to the people I deeply care about.