home |noun| where one lives permanently
They say the most basic terms are the hardest to define. Words like love and belonging and home. No matter that they are the silent pillars of our lives, we more often than not walk by them without acknowledgement. But my recent trip “HOME” to Lisbon, got me thinking about this particular four-letter word and how – just like four walls – it is supposed to hold a roof over our heads and keep the storms away.
I’ve always liked conjugating the verb “to go”. My list isn’t as big as some, but without premeditation, I’ve lived in Portugal, the U.S., Italy, the UK and now Switzerland, having tapped all of these destinations (except the latter) multiple times. (Since I’ve been married alone, it’s been no less than 10 flats in a little under 7 years.) You can’t help but wonder: in the midst of all this globetrotting, have I misplaced home?
Where is home anyway? Is it where I was born? Where my parents were born? Where family lives? Where I grew up? Where I own a house and keep my stuff? Where I spend Christmas? Where I work? Where I pay the greatest amount of taxes? Where my husband lives? And what if these places don’t coincide? If home is a little of all of these things, I guess I – and a great many of the people in my international orbit – are from broken homes.
I was born in Lisbon and have lived here on and off over the years (more off than on). This time round, I’ve been away for almost 2 years with slim prospects of an early return. During this time, old friends’ lives have moved on. Some have added or subtracted people to their clans in the form of births, deaths and divorces. Some have re-coupled, while others changed or lost jobs. Some have moved to far-off lands and some may as well have. The resulting concoction has a distinct aftertaste of newborn outdatedness. How oxymoronic to feel like a foreigner in your hometown – I’m actually not sure if it’s aloud. The day’s task has become clear. I am going to hold steadfast to my seat at the Mirador São Pedro de Alcântara (a complicated name for a wonderful place) and won’t budge until I figure this one out. In the meantime, my legs bake in the sun and the guy singing for the tourists loops round his frightfully small repertoire. As violent thoughts make their way into my skull (along with a heavily accented “My Way”), I begin to wonder if home is where you spend jail time?
If I’m not careful, our flat in Lisbon will soon slide off the hilltop where it’s perched. It’s smack at the top of Bairro Alto, a traditional neighborhood whose inhabitants are convinced they’re the crows flown off the city seal. Why else would they choose to live atop such teetering ground singing away their days in throaty voices? In my mind, when the whole lot finally slips off the hill into the Tagus River below, it will be like rain diluting watercolor – just streaks of color and then nothing. Then fog. A horizon that is itself erased so that river and sky are a single nameless mass. But for now, we are still on the hilltop and I’m glad for it. The view from everywhere up here is so incredible it’s like living in a screensaver. Miradors face each other from opposite hills. Monuments sit side by side like old ladies on a bench, trees in between them like handbags. Down at the end, the old Cathedral points to the river like Michelangelo’s God points to man in the Sistine Chapel. Paris, Jerusalem and Mykonos are all grey and cream shades of white. But Lisbon could not pick just one. Its palette is endless with a penchant for pink and yellow – like lemonade. It’s too beautiful to ever get used to, to ever stop looking in awe. On the day that happens, I’ll worry about my marriage. The day you cease to be in awe with the daily beauty of your life is the day the slipping will begin. I will keep Bairro Alto on top of that hill with the strength of my love for it.
Being from a broken home is a tricky business. Wherever you are, a piece of home is always missing. But that also means that whenever you leave, you are going home just as much as you are leaving it. This lifestyle has become second nature to me and I’m sure of it, even when it hurts. It is merely the result of living your life on a bigger stage. A wind picks up at the Mirador and I head home (to the part of home that is our Lisbon flat). My feet tapping away at the cobblestones, I wonder where home will be once the FIFA-Master is done. It’s like standing before one of those signposts indicating the distance to various cities around the globe. I guess we’re waiting for the wind to blow off all of the destinations but one.