I live pretty far away from where I grew up, and make at least one trip a year back to the family home. It’s in southwestern Ontario, a predominantly Mennonite farming community that’s not far from towns and cities. For me, these visits always involve spending time in a strange kind of identity interzone. Unconsciously or not, parents keep looking for the children they raised, and we keep trying to make them recognize us as the adults we’ve become. In these conditions, old patterns re-emerge with ease.
My old room is an office, but still smells right. My brother’s old room is the guest room. The house is the one I grew up in: the water pressure in the shower is still terrible, and the hallway still creaks in spots I’d learned to pad around in the dark of post-curfew hours. But it’s also changed in ways I wish it hadn’t: I keep opening the wrong drawer for the cutlery. The room that Dad added more than 10 years ago still feels out of place and temporary. I’m always a bit surprised by it, as if I thought it had only been dreamed.
We’re familiar strangers to each other, the house, my parents and me. And that’s the paradox of home, that we return to it looking for things that can’t be there, because they’re dependent on us never changing.