words: Becky MacNaughton
photo: Liz Seabrook
I’ve lived in the same house for over 20 years, but it’s still thousands of miles from home. My second home, I should say – the one I reach for when it gets too much.
In moments of crises I often think about a yellow piece of paper. It bears a name and a date and a birth weight, and it lists a place an entire ocean away – a town which is sandwiched somewhere between a lake and a harbour. But what it doesn’t say in ink it says in hope: that there’s a second chance and a fresh start, and a right to both.
I left Canada at the age of five, in the murk and the muddiness of my parent’s divorce. There are things I remember from this time and things I do not. Enough moments to span a day, maybe, but they are not the things that adults usually recall. I lined up boxes in the basement of our house like a train, for example, and ate grape bubble gum from a roll, wedging it in the pocket of my hand luggage. It was a backpack shaped like a cow. I carried that thing around with me for years.
I remember other days, too, but sometimes memories blur with dreams and I wonder, really, what I’m remembering at all. We went fishing once and we played basketball and there was an outdoor pool that I briefly jumped into, my brother catching me in his arms. But did I really watch the glass of a vending machine implode? Did candy explode across the floor and we take it home, like loot, shoving as much and as many as we could into a paper bag?
That’s where they stop, more or less, the snippets of things. They’re merely photographic – flat and glossy, they struggle to reveal the real weight of things.
Yet I tell myself almost every year that I’ll buy a ticket home. When people leave or die or fall out of love, it seems like the only thing to do: green grass is a better thing to look at than heartbreak. Sometimes I even pick the time of the year to go – Fall always looks best, I think, nestled under leaves of auburn and amber and gold, just before the snow rolls in. Because that is also something I remember: the banks of it, the bitterness, the need for hats and scarves and matching mittens.
I spend a lot of time thinking about what it would look and feel and smell like. It’s a type of wanderlust, but it straddles the line between going somewhere new and returning home. The house and the library and the play park will not be the same. Twenty years changes a place, least of all a person – it reshuffles the bricks and reforms the land. But on bad days, I still look at flights and I plan routes and I wonder, at the back of my mind, just how long it would take. To settle in, to carve a life, to make it feel like home.
On good days, though, it’s a different story. The thought doesn’t cross my mind. On these days, I realise that it’s the promise and the pull of it that matters to me most. And then I wonder: settled there, would I need another place to go? Another ocean to cross and another route to plan? It seems so simple then, barely even a question: I’d return here, to the really green fields.