An ode to half-lives.

Sometimes I feel as though my life is a scattering of random happenings. My indecisiveness in the years after university and my inability to stay put for long have led to a trail of half-lives, all loved dearly and then left behind.
Having recently returned to Canada after one year away teaching English in Italy, one of my friends asked, “So when are you going back home?” to which another friend interjected with, “You mean when is she going back; this is her home.”
What is home, and where is mine?
I started thinking about all the places that I’ve called home, however temporary, and how quickly that label shifts from a small room in my parents house in my first year of undergraduate, to an attic apartment in Peterborough, Ontario, shared with a bohemian friend, to an air mattress on a living room floor in Toronto. “My city,” has changed from Peterborough, to Dublin, to Florence, to Toronto to Rome. I loved and resented each place in various ways.
A funny thing happens when you change cities once, twice, then change countries or continents. Whereas previously, home was an uncomplicated term, I had now gained a collection, dragging along with me like those tin cans pulled behind a car after a wedding: loudly announcing the fact that you had experienced a life change, and indicating your un-sameness and inability to be exactly the same as you were before, for better or worse.
Whenever I return from time spent away, those closest to me say that my smell has changed. My speech patterns, the way I pronounce the letter ‘a,’ the expressions that settle among my features while I listen, while I speak.
This year in Rome was difficult. I had never felt quite so out of place. Sometimes I wanted to crawl out of my skin, I felt so blatantly foreign. So out of my element. I fought a fierce battle with that city, and I can’t say if I won or lost. The first months I diligently explored, I went to events, to the main “spots,” and tried to pretend I didn’t hate it, didn’t feel overwhelmed by the crowds, feel too hot, too under-dressed. Then came acceptance. “I hate it here. Next year I’m moving.”
But when I did leave, I felt strangely tearful. My roommates, my friends, that eclectic group of internationals, those late night dinners in our little yellow kitchen and cheap wine, wandering around the city for hours trying to decide where to go, until we didn’t go anywhere but home. Waking up late for trains, throwing bathing suits and towels into a bag and going to the sea to doze in the sun.
Another half life for the collection.
Every one that I gain shakes my concept of home just a little bit harder. As I reach the age where friends have houses and babies and nine-to-fives, I start questioning everything. I start wondering if I should have built a less mobile life. If I need to go home.
…if I could only decide which one.

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