Photo: Alex from the Rock/Shutterstock

Searching for Home After 3 Decades of Travel

by Nikki Hodgson Oct 20, 2014

I’VE LIVED IN COLORADO for one year, four months, three weeks, and two days. I’ve watched each day pass, waiting for my restlessness to return. But it hasn’t. People tell me it’s brave to go, but I know it’s harder to stay.

When I crossed the Colorado state line, I sat still because I was too exhausted to move, and then I stayed because I fell in love with the mountains, because I met a man who introduced me to a version of myself I’d never been able to see. This isn’t a love story. I wish it were. It’s not.

There is nothing remotely interesting about the way we met. But I missed Israel and he’s Israeli, and we could talk about that. We sat together on a chairlift, swinging our skis, listening to the man next to us as he recommended we enroll our kids in the Eldora ski program. He assumed we were married. We laughed at the idea of us and kids, but I couldn’t let go of how easily my heart accepted this suggestion, how easy it was to imagine a life in Colorado bundling up toddlers and sending them off to learn how to ski.

Months passed. For the first time, I started looking at houses, imagining attic offices and wood floors, wraparound porches and kitchen islands. I fell in love with him, with the quiet way he has of shifting my gaze, with his smile and the way it pushes all of the shadows out of my head. But I kept my heart to myself, imagined houses instead.

It was coincidence that we ended up back in Israel at the same time, but he invited me to stay with his family and I trailed him like a shadow, sitting at his elbow as he caught up with friends and family he hadn’t seen in months. We stood on a balcony watching the Mediterranean and the patchwork pools of a nearby fishery, balancing cups of coffee on the balcony’s edge as he talked about his childhood.

We spent the afternoon at the beach, flying kites and wading into the surf. “This must have been a good place to grow up,” I said. I didn’t think he’d heard me, but he started pointing out memorials for people he’d known, friends who had been killed in combat. I was only thinking of latchkeys and moving trucks, wondering what it was like to grow up without ever experiencing those things.

I tried to explain my misplaced jealousy, how all I really wanted was to know what it’s like to have a place to return to, a place where your entire childhood is housed and your mom can laugh with the neighbors about the time you climbed out the window at the age of three and wandered down the street to play with your friends.

A place where you can point to new housing developments, squint into the sunlight pulling back memories of bare hills and undisturbed forests. A place where your childhood nickname trails you long into your 30s, where you can run along the same paths you ran along as a child, a teenager, a young adult. A place where you can revisit all those versions of yourself at any given time.

Sitting in his old room with a closet full of discarded clothes, childhood paintings hanging on the walls, I understood the disquiet of my envy. I’ve been sitting alone at a window seat on my way to visit someone, somewhere for as long as I can remember. My family is scattered across three continents, four countries, and six states.

I tried to count how many times I’ve moved, but we started when I was three and now I’ve lost track. I went to a different school every year until the age of 11; we moved again when I was 16. I hit the road with a suitcase when I was 17. I don’t know where the last 13 years went; I tucked them away in cities and corners around the world, and now I can’t remember which years went with which corners.

My childhood is splintered across an entire continent; I’ve called so many places home that the word “home” is a patchwork quilt of houses and cities, an entire spectrum of places and the people who belong to them. I never did.

I’ve stared out so many windows watching clouds and landscape sweep out from under my feet. I’ve seen Rome, Berlin, Paris, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Amman, Casablanca, and Kampala. I’ve run through the French Alps, the Atlas Mountains, the Jordan Valley. I’ve explored Uganda and Egypt, taken photos of the lengthening shadows of camels in Wadi Rum. I’ve been welcomed into so many homes along the way, but I’ve never had one of my own.

So now I am impatient to live in a house on a quiet street in a place where neighbors wander in and take whatever they need out of the fridge. I want friends coming over unexpectedly with nothing to say; I want the intimacy that grows in that space.

There are still doubts, versions of my life I won’t have time to live, places I will have to leave unexplored, but I’m ready to exchange my suitcase for a house with a door that’s never locked, a view of the mountains, a pile of dishes in the sink, muddy paw prints on wood floors.

I will find a place to plant a garden and stay long enough to watch it grow. I will hang pictures on walls, accumulate recipes for overzealous tomato plants, reorganize the mudroom and refurbish those old rocking chairs so I can sit with the dog at my feet and look up from my book to stare at the trees along the road.

I used to be so afraid to be tethered to a job, a house, a man, a pet, a tomato plant. I felt the weight of those commitments settling like stones in my stomach; the thought of it made it hard to breathe. “I couldn’t live like that,” I thought.

But I’m finding I can live like that; I’m finding that to live like that is what I wanted all along.

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