‘Look. Do you see?’ Dad reaches out the car window and points, over the road to where a pair of goats are grazing around the roots of several gnarled trees. A white house is just visible through the leaves. ‘I planted them myself, just after we moved here.’ He smiles. ‘By the driveway, that’s where we had the pigpen… and over there’s where the sheep got out, right next to those potholes. When it rained, they’d fill up with water and you’d splash around in them, first chance you’d get. You’d sit in them and catch grasshoppers.’ A pause. ‘Sometimes, we’d hear a crunching noise and glance over to see you chewing and a green, twitching leg vanishing between your lips.’ He chuckles. ‘Half your protein came from grasshoppers, I reckon.’
I don’t remember any of it. The greenery, the damp, the taste of grasshopper (though I won’t deny I have a fondness for the meaty little morsels), all I have is Dad’s word that it actually happened. But as I look around at the potholed driveway, I can almost feel the water puddled around my backside, feel shells crunching between my teeth, and I know what he’s telling me is true. Something in the trees, the grass so vibrantly green it hurts to look at, the strange, invigorating chill in the air so peculiar to Tasmania at large and Glen Huon in particular, snuggles down into my bones as though it belongs there.
This is it, I think, without knowing why. I could live here. I’m home.
For as long as I can remember, owning your own home has been regarded as one of the defining marks of true adulthood. Even though I’m 26 years old, with a steady(ish) job, a loving partner and enough hours left over in the day to make a passable attempt at pursuing my authorly delusions of grandeur, I still can’t seem to get away from the eternal, well-meaning question levied by young and old alike:
‘But where are you living? On your own?’
‘No, I live in a share house with two of my oldest, dearest friends, a new friend who may become dear, six stuffed animals and my partner 20 minutes walk away.’
‘Why haven’t you moved in with your partner? Why haven’t you put a deposit on an apartment? Why don’t you marry a rich man and get him to put a deposit on an apartment?’
Firstly, men aren’t exactly my type, and secondly, even though I do someday want to live on a little slice of land with a modest library and perhaps a lake, that doesn’t mean I’m not happy where I am. I’d much rather come home to a warm share house filled with friendly conversation than lay a deposit on the first apartment I can find, only to discover that it’s full of asbestos, or worse, an attic full of amorous possums.
Finding a place to call home in this day and age is difficult to say the least. A house or shelter: that’s easy. A good house keeps the weather off. It’s secure, from unwanted intrusions both physical and emotional, and well situated, to amenities, food, the local shopping centre, a nice café. Nice neighbours that you’re not afraid to say hello to (or at the very least won’t try to exorcise you for kissing your girlfriend in the park down the street,) are a pleasant bonus, as is a bus stop at the bottom of the street for when you’re too cold, achey or staggeringly hung over to walk to work. It’s quiet. Calm. Convenient.
But once or twice, I’ve had to move out of a house that ticked all of those boxes. Most of them were spacious dwellings, on quiet streets, with roommates who kept to themselves. Sure, sometimes they were a little draughty, but a trio of bar heaters placed strategically in the right rooms kept the chill out. The shops were a ten-minute walk away: work was a 30 minute tram ride into the city. There was always hot and cold running water, and a lock on the door. They were never perfect, but they were serviceable.
However, I could never call them home without something inside of me twisting.
The symptoms were always similar. Whenever I stepped through the door, it was colder inside than it was outside. Conversations with my housemates would always become less frequent, while others would make passive-aggressive comments about how household tasks weren’t being handled exactly to their liking. One landlord had a penchant for leaving sticky-notes around the house, pointing out the fingerprints on fridge. Another refused to perform even basic maintenance on the property, ignoring cracked windows and a faulty heater that kept tripping the circuit breaker. In the end, I always felt the same way: anxious, lonely and, in the case of the more hostile roommates, an unwelcome intruder in the house I was paying for the privilege to be miserable in. Inevitably, I would start looking for any excuse not to be there, to stay at my partner’s, with my parents, to fly out of the state for a weekend, anything to avoid the bleeding anxiety that would take hold as soon as I stepped through the door. Those places were never home to me.
Would you call a hospital home? A prison? Manus Island? Nauru? They too, have four walls and a ceiling, food, locks on the doors. Could the people currently living in detention centres, can we, call a place where residents are routinely dehumanised and their children abused, a home? No. Their homes were vaporised half a world away, scattered to the wind on a tide of air strikes, thick-headed fear mongering and fundamentalist bullshit, and so long as they stay within those four secure walls, they’re never going to find another one.
Homes are pretty goddamn important, and they don’t end with a house and a bill of sale: that’s just a foundation. As the ever-nebulous ‘they’ is always going on about, a home is what you make it, and good grief do they take some making.
For example, I’ll bet you don’t think of a house when you think of home. Me, I think of things that happened inside them. Binging on takeaway satay chicken as night rolled around to morning. Having sex in a silk kimono with the curtains drawn and the heater ticking over in the corner. Wearing a skirt when you haven’t shaved your legs and joking with your roommates about braiding each other’s shins. Finishing my thesis, only to scream as my cat chomped down on my toe because he hadn’t been fed since sunrise. I remember every goddamn shower in every house I’ve lived in. The ones with seemingly infinite hot water? Where I could lie back in the bathtub and dream about the next paragraph I was going to write? Those were the houses I called home.
Then there are the people. Anyone who tells you that they’ve made a happy home all on their own is either ignorant or delusional. What, they don’t have friends who come over to dinner? Family that insists on sleeping on the couch whenever they’re in the city on business? A duo of tawny frogmouths who’ve claimed the oak by the pool as their own and spend the evenings belching at one another? Lying next to the one you love and feeling their heart beat under your cheek, realising that neither of you have anything else to do that day but cuddle. Thinking of the memories you’ve made together, like the time you tried to make curry and set the stove on fire, or spent hours making up stories together, revisiting characters and plotlines like old friends with their own homes, their own lives and loves.
But it goes beyond one’s immediate social sphere, too. Home is walking down the street without a care in the world. It’s being able to buy a burrito without being questioned by the police. It’s where you can say you’re off to the mosque and not have people cough or stare or struggle to make eye contact. It’s where you can be yourself without having to justify who you kiss or what you wear to anyone or anything. It’s the knowledge that you belong, that you can sit in a metaphorical puddle and eat your grasshoppers and no-one will care.
In short, ‘Home’ is being treated, by your roommates, by your neighbours, by the people you pass in the street, like a human being.
It isn’t just a place where you exist. It’s where you’re allowed to live.
Image: Matt Jones
Callie Doyle-Scott was born in Tasmania in 1990, but has since travelled around Australia: she currently resides in Canberra. A graduate of RMIT University’s Creative Writing program in 2013, she never quite lost the study bug: her speciality is culinary history, specifically that of Victorian England and Japan throughout the ages, though she loves to research old folktales in her spare time. Callie started writing stories when she was ten (her first being about a cave that could turn people into animals,) and was first published in Dickson College’s CLIO History Journal with two articles on Renaissance heroines Caterina Sforza and Lucrezia Borgia. While studying, she went on to found and edit Verity La’s Out of Limbo project (an online archive devoted to the coming-out stories of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex individuals,) and participate in Bryce Courtney’s final writing masterclass in 2012. Since then, she has written articles for the Verity La and Writer’s Bloc webjournals, and hopes to establish a wider portfolio over the coming months. She is currently working to finish the draft of her first novel, a gastronomic fantasy entitled Soup for the Moon, in the hopes of approaching a publisher by the end of the year.
This piece has been published with the support of the ACT Government.