When I was around 20 years old and living in my very first apartment in London, Ontario; all by myself with no roommate and no boyfriend and no pets, I discovered a nondescript 24-hour diner a short walk away. It was just called DINER and that was blasted in bright red lights from the flat roofed building sitting in the most dubious of areas. I usually walked there in the middle of the night after a long shift when I found myself at home unable to unwind and looking for a bit of familiarity.
There were only a couple of small tables with two chairs and a big semi-circle counter with attached red swivel stools. The grill and fryer were open behind the counter and the old white-haired man was always dressed in a white shirt and a knee length white apron. He didn’t say much, just sighed and grunted a lot and when he suspected that you were ready to order from the menu that was on the wall behind the counter he casually looked your way. He didn’t have time for indecision or a bunch of questions and if there was even a hint of rudeness or disrespect in your tone or demeanor you simply did not get served. He reminded me of Seinfeld’s soup Nazi in that way only his authority was quieter but no less commanding. I usually ordered two scrambled eggs and brown toast. It was nothing fancy, just simple comfort food.
I ate quietly as I discreetly observed the other patrons that came to visit the diner. I saw many people get refused service. I learned the rules and obeyed them. I didn’t hesitate on my order, I spoke clearly, and I didn’t raise my voice, speak out of turn or make unreasonable demands. The atmosphere became familiar, welcoming even. Something drew me there in the wee hours of the morning, while the moon hung low and the sun had not begun its ascent into the morning sky.
“When you feel homesick,’ he said, “Just look up. Because the moon is the same wherever you go.”
There was little conversation between me and the old guy in the white shirt and white apron, but we had developed an understanding and perhaps our own respectful way to communicate. I was in around Christmas time and there were a few worn decorations from Christmas’s past scattered throughout the familiar space. It was way too late for me to be up and sneaking through parking lots to get to my usual haunt but there I was on my normal stool, ordering my habitual late night scrambled eggs and brown toast when I was nodded at. There was a radio playing on low, I am not sure if this was a regular thing that I never noticed because of the noise from other patrons, but it was just me there and old guy was humming with his back to me at the grill as he tousled my eggs into shape. Old guy brought my plate of eggs and toast to me and I ate as he continued to gently hum along with the radio. I am certain I saw him look my way with a hint of a smile but quickly decided that it was my imagination. I barely put my napkin on my plate when old guy scooped it up and said in what I decided was a thick, grumbly, middle eastern accent, “You no pay. You good”
I stood up, fighting the urge to loudly profess my gratitude because I just knew that it was outside of the unspoken rules. I gushed on the inside as I put on my coat; old guy had already turned his back and was humming as he cleaned the grill.
I was a very young woman when I lived in London. Everyday I was faced with potential, possibility and choice. I had freedom. What I longed for the most back then was home and I only knew home as a place.
Over the years as I have faced change and challenges that caused sleepless nights and I have often thought of that plain Diner and wished that I could throw a coat on and hurriedly walk two blocks over to that flat roofed building with the bold and familiar red sign. It was the familiarity I missed, the belonging, the feeling of home.
This year has been a challenge to say the least. Losing my husband and the father of my children to suicide changed my entire world in and instant and left me in a perpetual state of fear and despair. This past weekend we had to unexpectedly say goodbye to our dog which wrapped us in another blanket of deep sadness.
I remind myself everyday that I picked myself up out of bed, off the shower floor, out of the darkness and through extreme heartache, scrambling to find the buried pieces of myself and piece me back together. This is life, it’s complicated and messy and often so fucking un-glamorous it’s brutal. There are days I feel everything at once and days that I cannot form thoughts. There are days I am afraid and uncertain and days that light radiates from me as I imagine a bright future. Some days I lose my shit and others I feel more myself than I have in a long time. It makes no sense at all and yet it makes perfect sense.
My husband felt like home to me, no matter where we were in the world, and the loss of that feeling has been very difficult.
To our detriment we often chase the feelings we crave, some of us with food, some with drugs and alcohol and sometimes with sex.
I think home is a healthy feeling and not one we have to chase but rather create.
We create it with community, friendship and that deep feeling of warmth, peace, belonging, non judgement and love.
As much as I long to hear the waves of the ocean and feel the salt air on my face, smell the baking in my mothers house, home to me, is not just these things, but the tangible feelings that they create.
I believe it can be described as resonance.
As this taxing year draws to a close I would be amiss to not recognize that the feeling of home has helped to carry the girls and me across some very troubled waters. When we were facing unimaginable darkness we found that incredible feeling of home in some familiar places and some more unexpected ones. In people, faces, embraces, memories, comfort, shared grief, understanding, grace and courage.
In a couple of days we will be flying home to Nova Scotia to spend Christmas with loved ones. Nova Scotia is my first love, my forever love, but in my heart I will carry many homes.
To everyone who gave of your time, your comfort and your love to lift the moon up into the sky on the darkest of nights and make sure the sun rose for us, even when we didn’t notice, I thank you. You are home to me.
Wherever you find yourself this Christmas I hope you can create that amazing feeling of home.