Recently I’ve been asking my friends, all of whom are wonderfully international and interesting people, the same question: “So, are you thinking about staying in London for a while?” The reason is, I am.
Home has been an odd concept for a few years now. I speculate it’s because home is a name I’ve given every place where I’ve lived in since 2007. First there was college in Southern California, where each year meant a new room, new relationships, new angles of thinking, and new attempts at navigating the world. It was eye-opening and adventurous and didn’t feel particularly permanent.
It was all the more confusing because it was punctured by trips home – as in, the place you talk about when people ask you anachronistic questions like, “Where is home?” During those years, wherever I was, I was always missing home, the meaning of which flipped like a coin: I missed my family in Bulgaria when I was in Claremont and I missed my friends in Claremont when I was in Bulgaria.
To make the sense of permanence even blurrier, I spent a year studying abroad in Buenos Aires, a mad and wonderful place, which by no means was home. You can only belong so much when you live with a bohemian old lady and her maid, learn the language on the go and half your heart is always somewhere else. But we made it work. More than that, we made a remarkable adventure out of it, my friends and I, we learned castellano, we broke some hearts, including our own, and we left Argentina victorious, our minds bursting with new knowledge, our scars already healing, looking forward to the next adventure.
When college was over, I put everything I owned into my ’94 Acura Integra, left half my heart behind (again) and sped towards San Francisco. I would have made the drive in less than six hours, I remember, if there hadn’t been a fire in the dry fiends of the Central Valley along Highway 5.
I was ecstatic, San Francisco could be home. It had all the characteristics of a “home” city: it was walkable, bursting with energy, it had an art scene, it was full of young people, people with ideas, it was on water, and many of my friends lived there or were moving up shortly. Sadly, San Francisco never truly became home. Immigration laws are immigration laws and I knew that any day that second summer could bring bad news.
Fortunately, even a Bulgarian passport holds some weight – in fact it’s the twenty-first best passport one can have in the world today – and I am a European citizen living in London. And very unexpectedly, a year after moving here, London feels like home.
It’s funny how home becomes apparent to you in the details. It’s not that one day I woke up thinking, I want to raise my kids in London. God, no! Or that I thought, it’s time to start thinking about buying a house.
Rather, it came to me when I woke up one Saturday morning and thought, that 20’s French fashion magazine print I have there, negligently propped against the wall, it could really use a frame. And a few days later, after a couple of glasses of wine on the little two-seater in my room, I thought, a pillow or two wouldn’t be a bad idea. A picture frame and two pillows in my bedroom – how I knew I was home.
Soon I had activated the grocery store loyalty card I kept in a drawer for months, I had become a member of Tate Modern and was actively making plans for London-based events a year in advance. I had my favorite neighborhood restaurants and the coffee shops I preferred for writing, and I didn’t need a map to figure out which District or Circle line trains could get me to Saatchi Gallery. Transportation knowledge hugely contributes to the feeling of belonging when you live in a big city, I’ve found.
It’s a luxurious feeling, this belonging. There’s nothing like it. I say this with the knowledge that thousands of people around the world are displaced because of conflict. The feeling of belonging to a place, of being at home – as vague as it may be – is precious.
I love it when someone can’t think of the right word in the middle of a sentence and I’m able to chime in and fill in the blank. Or when someone stumbles upon an unfamiliar word and asks for its meaning. I’m a nerd like that. It’s a game, ask me another! Home would be a tricky word to define.
Home is where you feel free, relaxed and in control. Home is where you have time to be yourself, to build yourself. Home is where you feel compelled to ask everyone who means something to you, “So, are you thinking of staying in London for a while,” and clench your teeth hard hoping they’ll say yes.